New approaches to housebuilding are urgently needed if London is to reap the benefits from technological advances in how we move around the city – and tackle the challenges of traffic congestion and climate change. That’s the message of new research published this week by the Centre for London think tank.
The report, Building for a New Urban Mobility, warns that new technology, including greater digital connectivity, improved and cheaper electric vehicles and increasingly autonomous driverless vehicles, could actually increase congestion and pollution by putting more vehicles on the road.
With air pollution “far above safety thresholds” and London still one of the most congested cities in the world, with the one-and-a-half-hour daily commute longer than anywhere else in the UK, technology should be harnessed to support a “less car-dependent future”, the report says.
A “new urban mobility” approach is needed, it argues, putting “walking, cycling, public transport and light electric vehicles at the heart of planning new neighbourhoods”.
The analysis suggests this poses a difficult challenge, with developers and planners continuing to “lock citizens into 20th century patterns of car ownership and use, by allocating space and investment to private car parking.”
Despite two decades of City Hall policy promoting high density housing close to public transport, new developments are more likely than existing housing to include car parking space, and their residents are more likely to own and use a car, with 66 per cent car ownership in new developments compared to the 54 per cent London average. Many residents “also use their cars frequently, even in areas with excellent public transport,” the report finds.
In contrast, bicycle parking “is rarely provided with the same generosity”, with a 2016 survey of 71 new developments in west London finding that almost half the bike parking spaces promised by developers had not been installed. And limited resources and expertise in council planning departments, alongside sometimes outdated assumptions about travel – for example, the major Barking Riverside development being based on transport assumptions and modelling from 2004 – hamper “future-proofing”.
On current progress, London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s target for 80 per cent of journeys to be on foot, by bike or public transport by 2041 will only be reached in 2070, the report concludes. Even so, the report argues that the scale of new development in the capital – there will be a 20 per cent increase in new homes over the coming decade, according to City Hall forecasts – nevertheless represents a “unique opportunity” for change.
Key recommendations include the need for stronger political leadership in planning for fewer cars, piloting “new urban mobility zones” in every borough and creating “mobility hubs”, with government and City Hall support – public spaces for transport interchange including shared modes of transport such as car, bike and taxi hire and parcel pick-up – alongside a new focus on flexible and adaptable design to respond to technological change.
Climate change meant the need for action was urgent, said Waltham Forest council leader Clare Coghill, speaking at the report’s launch. “We need to close roads. It’s got to happen,” she said, citing outcomes of the council’s £30 million “mini-Holland” schemes promoting cycling and reducing unnecessary car journeys.
Photograph: Addison Lee hire car in Canary Wharf.
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