Entry into young adulthood is a time when many young Londoners begin exploring the city on their own. Most of them will get their first taste of this freedom on public transport, on bicycles and on foot. Our city’s leaders must make these important experiences safe. A major part of this is ensuring safety on the roads for young people walking and cycling.
One year ago, Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) made this a priority by introducing the capital’s Vision Zero action plan. Vision Zero approaches are being implemented in cities across the world as part of a global movement towards putting human wellbeing at the heart of city planning. In London, the ultimate goal is simple: eliminate deaths and serious injuries from London’s streets by 2041. But although simple, it is also a huge ambition. Figures for 2018 to be released by TfL later this week are expected to show over 100 fatalities and in the region of 4,000 serious injuries on the capital’s roads during that calendar year.
Alongside other members of the TfL Youth Panel a dedicated advisory group for Londoners aged 16-24, we have welcomed the initiative and spent the past year thinking about how to raise awareness about both Vision Zero and Healthy Streets, a related component of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy.
As youth representatives, we know that many young people want streets built for people, not for cars. Compared to previous generations, many of us are foregoing cars entirely. We’re increasingly conscious that driving is inefficient and bad for the environment. We’re also frustrated that, even today, the danger that motor vehicles pose to humans is treated as a natural part of city life.
The Vision Zero approach takes aim at this, declaring that deaths and injuries on the roads are neither acceptable nor inevitable and that we can overcome car-centric planning to eliminate them.
There is still a long way to go before the Vision Zero goal can be achieved. In 2018, 1,475 Londoners aged 16-24 were injured or killed traveling on bike or by foot in the city. We call on TfL, the Mayor and London’s boroughs to continue to put safety at the heart of London’s transport system by promoting active travel and reconfiguring street space for the most vulnerable road users, especially children and young people.
We have seen great progress in recent years, with interventions such as lowering speed limits, taxing the most polluting vehicles, the opening of cross-London cycle routes, and the remodeling of “collision-hot-spot” junctions like Old Street roundabout. But there is still more to do. Cycling needs to be treated as an “everyday” mode of travel for diverse groups of people. Many more dangerous junctions still require attention, and we still lack sufficient driver awareness, with “dooring” and close-passing all too common.
The failure to deliver the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, as well as the blocking of a new West London cycle route by Kensington & Chelsea Council highlight how there are still those who oppose efforts to challenge the dominance of the car. This attitude is summed up in the knee-jerk negative reactions towards cycling and scootering whenever a collision with a vehicle occurs. Why is it not the giant moving blocks of metal that are the problem?
The Vision Zero and Healthy Streets initiatives are not about declaring war on the car – they are about protecting the most vulnerable Londoners, reallocating road space more efficiently among its users, and redesigning streetscapes to put people first. It’s about fairness: young Londoners shouldn’t have to own a car to be safe, and they shouldn’t be penalized for putting their health and bank balance first whenever they choose to travel actively.
Most of all, these programmes are about protecting and improving lives. If they save even a few of the countless young Londoners who are hurt or killed on our capital’s polluted and dangerous roads each year, we’d be happy to say it was worth it.
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