Salome Gongadze & Harry Rushworth: The Mayor’s Vision Zero plan is a big issue for young Londoners

Salome Gongadze & Harry Rushworth: The Mayor’s Vision Zero plan is a big issue for young Londoners

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.

Harry Rushworth and Salome Gongadze are the chair and vice chair of the Transport for London Youth Panel. Image from Mayor’s Vision Zero action plan.

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1 Comment

  1. David Kaner says:

    I fully agree with Salome and Harry that road safety needs to a key priority for London. As a cyclist and pedestrian in Central London I know that the roads (and pavements) can be unsafe places for people who are not enclosed in a 1 tonne steel cage.

    However as a cyclist I would point out that it is not just cars that are a problem. Yesterday I was nearly knocked off my bike by a pedestrian who decided to cross the road without looking. Cyclists who use the pavement or ignore red lights are also an issue, as are pedestrians who think that the red person at a traffic light is only a suggestion and choose to cross anyway. We all have a role to play in improving safety.

    I also take issue with the assertion that the failure to pedestrianise Oxford Street was caused by those who “oppose efforts to challenge the dominance of the car”. People who lived in the area opposed it not because they love the car, after all the area has one of the lowest rates of car ownership in the UK. They opposed it because 24/7 closure, which was what was on offer, would push the high level of night-time traffic which uses Oxford Street, mainly taxis and private hire vehicles, into the surrounding narrow streets. This would make safety, air quality and noise all much worse. The fact that Oxford Street has very few pedestrians at Midnight, and lots of traffic, didn’t seem to figure in the thinking.

    Correctly designing streets and junctions, reducing the numbers of motor vehicles on the streets, especially at peak times for pedestrians, and improving the behaviour of all road users (including those who are on foot and bicycle) all have a role in improving road safety. It is a very complex system and we need to avoid the temptation to try and solve it with simple sounding solutions without thinking through the consequences.

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