11/7/2008UK: London Mayor Declares End to War on Drivers
London Mayor Boris Johnson transportation plan ends programs designed to increase frustration for motorists.
London Mayor Boris Johnson released a plan Wednesday that will "put an end to the punishment of motorists" in the UK capital. The transportation guidance document repeals a number of measures introduced by Johnson's predecessor, Ken Livingstone, who sought to place the needs of buses and bicycles ahead of the drivers who make up the majority. The result of the old system was an increase in congestion.
"London has some fantastic transport infrastructure, but often you get the sense that solutions have been designed around the technology, rather than around the people it is supposed to serve," Johnson said in a statement.
The new plan details a number of specific measures such as the rephasing of traffic signals, 150 of which have already had the red time reduced to make traffic flow more smoothly. One thousand lights will be checked each year for the next six years and unnecessary lights will be removed. The plan calls for a reconsideration of various so-called traffic calming measures that tend to increase the amount of congestion. Johnson also proposed a "holy war" on unplanned road work that ties up traffic. He will open bus only lanes to the use of motorcycles and scooters. The former editor of The Spectator magazine offered these new programs, however, with a wit rarely found in the dry, bureaucratic documents formerly produced by Transport for London.
"Traffic lights seem to linger for an unconscionable time in red -- sometimes all four at once -- and the curbs seem to have sprouted traffic-throttling excrescences," Johnson's plan stated. "Across London the roads and pavements are cratered with enigmatic holes, coned, fenced, deserted, as though the city were still recovering from a series of unexpected Scud attacks, and the cumulative result of this loss of road space is that for too many people the cabins of their cars are turned into torture chambers of steering-wheel-bending impatience."
Johnson summed up the range of alternatives currently offered to London residents.
"For too many people it is a choice between a packed and sweating Tube, getting a taxi (excellent but not an economical proposition for commuting), or the insanity of trying to drive," Johnson wrote.
The proposals represent a more than just a stylistic break for Transport for London. The mayor overturned the fundamental philosophy that had guided the agency's every action, including the rule that the needs of buses, bicycles and pedestrians must be placed above all else.
"It is fashionable to insist that there must be a hierarchy of transport modes, or that some must be always morally superior to others. This view is unhelpful and misleading. The motor car is not intrinsically evil. Of all the technological breakthroughs of the 20th century, the car did more to democratize the world, and to emancipate the female sex, than almost anything else. Our job is not to punish the motorist, by treating every car journey as a sinful act -- that's why I scrapped the vindictive £25 (US $50) congestion charge for larger cars... Our ambition is to help people out of their cars by persuasion, not persecution."
Johnson, himself a cyclist, remained committed to improving the city's mass transit system as well, but he insisted on realistic proposals that reflect the current economic reality.
"The more time Londoners spend shoehorned onto trains, Tube carriages or buses, the less time they have to themselves or to spend with their families," Johnson said. "So we have to build a better system, and in this important moment for our city we are committing to building our transport infrastructure with Brunelian endeavor and scale, investing billions to create a network that Londoners will recognize as vastly improved from the one we have now."
A copy of the proposal is available in a 2mb PDF file at the source link below.