Are we winning?

I’ve just been scrolling through Google Reader clearing a couple of months worth of posts with videos that got saved-for-later when using a mobile connection.  Peter at Pedestrian Liberation asks whether we are winning, citing London Bridge as evidence that maybe we are.

I shot a similar video — above — of London Bridge a year ago almost to the day.  Peter wouldn’t have been able to make same film as me because the night after I shot it, TfL cut down the pedestrian cages (my improvised tripod) on the bridge, to improve the conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.  In the year old film, you see the bridge at a little after 8am — the peak time — on monday 4th january.  I’m not very good at estimating crowds, especially fast moving ones where you can’t see everybody, but there were surely 300-400 people per minute walking over the bridge, plus a couple of dozen cyclists (on a morning so cold that the docks were frozen inches thick) and several stuffed buses.  And what you can’t see in the film is the stuffed tube line beneath, the trains rattling over the neighbouring Cannon Street railway bridge, or the bicycles on the neighbouring and less bicycle-unfriendly Southwark Bridge.  (But nor can you see all the cars on the neighbouring CCharge-less Tower Bridge.)

There are only a handful more private motor vehicles than there are bicycles in the video, with taxis making up nearly half of them, and motorcycles and delivery and tradesman vehicles accounting for most of the rest.  Of the few remaining cars, a lot are probably actually minicabs.  It’s entirely plausible that they were all minicabs.

Yes, this is normal for London Bridge, and has been since at least the introduction of the CCharge in 2003.  London, of course, is not normal, but nor is it a world entirely different to the rest of the country.  As in London, all through the UK you’ll find that most people want an alternative to the blight of the car — to their spoiled streets and miserable hours wasted in jams.  They recognise that they are both a victim and an unwilling perpetrator of this car sick situation, but they don’t think they’ve been given a viable alternative.

On London Bridge they do have alternatives: development is an appropriate density for walking and cycling (at least from the railway terminus to the office); there’s a rail and tube line; and the cheap 24hr buses are too frequent to timetable.  Provide alternatives like these and they get used.  And that’s despite the many limitations that Londoners can happily whine about while not knowing how lucky they are: just imagine how much they would get used if one lane each way were a proper cycle path, and if London Bridge and Cannon Street stations were served by British Rail instead of Southern and SouthEastern, and if the Northern Line had better capacity and better reliability and better stations, and if the City’s streets were more pleasant places to walk around…

This is the most worrying thing about the latest policies of Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond — not so much that we are losing bits of the congestion charge, and other sticks with which to beat the motorist; for motorists already beat each-other more than enough to put normal people off driving — but that the alternatives are under threat.  The media remembers Ken Livingstone for the CCharge, but at least as important was the massive improvement to bus services (then priced at 65p a journey) that he introduced on the same day; Boris is cutting the Western Extension Zone, but more importantly, he is funding this with another bus fares hike, so that a journey is now twice the 2003 price.

Very few people are the kind of capital ‘M’ Motorists, who are never pedestrians; and the majority of people who drive say they would like to drive much less or not-at-all.  But that has been true for a long time, and that alone has not yet got us much closer to “winning”.  Partly this is because we have allowed the tabloids to get away with claiming that most Britons are big-M Motorists, and allowed them to dictate which policies the Motorist will stand for.  Part of turning things around is to get more people to declare: not in my name.  Some ideas for doing that another time.

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4 responses to “Are we winning?

  1. Ah, but is that showing the whole story? Commuters crossing London Bridge is not the same as most of the country, most of those people arrived by train, but how did they get from home to the station for instance. Commuting patterns outwith the London CCharge zone things are very different. However, it is not because Britons are big-M Motorists, but more because they don’t see that they have a choice. We are making progress, but the war is far from won…

  2. Perhaps I am a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but I think the main reason why the Mail et al get all outraged about attacks on motorists is quite simply because they depend financially on advertising revenues. A very significant chunk of that advertising comes from the motoring industry – car manufacturers, rental companies, components manufacturers especially tyres, petroleum companies etc. The industry also has a well-funded and organised lobby. I have absolutely no doubt that this lobby puts the screws on editors to adopt a car-friendly line.

    They are also voluble around the lobbies of Westminster, City Hall etc which helps to explain the idiot remarks of Hammond & Pickles.

  3. Pingback: Are we winning? Part 2 | At War With The Motorist

  4. Pingback: AWWTM: Are we winning? | Joe D

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