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Transport for a changing Square Mile

Tuesday, 12 December 2023

City Architecture Forum set up an enlightening presentation by Bruce McVean, Assistant Director, Policy & Projects, City of London Corporation and Roy McGowan, Managing Director at Momentum Transport, followed by a lively discussion with the members of CAF attending the event.

Will the UK meet the government’s Decarbonising Transport objectives?

Roy McGowan set off to answer the question describing the national context, and how there are as many strategic documents as transport modes. Transport is responsible for 26% of the UK greenhouse emissions, but the strategy for Decarbonising Transport, aiming to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050, has been pushed back. Despite the encouraging 40% overall reduction since 1990, currently the carbon emissions from road transport have flatlined and the figures do not line up with the targets.

Roy was clear in the importance of setting a vision, and not just measuring targets against emission levels expected in the future. The scale of investments needed to meet the electricity demand cannot be achieved with the volatile conditions of public commitments in the past years, but in the meantime the UK workers spend more time commuting than in almost all of the OECD countries. Major transport decisions are being pushed back or cancelled, whilst the health costs to society (air pollution, urban noise, obesity…) will reach £50bn a year by 2050, enough to fund two Elisabeth Lines every year.

So then, how do we secure a long-term transport strategy?

Well, the response is related to a long-sighted approach: a strategy for all modes of transport; early involvement of stakeholders; building independent institutions; and devolution deals to support local investment decisions.

All these sounded very convincing, and Bruce McVean demonstrated how impactful local authorities can be, working with an efficient team that combines policy and delivery.

How is transport in the City of London changing after Covid?

Bruce described recent trends in travel and how the City is responding to them.

Workers are returning to the office, with a 75% level from Tuesday to Thursday respect to the pre-Covid figures, and the GLA employment projections are in the rise. In other good news, the number of cyclists has increased fourfold since 1999, with a steep curve since 2021, whilst drivers have declined by two-thirds in the same period.

Bruce defends that it is time to prepare for growth. The City of London Corporation adopted a Transport Strategy in 2019, and following the pandemic are now consulting the public on revisions to the document (open until 7th of January 2024), with a focus on inclusive policies.

Some of the priorities relate to walking strategies, improving bike lanes, introducing sustainable drainage, or a smarter approach to Congestion Charge.

How are changes in transport reflected in the public realm?

The projects presented by Bruce were inspiring, but also an example of quiet changes that have a big impact. They demonstrate how local policymaking can reflect society trends, improving the public realm in a city where space is limited and must be negotiated between tourists and office workers, cyclists and drivers, pedestrians and amenities.

From the handful of initiatives, the opportunities at Bank and St Paul concentrated most of the queries from the CAF members.

All Change at Bank is a model of street space reallocation, where the pedestrian areas are widened significantly and allow new activities such as bar terraces, bike doctors, or enough space for tourist groups. By 2024 cars will not be allowed to circulate at Bank, and Threadneedle St and Queen Victoria St will become cycle only.

St Paul’s Gyratory will experiment a radical transformation and become one of the largest public spaces in the City, stretching from the Museum of London roundabout to St Paul's underground station.

The evening closed with a lively Q&A session. Some CAF members were surprised by the changes in traffic restrictions, others queried about the coordination between national and local initiatives, and Peter Murray OBE questioned if the Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects would be consulted in future policies by the city of London.

Gonzalo Coello de Portugal, words Member of City Architecture Forum

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