The Licenced Taxi Drivers Association has used planning law to launch a legal challenge to mayor Boris Johnson’s cycle superhighway plans.
The challenge comes as contractors are busy digging up parts of London, and applying more blue paint as they install dedicated cycle ways. Johnson was keen to see the cycleways as his legacy, and has pushed on with the programme to introduce them, despite widespread resistance and opposition.
The taxi drivers argue that the cycleway along the Victoria Embankment constitutes development, and should therefore be subject to planning permission – which it does not have. As such, it breaches planning control.
In response, Transport for London says the changes to roads are not development, but “works of improvement” and therefore no permission is needed. TfL’s QC, Timothy Straker, said the objective of the cabbies was “the cessation of further works, if not the dismantling of the work already carried out”.
The aim is for the major east-west cycle superhighway to be largely complete by the coming summer, linking Tower Hill and Lancaster Gate with a segregated route for cyclists, largely by claiming existing carriageway from vehicles. A further stretch to Acton is also planned. Other cycle ways to the north and south are also in planning or under construction.
Cycling in the capital has been growing at 10% per year in recent years, and according to TfL now accounts for 16% of traffic in central London and 25% at peak times, on key routes. The growth of cycle traffic has also led to a growing number of highly publicised cyclist deaths, many of them incidents involving trucks turning left at junctions. Despite efforts to fit trucks with mirrors and other warnings, deaths and injuries have continued.
Not everyone has been on side with mayor Johnson’s cycling crusade. Some boroughs have previously ducked out of joining the cycle hire scheme, which has grown in the central area of the capital.
And Kensington & Chelsea stands accused of blocking attempts to install superhighway 9, bewtween Hounslow and Hyde Park. Earlier this month, a council spokesman responded to criticism it had held up a cycle lane implementation in Kensington High Street, with the following statement: “We have always been worried about the impact on pedestrians of having to cross a fast moving cycle lane. It’s also clear that the mayor’s east-west superhighway is having an impact on traffic congestion across central London, and the High Street is already heavily congested.”
“However it would be wrong to characterise the council as anti-bike. We are not.”
Darren Johnson, Green party member on the London Assembly has suggested the mayor needs more powers, to help push through cycle lanes, noting: “The mayor let the plans get bogged down by an inflexible local council when he could have sought powers to take over local roads where necessary to complete his network of cycle superhighways.”
LPA Perspective: None of us are old enough to remember the hoohah that undoubtedly accompanied the arrival of the first motor vehicles in London. From scaring the horses to death, to running down pedestrians, all sorts of opposition would have been advanced.
Similarly, it was never going to be easy building a more cycle friendly London. Tight streets and single level junctions have made for a complex addition of dedicated cycle space, while junctions can get really messy.
Does it have to be like this? Other European cycle friendly cities such as Amsterdam seem to manage the comfortable co-existence of cyclists alongside other road users, without this need for segregation, or any need to even consider the wearing of cycle helmets, largely.
The problem for the UK, is that we’re just learning to accommodate cyclists. Our grandads cycled everywhere, usually with a flat cap on, but we seem to have quickly lost the interest – as quickly as we are regaining it. In the process, those of us driving appear to have lost the ability to look out for cyclists, in the same way as our Dutch neighbours can.
The taxi drivers’ appeal will, if logic prevails, be dismissed. Just as turkeys wouldn’t vote for Christmas, cabbies will fight anything that threatens to slow traffic. The famously truculent drivers are facing the triple whammy of increased congestion, technological change as the Uber app undermines the value of their “knowledge” and the convenience of hailing them on the street, plus the realisation that they will shortly have to replace their diesel engined vehicles with something much cleaner. And they’re fed up with Boris, who refused to countenance their previous battle over Uber, which they accuse of stealing their business, endangering the public and adding to general congestion.
Sure, Johnson has rushed this scheme through, and there are worries that the speed of the process will mean unintended consequences are not thought through. But, with the numbers of cyclists growing so dramatically, a major step was probably needed, to reduce casualties. A decade from now, we will probably wonder what all the fuss was about.
The challenge for planners now, is what to do with all the bicycles once they arrive at their destinations. Planning authorities have been gently upgrading their requirements for cycle storage within new office developments – but what about the visitors? Surely an enlightened developer will soon offer cycling visitors a concierge storage facility at reception, through the front door of office blocks rather than round the back?