Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The census data is absolutely undeniable: Massive rise in car-free households, now the majority all across inner London. Yet London borough councils persist in designing our roads for cars not for bikes and public transport, in direct conflict with what's actually happening.

Evening Standard is absolutely right.
Time for local councils to react to demographic change
& give cyclists their fair share of the road
I've spent some of this evening reviewing the 2011 census data published earlier today, comparing it to the results from 2001 (see part 2 on ONS website)

It makes for a very interesting story. In fact, it's a primetime, can't-miss-it kind of story. And that is, that as far as inner London is concerned, the private car is well and truly on its way out.

In 2001 in Southwark, 51% of households had no car or van. By 2011, that number was up to 58%. In Hackney, the story is even more dramatic - 65% of households are now car-free, up from 56% in 2001. Lambeth - 58% of households are car-free, up from 51% in 2001. Even in a car-centric borough like Wandsworth, 45% now have no car, up from 41% in 2001. And Westminster, the borough which brings you free car parking all weekend and which is viciously anti-cycling, a whopping 63% of households don't own a car, up from 57% in 2001. In Lambeth, it's now 58% car-free households, up from 51% in 2001. Even Kensington & Chelsea households are now 56% car-free, up from 51% in 2001.

The data is absolutely blatant. Inner London is ditching the car. All over inner London in fact. Both the rich parts and the poor parts, the Labour-voting, LibDem-voting and Conservative-voting parts. You simply can't miss the fact that inner London is going car-free.

And yet London councils, like Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea are clinging on to the mistaken belief that London needs to be designed around the private motor car.

Kensington & Chelsea issued a local transport plan in late 2010 that proposes its streets should be designed almost exclusively around the needs of private car ownership: "Our approach to cycling is to encourage a safe mix with other traffic – our busy road network and densely populated area mean that it is not practical to allocate road space specifically to cyclists. Instead, we focus on providing a smooth, debris–free riding surface, cycle parking and increasing the permeability of the local road network." Get that? The majority of Kensington & Chelsea households are car-free yet the council still regards it as "not practical" to devote space to cycling instead of driving and promotes an ideology that would have lorries, buses, taxis and people on bicycles all jostling for position on four lane highways.

I think what the census data is showing is that being 'car-free' is not a left-wing thing, it's not a right-wing thing. It's not a Labour borough issue. It's not a LibDem or Conservative borough issue either. It's happening all across inner London. Households are going car-free. And most of the boroughs are way, way too slow to realise that their residents are looking for alternatives.

The bicycle is one of those alternatives. It is one that has been woefully underfunded for decades. As a transport form, it needs an injection of concerted effort by local boroughs. Those boroughs are running out of excuses and they need to create networks for people to travel by road but not by private car. Especially in places like Westminster and Wandsworth where the provision to cycle instead of drive is pathetic and has been largely ignored by anti-cycling councillors for years.

That has to change. The demographics say as much.