Streets are public spaces though their design often prioritises motor vehicles on the carriageway and parking for motor vehicles on the kerbside. However, 44 per cent of Londoners do not own a car, and the capital’s streets are not only conduits of traffic but also places where people of all ages socialise, play, exercise, shop and rest. Street design should cater for these needs too. In view of these concerns, we now consider what value Londoners place on other street uses, and how the priorities of car owners and non-car owners compare.
Our survey results (see Figure 6) show that overall, on-street parking for residents is the fifth-highest priority for street use. 43 per cent of all Londoners believe it should be high priority: yet only 31 per cent of non-car owners agree, compared to 52 per cent of car owners.
Overall, Londoners prioritise uses that improve quality of life and support pedestrians, such as trees and green space, pavements free of clutter, children’s play space, and community or recreation space.
The rest of this chapter examines these alternative kerbside uses and Londoners’ preferences in more detail.
Bus lanes and bus stops
The bus is the most popular form of public transport in London, and one-fifth of all journey stages in London are made by bus. 24 Buses are more easily accessible than both trains and the Underground, so many people – especially older and disabled Londoners, parents of young children, and others with limited mobility – rely on buses every day. Yet, bus speeds have been declining – from 9.6 mph in 2013/14 to 9.3 mph in 2018/19 – due to increasing congestion, particularly in central London. The same is true of bus ridership, which declined by eight per cent between 2014 and 2018. 25
A fully utilised bus is among the most efficient ways to move people and has a key role in the shift towards sustainable transport across the city. To fulfil this potential, TfL plans to rationalise routes in central London and increase routes in outer London where they are currently less dense. 26 More priority bus lanes can help improve bus speeds in areas of high congestion, and could start increasing passenger numbers again. There is significant support for the latter measure: 40 per cent of Londoners (30 per cent of car owners, 52 per cent of non-car owners) in our survey thought priority bus lanes should receive high priority in street space allocation.
Cycle lanes and cycle parking
Investment in the cycleways network has enhanced the uptake of cycling. Since 2015 the number of cycling journeys has increased by eight per cent, with 745,000 journeys made daily. In 2018, cyclists travelled over four million kilometres each day, up by four per cent on the previous year. This is the largest annual increase in London cycling to date, suggesting that people are cycling further. 27
However, cycling is more popular with certain groups, and women and ethnic minorities remain underrepresented among cyclists. Despite long-term declines in cyclist road casualties in London, 28 personal safety remains a concern for many, with 30 per cent of Londoners citing it as a barrier to taking up or increasing cycling. 29 In addition, many disabled people could use adapted bikes as mobility aides, but cycle lanes are often not designed with the needs of disabled cyclists in mind. 29 Continued investment in high-quality cycling infrastructure, segregated from motor vehicle traffic, is an important way to get more people cycling.
Insufficient provision of safe bicycle parking is another factor affecting cycling uptake. 31 Over three million people own at least one bicycle in London, but only around 145,500 on-street parking spaces are available. Therefore, many people store their bikes in spaces not specifically designated for this purpose, such as balconies and buildings’ communal areas. Secure bike parking, even when it is available, does not come cheap. While many boroughs are in the process of installing bike hangars, residents face long waiting lists for a space and costs of £30-40 per year.
To meet the need for cycle parking in central and inner London, and enable cycling growth in outer London, more parking space is needed – as is highlighted in the Mayor’s Cycle Parking Implementation Plan. 32 Sufficient provision for cargo and adapted bikes – which can enable disabled people, tradespeople or parents with children to travel by bike – is also required. But while TfL can take the lead on the network of major roads it controls and specify provision for new developments through the London Plan, it is up to boroughs to take the lead in allocating sufficient bike parking space on local roads.
While cycle lanes and parking rank relatively low in our survey’s list of priorities, this is not surprising, given the relatively low proportion of people who currently cycle. Nevertheless, 30 per cent of Londoners (26 per cent of car owners and 34 per cent of non-car owners) thought segregated cycle lanes should receive high priority for street space allocation in their local area, and 29 per cent (27 per cent of car owners and 31 per cent of non-car owners) thought the same about secure cycle parking.
Bike hire stations
TfL’s cycle hire scheme (Santander Cycles) has increased its usership from two million in 2010 to nine million in 2019, with over 750 docking stations and 21,000 docking points located across the capital. 33 There is also a plethora of private bike hire service providers, from Lime to Mobike and Jump: at last count, these companies were providing around 7,250 dockless bikes for use. Bike hire can be a convenient option for people who would like to start cycling but are unsure whether to invest in their own bike, or have nowhere to store it. It can also be a first-and last-mile solution for people who mainly use public transport. Equally, the growing provision of shared e-bikes has the potential to unlock cycling for people who face physical challenges (such as older people or those unused to high activity levels); they can also make longer and hilly terrain journeys possible by bike. 34
However, parking for shared bikes can be an issue, especially with dockless bikes. Where there are no designated parking bays, users may leave them on pavements, presenting an obstruction to pedestrians. They are a particular hazard for disabled people and those with visual impairments. Having dedicated and well-signposted dockless bike parking areas in visible locations can counter this problem and boost take-up. Some boroughs are already including provisions in their agreements with operators to minimise clutter and hazard by allocating “virtual bays” in safe locations or on the carriageway to maintain footway space. London Councils is also working with boroughs on a pan-London by-law to make it easier to designate on-carriageway bays for bike parking and to enforce compliance.
Electric vehicle charging points
Using electric vehicles (EVs) for journeys that cannot be made by other modes can help alleviate London’s emissions and air quality problem – although even fully electric vehicles generate emissions from production, charging and disposal, as well as particulate matter pollution from tyre, brake and road wear. To help support a large-scale shift towards electric vehicles, extensive coverage of charging infrastructure would be required. There are currently more than 28,000 electric vehicles in London, including 1,700 electric taxis and a growing electric bus fleet; current policy means that the uptake of EVs is only likely to increase. 35
Increasing the availability and geographical coverage of charging infrastructure would support a widespread switch to EVs. It is estimated that by 2025 the city will require between 2,300 and 4,100 rapid charge points, and between 33,700 and 47,500 slow to fast charge points. 36 While there will be demand for on-street provision, especially in areas without private driveways for home charging, infrastructure should be integrated with existing street furniture as much as possible – for example via lampposts or in dedicated “mobility hubs”. 37
There was a high level of support for EV charging infrastructure in our survey. Overall, 32 per cent of Londoners thought EV charging points should receive high priority for street space allocation. Notably, levels of support did not significantly vary by car ownership status or location in inner/outer London. Moreover, 47 per cent of Londoners say they would definitely buy an electric car as their next vehicle if there were a guaranteed charging space close to their home.
Car club parking
Again, while encouraging sustainable transport is the ultimate goal, car clubs can be a useful way of reducing overall car usage and ownership. They can serve as a transition between car ownership and a completely car-free lifestyle, providing members with access to a car for the occasional trips that require it. Car clubs have steadily grown in popularity: between 2014 and 2018 the number of memberships almost doubled, reaching 245,000 in London. More recent estimates put memberships at close to 500,000, 38 although these are still concentrated in inner London where both car ownership and usage are lower. 41 per cent of car club members in London report they would have bought a car had they not joined a car club, and around one in six members have sold a private vehicle after joining one. 39 As the vehicles are shared, one car club vehicle can replace several private cars, improving utilisation and freeing up road space. Car club vehicles are also fully compliant with the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and there is a growing fleet of purely electric vehicles.
Car club vehicles ranked bottom in our survey’s list of priorities, as they remain a minority choice. Only seven per cent of the Londoners we surveyed currently use a car club, car rental or car-sharing platform, and just nine per cent of Londoners (the same for car owners and non-car owners) thought car club vehicles should be a high priority in street space allocation. Nevertheless, 20 per cent of car owners (29 per cent in inner London and 17 per cent in outer London) agree that they rarely use their car, and have considered or would be willing to consider alternatives such as joining a car club.
Pick-up and drop-off for deliveries, taxis and ride-hailing services
Access to the kerbside is also important to commercial drivers, such as those working in freight, logistics, delivery and servicing sectors, as well as tradespeople, taxis and private hire drivers. We need to minimise non-essential journeys, such as half-full vans fulfilling same-day delivery deadlines, or taxis taking passengers on journeys that can easily be walked or made by public transport. Yet, fixing boilers, delivering healthcare in the community, supplying shops and supporting online services all enable our businesses and homes to run smoothly – and many disabled people or others with limited mobility rely on taxis and private hire vehicles for essential journeys.
Currently, the vast majority of deliveries and passenger pick-up/drop-offs take place on double and single yellow lines, where regulations on waiting times differ by borough. 40 There are a limited number of designated loading bays available, but the tight limits on their hours of operation and loading wait times can mean that freight and logistics operators need to deploy more vehicles in order to carry out deliveries within their narrow time frames. Servicing businesses, on the other hand, rely on their hosts having visitor permits (or scratch cards) – or they will need to pay and display, which can be costly. While taxis benefit from designated taxi ranks in many locations (specifically around stations and other landmarks), private hire vehicles can only stop at yellow lines; when there is no space at the kerb in busy locations, they may need to drop off passengers on the highway, which is not safe. As yellow lines are the main location for loading and passenger pick-up or drop-off, the needs of the freight industry and passenger services need to be considered when kerb designation is reviewed.
On-street parking for deliveries/visitors and pick-up/ drop-off bays for taxis and private hire vehicles both ranked relatively low in our survey’s list of priorities (see Figure 6). This was perhaps because respondents may consider priorities from their own perspective as a driver or pedestrian, not from that of someone driving to deliver goods and services that they may use.
Green and recreational space
With streets fulfilling ‘place’ functions as well as movement, people’s willingness and ability to spend time outdoors in their neighbourhood is influenced by the availability of green and recreational space, including trees, seating and resting places, community space and children’s play areas. Sufficient provision improves social cohesion, quality of life and combats loneliness. Green space is also very important for environmental purposes, enabling water drainage, cleaning the air and cooling streets down. There has been a growing “streets for people” movement, and kerb space reallocation provides an opportunity to increase green and recreational space locally with minimal disruption.
Our survey showed a growing public concern about environmental issues. 83 per cent of Londoners are very or fairly concerned about global climate change and 77 per cent are concerned about local air quality. On climate change, levels of concern are similar for car owners and non-car owners, and for residents in inner and outer London. Moreover, 54 per cent of Londoners (58 per cent of car owners and 47 per cent of non-car owners) are concerned about road danger near their home, and 49 per cent believe children cannot safely play, walk or cycle on the streets in their neighbourhood. Consequently, green, community, recreational and play spaces were by far the biggest priority for survey respondents (see Figure 6). Again, support is almost universal among different types of Londoners.
Despite a growing focus on the environment and air pollution, many Londoners remain attached to their cars and parking provision, with 58 per cent of car owners expressing concern about insufficient parking space near their home. In addition, 69 per cent state they would not move to a new home without parking provision, even if it had good access to public transport.
As London grows, and technologies and lifestyles change, kerbside space can be used for an increasingly wide range of functions. In many cases, however, it is impossible to accommodate all these uses without making some difficult choices. A more active approach to parking control – and to enabling residents and visitors to get around without needing their own car – will allow street space to be rebalanced over time.