Despite making significant progress, London is groaning under the weight of its traffic. Cities the world-over will be watching intently to see how London gets itself out of a jam.
London in a jam: what cities can learn from each other
While London’s ground-breaking congestion charge has slashed the number of private cars entering London, the city is still drowning in vehicles and has the worst congestion in Europe. This is bad for business and for air quality and it is doing major damage to the city’s economy.
But London’s transport woes are largely a symptom of its roaring success and could be what’s in store for many other cities. It’s in a great position to provide a blueprint for managing urban congestion everywhere, while learning from what other cities have done.
Several cycle highways have been introduced across London, we just need more people to use them. But even then London’s roads will still be choked by private-hire cabs, delivery vans and trucks. We may need to take Copenhagen’s approach of vehicle-free zones; it now has more bikes than cars. Or we could limit vehicles in other ways, like Beijing, Paris, and Delhi have had to do to curb air pollution.
Take it underground
Another way to increase road capacity in dense inner cities is to go underground; according to Elon Musk “tunnels hold the key to alleviating city congestion”. Stockholm is alive to this idea and is busily creating a huge subterranean bypass to divert the bulk of the city’s traffic. London’s former Mayor Boris Johnson proposed a similar solution for the UK capital. And while it has potential, it has obvious drawbacks and might even bring in more cars.
It’s true, the congestion charge has failed to alleviate congestion in London. That doesn’t mean the concept of pricing should be abandoned altogether. Instead we need it to be smarter, more dynamic, and based on real-time traffic conditions. This would provide a genuine disincentive to driving at busy times or on busy routes and could even deter the likes of Uber and Amazon who are basically immune to the flat congestion charge. These systems are already used, to great effect, in cities like Singapore.
More people now buy online and have their purchases conveniently delivered to their workplace. This is causing the number of delivery vans in London to skyrocket, a trend that can’t continue. The New West End Company is ahead of the curve here. Representing the world’s largest retail destination, it is working with its members, targeting a host of areas, including smarter deliveries and redirecting personal deliveries – if not to a home, at least to a local store for Click & Collect.
Can autonomous and electric vehicles help?
Transport experts don’t seem to agree on whether AVs will relieve or exacerbate traffic. Some say they’ll help improve flow, reducing delays by 40%. Others claim it’ll be decades until they own the roads anyway. In the meantime many cities including Oslo are turning to EVs, to cut air pollution rather than vehicle use. But EVs will be wired for easy car-sharing, which may take a few vehicles off the road but sadly not at the speed or scale needed.
Article written by Emilija Emma and Laura Jockers in JLL’s Upstream Sustainability Services team.