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The Commutability of London – part 1

July 2, 2018

A blog by Senior Consultant, Christel Hengeveld talks about the struggles in daily commuting and proposed changes set out by the Mayor of London to encourage more cycling and walking in the city of London.

Daily commuting stress

For many workers commuting into, or even within London, the daily commute represents a stressful time. Research done by Office for National Statistics in 2014 concluded that “Holding all else equal, commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters.” (1). However, when googling “commuting + London”, the results show which commuting towns are the best places to buy a house, while still being able to commute to work. It seems as though the aspiration to live in the leafy green outskirts beyond the M25 has become the norm, because it’s seen as the right thing for young families or it’s financially attractive.

Having said that, a shorter commute between stations on the London Underground network can be equally stressful. An increasing number of people, myself included, choose an alternative way to get to work, in the form of cycling, running, walking or even stand-up-paddling (yes, you can SUP your way to Canary Wharf on the Canals). Although the benefits of an alternative commute are numerous, those who have witnessed the cycle superhighways turn into the finish line on the Champs-Élysées may be put off the idea of cycling to work (if the thought of that Lycra outfit had not achieved that effect already). Similarly, whilst walking around central London during the morning peak you witness pavement “rage” and pedestrians stepping onto the street to overtake other pedestrians. 

The London commute is overcrowded. There, I said it. There is not enough space to comfortably accommodate all commuters in Central London, causing congestion on the roads, on the Underground network and even on the pavements and cycle lanes. Factors contributing to the sense of over-crowdedness are space and time. Space: there is currently a lack of (safe) spaces for cycling and walking, and Time: the nine to five mentality that Dolly Parton’s song seems to have ingrained into our way of life.

Space considerations 

If we compare London to other major cities in the world, we can quickly see that few big cities come without traffic congestion, even if they are cycle jams seen in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. However, London is simply unlike any other city, as its history dates back to Roman times – many parts of the world had not even been discovered. As such, modern day urban planning for a growing population will always be constrained by London’s historic features; new and innovative ways to cope with the growth of the city are needed. 

Even if London’s space issues differ from other major cities, we can certainly be inspired by some nifty solutions in “younger” cities. For example, we could add pedestrian routes above the roads, connecting people to buildings to avoid conflict with traffic. In cities like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, these walkways are covered to protect people from the sun – we could use the same covers to protect us from the London rain! At busy crossroads and intersections, an extra layer of footpath could even be transformed into a well-designed urban space, with trees and plants to improve London’s air quality. Meanwhile, footpaths next to roads can be converted to more cycle lanes, creating more safe spaces to cycle to work and fewer cars on the road. Bus fleets are transitioning to electric and vehicle emissions could decrease – leaving us with a better, cleaner, fresher and fitter London.

Good news to all commuters – a range of improvements are being implemented as we speak. The Mayor of London has produced a long-term plan to create a healthy city, improving the roads and pavements to encourage more cycling and walking, and to decrease the reliance on driving. The benefits to these plans are numerous, and ultimately aim to both save money and improve the health of the city (2).

Meanwhile, TfL have mapped London’s long-term cycling potential, using data to show that Cycle Superhighways and the proposed Quietways (once built) will increase cycling along these routes by up to 56% (3). Additionally, the Thameslink programme has recently been launched, significantly increasing the number of trains through central London and thereby increasing the capacity (4). The introduction of the Elizabeth line, which will start to operate through the new Central London tunnels in December 2018, will eventually deliver and additional 10% boost in train capacity in London, relieving the Central, H&C, Jubilee and DLR lines (5).

Alternatively, the development of new employment hubs can move a large number of commuters to transport interchanges in the outer zones of London. This can take pressure off the City of London, Westminster and Canary Wharf, and utilise public transport capacity heading against the peak direction. To an extent, this is already happening in Stratford and with the development of HS2, Old Oak Common may soon follow.

Time considerations 

Taking into consideration the Time element of commuting, the Transport Authority in Singapore has implemented the Travel Smart programme, shifting travelling commuters to off-peak periods by giving them a discounted “early peak” travel price (6).

Perhaps a more short-term solution for London could be found by considering the “time” factor. There are roughly 4.7 million daytime workers (7) moving around the city every day. A significant shift towards flexible working hours could encourage employees to adapt their commuting habits. As a result, pressure on to the rail and tube network can continue to spread into the “shoulders”, decreasing the peak demand. More employees could work from the comfort of their own homes, choosing to be in the office only for core hours or days, instead of Monday – Friday, nine to five.

Conclusions

Reviewing both the space and time factors can offer solutions to improve London’s crowded commute. Movement Strategies is working on a range of projects that help to increase the performance of current assets, whilst also contributing to the planning of new infrastructure and services, which will shape the future of commuting. We are also delivering insights derived from big data sets, to allow London to plan and operate in a smarter way. For more information, please contact the team via our website.

Sources: 

1: ONS (2014): Commuting and personal well-being, retrieved via
http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160131203938/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/wellbeing/measuring-national-well-being/commuting-and-personal-well-being--2014/art-commuting-and-personal-well-being.html#tab-2--Key-Points
https://www.london.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s69145/PUB18_001_MTS_HealthyStreets_230218-2.pdf
2: Mayor of London and TfL (2018): Healthy Streets for London – prioritising walking, cycling and public transport to create a healthy city, retrieved via http://content.tfl.gov.uk/healthy-streets-for-london.pdf
3: TfL (2017): London’s long-term cycling potential mapped out, retrieved via https://tfl.gov.uk/info-for/media/press-releases/2017/june/london-s-long-term-cycling-potential-mapped-out
4: Thameslink Programme (2018): Benefits of the Programme, retrieved via  http://www.thameslinkprogramme.co.uk/benefits-of-the-programme
5: Crossrail (2018): Delivering Economic Benefits in London, The South East and Across the UK, retrieved via http://www.crossrail.co.uk/route/wider-economic-benefits
6: Land Transport Authority of Singapore (2018): Travel Smart in Singapore, retrieved via https://www.lta.gov.sg/content/ltaweb/en/public-transport/mrt-and-lrt-trains/travel-smart.html
7: London Datastore (2014): Daytime Population of London in 2014, retrieved via
 https://data.london.gov.uk/apps_and_analysis/daytime-population-of-london-2014/ 
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