Here are a few quick thoughts I had about Islington Council’s transport strategy that I sent to the council.
The tone of Islington Council’s Transport Strategy is the right one. It puts walking and cycling (and similar activities) at the forefront of their goals. There are some concrete actions, but not many given the time frame.
A few key facts that are important to know:
- In 2016, 30% of households in Islington owned a car, well down from 40% in 2011. This low rate of ownership is driven by good access to public transport, but also by the fact that Islington ranks very poorly on a number of welfare indicators and a large number of people can’t afford a car (35% of children under the age of 16 live in poverty which is the third highest nationally. 36% of Islington’s population aged over 60 are living in income-deprived households).
- Almost all of the traffic deaths in the borough are pedestrians, cyclists and scooters/motorcyclists.
Empower locals, and allow them to ‘show, not tell’
The reality is that Islington doesn’t have much budget for a lot of transport improvements. If every change requires external research or extensive public consultation, it is going to be hard to justify doing much. Small things that bring joy to locals won’t ever be done. Time and time again we see that, initially, people are against changes that will take away road capacity for cars. But after the change has been implemented people love the changes. Changes typically improve their lives and their community in ways that are hard to describe. The lesson is that, where possible, you have to implement ideas for a low cost on a trial basis.
As an example of ‘show, not tell’ is in Times Square, NYC. It to be dominated by cars until a transport official went out with traffic cones, lawn chairs and created temporary oasis for pedestrians. “Instead of waiting through years of planning studies and computer models to get something done, we’ve done it with paint and temporary materials. And the proof is in the real world performance of the street.”
But the changes don’t have to be so large. Check out some of the examples in this report by 880 cities.
The council has worked with dockless bike share companies and it appears that the rollout of the electric bikes in the borough has been much more successful than the non-electric bikes (probably due to the fact that electric bikes have to be frequently removed for charging so fewer bikes are left to languish in bad locations). Given the success so far, electric bikes should continue to be promoted and the council should:
- Promote the benefits of dockless bike share to surrounding councils (including Hackney and London city). Right now Islington residents cannot start a journey in Islington and finish their trip in adjacent boroughs..
- Work with providers to promote responsible parking (particularly so as not to impede visually impaired, wheelchair bound, or pram-pushing residents). This can be done by asking companies to specify preferred parking spots for dockless transport + by the council identifying and sharing such locations in an easy, scalable manner for private providers to communicate with their customers.
- Lobby for the introduction of dockless electric scooters. Currently these scooters are illegal to ride in the UK but they are a space efficient, cheaper, and often preferred alternative to electric bikes.
The strategy around cycle hire contains a few points which require clarification. The points are:
- “Establish cycle hubs at estates to provide free-to-hire cycle facilities” – What would this look like?
- “Work with private cycle hire providers and/or the Mayor of London to establish an electric cycle hire system in Islington, to help make cycling accessible to a wider audience.” — If this suggests that local government or TfL should build their own bike scheme I daresay this will be a mistake if the intention is to try and replicate the current privately provided products. I know that in March 2019 DfT announced the launch of a £700,000 pilot to give 11 hotspots in cities, rural and tourist areas the opportunity to trial electric cycle sharing schemes. Has the council learned lessons from this pilot?
The council has an aim to reduce the number of parking permits. There aren’t very clear targets around the aim. The council should also have an aim to reduce the number of on-street parking spaces. They should set explicit targets around these goals.
Right now the council subsidises parking to a great degree. A parking permit will cost a car owner about £150 per year https://www.islington.gov.uk/parking/parking-permits/parking-permit-costs-table
The land a parking space occupies is very valuable. If that area was incorporated into an apartment, rent would be more than £1500/year. Car users do pay other on-road costs to government, but in general if we want effective use of land we shouldn’t subsidise parking to such an extent. Islington Council should raise the price of non-concessionary parking permits.
As a resident of Highbury Stadium Square (HSS), I can say that more than 50% of the car parks are unused at any given point in time. One approach to reduce on road parking might be to propose opening up some car parking spaces in private developments with under-utilised car spaces for non-resident usage. Right now, according to HSS policy it “it is a breach of planning and the lease to let a space to any one who does not live in Highbury Stadium”. Changing this wouldn’t require any council effort other than convincing HSS management of the idea. If it is commercially viable it could be a win-win-win as owners of the car parks would get increased revenue, car owners get guaranteed parking, and locals could get reduced demand for on-street parking. Private providers could be appointed by developments to manage the identification/verification of non-resident parkers.
There is no mention of RingGo parking in the document. Right now this private provider has a monopoly on issuing parking tickets in Islington. It would be good to understand how RingGo fits into the council’s strategy. The long-term aim should be for multiple providers to compete for the right to provide parking. This may involve Islington Council being the owner of the booking data that they make accessible to booking apps (similar to how travel agents + online websites can book flights for an airline).
Safer and healthy streets
The strategy aims to make streets more appealing by making them safer + more aesthetically appealing.
School Streets seems to be a good policy but is rolling out slowly. What would it take for it to be sped up? How could we make some of the part-time closures become full-time closures, or at least altering the traffic flow to be one way?
We have a lot of under utilised schoolyards in the borough that should be made available to residents on weekends and after school finishes until dusk, just as New York has done.
One of the council’s aims is to “Ensure that streets are great places to walk, rest and play by providing seating, greenery, public art and events”. We need to have a permissive way to allow artists to contribute to our streets. A good example is from the city of St Paul in Minnesota, USA. They printed short, resident-submitted poems into the concrete and got great feedback from their residents. The council could pre-approve some locations for temporary installations and these could be handed over to a local university or community group to install works that fit within a basic set of guidelines.
Car club parking
The council talks about car clubs in a positive light which is good. It’s worth distinguishing between cars that are used solely for car club use vs. cars that are privately owned but can be rented to locals (let’s call it full car clubs vs. partial car clubs).
Typically, renting ‘partial car club’ vehicles is slightly cheaper than renting a ‘solely car club’ vehicle. Islington council could perhaps do more to encourage use of partial club car types of vehicles. Some ideas that would have low-cost implementation and running costs might be:
- If a vehicle has been rented out certain number of times in a year (e.g. 10 times) then the car owner can apply a free parking permit. This would take liaising with car club companies to verify this information but free parking permits might entice people to list their car.
- Residents that are currently ineligible to get on-street parking permits due to council policy around new development requirements are precluded from renting their car out on car clubs as their private carparks can’t be accessed by non-residents of the development. Councils should figure out a way for these residents to be able to participate in car club schemes, perhaps by giving them access to on-street parking.
- Council can advertise the policies above, or just the existence of the different car clubs in relevant communication with residents
The policies above should translate to a much higher supply of car club cars, making it more appealing for people to rent one.
Minimising on-street delivery time
It is great to see a novel approach to minimising lorry usage being trialled by promoting a hub-and-spoke warehouse facility that is stocked en masse, but with the last-mile delivery done by cargo bike. Islington council should promote the results of this trial open and transparently even if it is a failure, to help other councils learn from the work they are doing.