Ken Livingstone’s first term as Mayor of London is intrinsically associated with the Congestion Charge. An unpopular idea at the start it is now impossible to imagine London without it. The quid pro quo for it was the investment in London’s buses, now almost without exception modern and disabled-accessible. The plan was visionary, bold, determined and – viewed over the medium term – right.
Fast forward to 2012 and Ken’s re-election bid next year and what has he got? The problem this time is that Ken does not look like the radical outsider he did in 2000. This time he is the institutional one, against Boris the buffoon who many still love despite his policy inadequacies. While Ken may struggle in the character stakes, he could partially make up for it with eye-catching policies… but what could those be?
Ken has already ruled out re-introducing the western extension of the Congestion Charge zone, and has so far focussed only on public transport fares (his ‘Fare Deal‘), promising to cut fares in 2012, freeze in 2013 and an inflation only increase in 2014 (PDF here). The plan is at least partially financed (according to the Evening Standard). There is also the proposal to ‘set out a full cycling policy closer to the election’ on the Tell Ken part of his campaign site. But these are all small things so far.
So are we going to get a major announcement on something from Ken? And if so, how could it look?
For a start any bold policy from Ken would have to be about transport – it’s the vital issue for the future of London, and one of the few areas where the GLA and Mayor have genuine power. The policy would have to be either low cost, or cost-returning in a short time frame (that would seem to rule out Ken’s statements about Crossrail 2 and 3 becoming policies). The future investment plans for the tube are also set for the coming 5-10 years, and could there be room for any defining policy there anyway?
If there is to be a bold policy from Ken then it has to come in the roads / pollution / congestion area. Central London still has chronic air pollution. While cycling has been on the increase, recent cycle deaths have highlighted how the city has a long way to go before it is genuinely cycle friendly.
Essentially roads policy for London over the last 5 years has only been framed in terms of winners – helping cyclists, improving buses etc. – but to advance further towards a pedestrian and cycle friendly city something has to give.
Vehicle speeds would need to be lowered (a blanket 20mph speed limit, with cameras to enforce it?) and parking spaces and, in some cases, even traffic lanes removed to allow proper cycle lanes separate from the traffic to be constructed (this is what Copenhagen did). This all needs to be done in a way that is sensitive to businesses based in central London – goods still need to be shipped by motor vehicle but passenger transport need not be by car – it should instead be made more pleasant to walk and cycle. At the very least the issue of a pedestrianised Oxford Street needs to be revisited.
Could Ken hence advocate a vision for London as a walking and cycling city, with a 10-step plan to achieve it? I’m not holding my breath…