The Mayor’s office recently announced that Transport for London (TfL) are working on proposals for a 22-mile, £30 billion underground ring road to encircle the capital’s central districts.
Early plans suggest an orbital route from Islington through Shoreditch, Wapping, Elephant and Castle, Battersea, Earl’s Court, St. John’s Wood and then Camden. A feasibility study is underway.
But whilst the idea of banishing traffic from some of London’s busiest roads and sticking it in underground tunnels may seem attractive, there is plenty of evidence to show that new roads bring new traffic.
A recent study found London to be Europe’s second most congested city and even more cars would only clog up our streets and pollute our air further.
The Mayor claims that more driving is inevitable in a populous, prosperous London. The facts say otherwise – between 2000 and 2011, the capital’s economy and population grew considerably yet car trips and car ownership declined.
Boris may have promised to ‘assist the downward trend’ in car use last year, but by repeatedly raising fares above inflation, shrinking the congestion charge zone and halting the expansion in bus services the Mayor has driven Londoners back into their cars.
More roads bring more cars and trying to manage traffic growth by building new roads is futile.
The Mayor’s latest folly would leave some of London’s best-loved neighbourhoods scarred. Local people would be swept aside by compulsory purchase orders or forced to live next to roaring tunnel entrances with cars and lorries flooding into them day and night.
On top of the huge disruption is the hefty price tag. £30 billion is enough to fund two Crossrails, make London’s streets truly safe and accessible for those on bike or foot, or to get trucks off our streets by investing in river freight. These are the kind of projects that will ensure London is a liveable city with a sustainable future.
Having already admitted that central government won’t foot the bill, Boris hopes to fund this eye-wateringly expensive project by tolls and selling or developing surface land released by the tunnel.
A far easier way to liberate idle land would be by encouraging people out of their cars and cutting down the number of parking spaces across the city.
Although parks and green spaces are also promised by the Mayor, their lack of revenue-generating potential could mean they never materialise.
If we let the Mayor bury our traffic underground, we are burying our heads in the sand. Boris Johnson should cancel his feasibility study into this project now and instead focus on bikes, buses and barges for London’s long-term future.