LA and London both prove the solution is good infrastructure, leadership—and getting a grip on trafficby Andrew Adonis / July 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
New York’s transport system is falling to bits. JFK airport is regularly described as third world, and the subway system has seen no major upgrades for decades. London, by contrast, is about to open the new east-west Crossrail line connecting Heathrow, the West End, the City and Canary Wharf. And a consensus is forming for further bold investments which—Brexit permitting—will make London the world’s infrastructure capital.
The high-speed HS2 line from London to Birmingham begins construction next year and will be completed by 2027. It will then be extended to Manchester and Leeds. Plans for a north-south London Crossrail 2 line are well advanced. Heathrow’s new Terminal Two, and nearly-new Terminal Five, are world class; and after years of agonising, a decision on a third runway and another new terminal is imminent. Together with tube upgrades enabling 36 trains an hour on the Victoria line, and an integrated contactless ticketing system for London’s public transport system, it is a remarkable turnaround for the failing city of the 1970s and 80s.
London’s renaissance can be explained simply: leadership. It started with Michael Heseltine’s inspired decision in the 80s to reinvent the Docklands as a new business district, with Canary Wharf at its heart, and to extend the Jubilee Line to serve it. In 2000, Tony Blair’s government established a new mayoralty for London, responsible for public transport. The first Mayor, Ken Livingstone, took a series of bold initiatives—including Crossrail and a congestion charging zone in the centre—and secured the Blair/Brown government’s backing. The 2012 Olympics were another powerful catalyst.
In the United States, although Donald Trump made infrastructure a key campaign “pledge,” his trillion-dollar idea remains just that and few people in Washington believe it will ever reach that scale. The initiative therefore is with the states and cities, but progress is patchy. New York’s Port Authority, responsible for most major transport infrastructure, finally plans to upgrade JFK and LaGuardia airports and the Hudson rail tunnel to New Jersey. But only a fraction of the funding is identified, and horse-trading between the city, the states and the Trump administration, is painfully slow.
In contrast, California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, is building America’s first high-speed rail line, from LA to San Francisco, and the LA metropolitan area is undergoing a public transport revolution. The new 15-mile Expo metro line opened last year, connecting central LA to Culver City and Santa Monica. Last November, “Measure M” got 70 per cent support in a referendum for a sales tax increase to raise $860m a year to fund projects including a rail line to LA International Airport, new pedestrianisation schemes, and improvements to cycle-ways.
However, none of these cities has a credible plan for tackling chronic road traffic congestion. Gridlock is now as severe in central London as it was before the congestion zone. Failing to extend the zone as proposed in 2008, and a reduction in road space through new segregated cycle super-highways and pedestrianisation schemes, are partly the cause. Bus speeds in London are falling fast, and with them bus usage. It’s no surprise that the Mayor’s draft transport strategy highlights the importance of the next generation of road user charging systems.
New York and LA don’t even have downtown congestion charging zones. LA has express lanes, with charges for solo drivers to encourage car sharing, but this has had limited success.
Road pricing is the holy grail of transport planners the world over. With congestion worsening and air pollution an issue of global concern, it should have a newfound political viability. It will take leadership, but in these three cities, its time may have come. Watch this—congested—space.