"Peak Car" in London and its effects

Any story about traffic calming measures in Brockley is sure to excite a long debate about the cars v bikes v people - seemingly the eternal struggle. So it's worth reflecting that car use in London is in long-term decline, having peaked about 15 years ago:

In the meantime, let me observe that as far as London is concerned, peak car use came and went at least fifteen years ago, when none of us noticed. Transport for London's most recent 'Travel in London' report records a steady decline in private transport's share of trips since at least 1993 (then 50%, 41% in 2008).

This trend is compounded by the fact that fewer young people are learning to drive, put off by high insurance premiums and declining cultural cache attached to having your own car:

Indeed, it seems fewer young people nowadays harbour the ambition to drive. Between 1992 and 2007, the proportion of 17-to-20-year-olds holding a driving licence fell from 48 per cent to 38 per cent and that of 21-to-29-year-olds from 75 per cent to 66 per cent.

London's population has been growing since the 1980s (reversing a long-term decline). The same is true across the country. Denser cities make public transport, cycling and walking relatively more efficient and attractive:

In the UK there's a huge degree of urbanisation. Eighty percent of the populace (50 million people) are classified as urban-dwelling and urbanisation is forecast to grow at 0.7 percent – 350,000 people – a year to 2015.

And all those road-safety measures that people say don't work seem to be having some effect:

The proportion of cars exceeding the speed limit on residential roads has fallen sharply in the past decade, down from almost three quarters in 1996 to only half in 2006.

Which is helping to improve road safety and save lives:

The new TfL figures reveal how deaths and serious injuries on London's roads have dropped by a staggering 57 per cent over the last decade.

Last year, the first time since records began in the 1970s, the number of fatalities fell below 150 to 126, which represents a 32 per cent reduction compared with 2009, and a 49 per cent reduction since the mid-to-late 1990s.

What's more, figures recently published by the Department for Transport (DfT) show that London is considerably below the national average in terms of fatalities at 24 per million people, compared to a UK average of 38 per million.

And that is creating a virtuous circle. As roads improve for cyclists, more people try it. The more cyclists on the road, the more safe they become:

Cycling gets safer the more cyclists there are. That's the finding of a new report by the CTC, the UK's national cyclists' organisation... CTC also highlighted a major change in London, which has seen a 91 percent increase in cycling since 2000 and a 33 percent fall in cycle casualties (going on absolute numbers) since 1994-98.

But there is more work needed if we are to reap the health benefits as well as cut congestion. Investment in cycling is often half-hearted:

So, say, if you make London a really hostile environment to cycle in then people won’t cycle in it. If you design stupid cycle paths, some of which — I could show you photographs — are shorter than the length of a bicycle; if you put bicycle paths right next to a set of parked cars, so that if you cycled in it then every time somebody opened a door you would just die, but if you cycle outside it then all the cars get really indignant and beep their horns because they think that you should be in the little green cycle path then, if you do all of that then people will cycle less and people will be less healthy in your capital.

So there we go, as London is growing, car use is falling. More of us are using public transport and cycling is increasing. As a result, roads are getting safer for everyone, with other benefits in terms of cutting emissions and improving public health.

But these benefits are the result of two decades of enlightened policy in the face of stiff resistance from a driving lobby that resists any attempts to curb cars' excesses, however much the evidence supports the action and benefits them in terms of reduced congestion.