Sustaining suburbia – transport solutions for outer London

London has always been a centre of innovation, problem-solving and creative thought – and if you’re interested in making our city more liveable, the Movement for Liveable London’s monthly ‘Street Talks’ have become essential listening in recent months.  Described perhaps somewhat unkindly as a ‘drink tank’ – meetings normally take place on the first Tuesday of the month in the upstairs bar of The Yorkshire Grey, on the corner of Theobalds Road and Grays Inn Road – Movement for Liveable London “promotes discussion on how a fairer, healthier, greener and more pleasant future for London can be achieved by changing the way we move around our city”.

Street Talk topics to date have included health aspects of transport in London, air quality, traffic justice in London, Jan Gehl Consultancy’s view of best practice in designing for people in other international cities and – most recently, ‘Sustaining suburbia – transport solutions for outer London’ presented by by Richard Bourn and Richard Hebditch of the Campaign for Better Transport, see

November’s Street Talk

Although Wandsworth is technically an inner London borough, many parts are more ‘suburban’ – characterised by high levels of car ownership, relatively low density development, and (as a result of this) uneven access to public transport, and many of the themes raised in this Street Talk felt very relevant.  The presentation will shortly be posted on MML’s website, but meanwhile some highlights are given below.

Despite the fact that outer London has much more space to play with than the rest of London, Transport for London’s map of [motor traffic] congestion ‘hotspots’ shows that these are just as prevalent as in inner and central London.  This is a consequence of outer London’s relative dependence on car ownership and use, less accessible public transport (unless perhaps you happen to live on a route to a town centre), and often poor access to shops and services resulting from loss of local amenities such as post offices and libraries.  All of this is aggravated by continuing developments with large catchment areas which, by definition, favour car use.  The developers of these centres are being allowed to plan for continued car dependence, as illustrated by the large areas of land being given over to car parking; amongst a slew of recent developments across London, Battersea Power Station was cited (this is planned to have 3,500 car parking spaces, even though it will also have the benefit of Northern Line and Barclays cycle hire scheme extensions).  The Campaign for Better Transport views these large car parks as ‘the birth of traffic growth and traffic’ – and all that goes with that ‘baby’.  In effect, it’s the antithesis of sustainable development, in that problems – motor traffic congestion, poor air quality, road danger etc. – are being stored up for future generations to have to deal with.

Having analysed the problems, a number of practical solutions were put forward for discussion.  In essence, what we see across London is a continuing conflict between the ‘link’ and ‘place’ functions of where people live.  Living Streets’ view is that the ‘link’ function of our streets has been over-emphasised, and that additionally the ‘link’ function has privileged motorised transport, to the detriment of non-motorised road users (pedestrians and cyclists) and, disproportionately, the very young and old – and, in the longer term, all of us, via reduced quality of life, high levels of air pollution, traffic noise, and sedentary lifestyles.  The tools for improving the situation exist; the question is whether the political leadership exists to make use of them.  Clearly, outer London will be a key battleground for the Mayoral elections on 3 May 2012.

December’s Street Talk ‘The word from the street’ will be an ‘open mic’ evening in which everyone is invited to pitch for a 7 1/2 minute talk slot.  More details at
December’s Street Talk

For those with an interest in shared space, January’s street talk will be ‘Creating successful shared space streets’, on Tuesday 10 January, and will be presented by Stuart Reid of MVA Consultancy – details to follow on MML’s website, or join their email list.

Like to read more?  MML has a useful reading list at