Clean air in the Capital and the problem of Traffic

The Mayor has pledged to clean up the capital’s air, to improve the health of Londoners and enhance our quality of life.   He also called on Government to back the plan with adequate policy and financial support.  Over the coming months he will discuss with government funding for measures included in this strategy as well as developing a shared approach to improve air quality in the capital.

Read more about this draft document ‘Clearing the Air’.

Turning to transport systems, see here for praise for London’s underground system yesterday when the new chief of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority said:   “he hoped to meet customers’ expectations, promised an action plan the end of his first 100 days, and added, “New Yorkers should be able to expect the same type of customer experience riders enjoy in London“—whose transportation system he worked for between 2001-2006—’with accurate arrival information and modern fare technology.’  Hear that, New Yorkers—no more Underground envy!”

New Yorker to the bone, Gotham Girl, now takes us on a trip around London and New York to provide further food for thought on transport systems and the problems of traffic in particular.  She prefers to eschew all modes of transport and wander about the capital on foot.

Over to you, Gotham Girl!

Gotham GalNYC and London are both great but one thing I dislike intensely about both? Traffic. Traffic isn’t unique to these two cities (Let’s all be thankful we don’t drive in São Paulo) but only one – London – seems to have faced up to it.

London traffic is no walk in the park but at least London had the balls to do something about it. Love it, hate it, call it the work of the devil or the best thing since sliced bread – debating the congestion charge is never dull. Some see eliminating the Western extension as cause for celebration while the idea causes economic-heartburn in others. The idea is hotly argued. Agreement may never be reached but the point remains – a problem was identified and action was taken.

Action good. Inaction bad. 

Everyone in NYC knows the city has reached a crisis point but no one seems ready to do anything about it. Mayor Bloomberg proposed a congestion charge for central Manhattan, where traffic is the worst. Opposition came fast and furious. Never have I heard such ungodly kvetching. You’d have thought he was suggesting spit-roasting babies. I really wanted Bloomberg to ignore them and carry on anyway. He’d rammed the smoking ban through and dissolved mayoral term limits without turning a hair. For some reason in this case however, he backed down. Odd and quite unlike him.

 Traffic also impacts the buses as well. NYC buses aren’t the fastest way to get around town – thanks to aforementioned traffic and people insisting on going out the wrong door – but they aren’t nearly as slow as they used to be. In 2002, a national survey ranked NYC buses slowest in the US. I think we’ve moved down to 10th thanks to better route planning and more reliable equipment. I am afraid I can’t add much of a New York perspective on the “bendy bus” debate. We have articulated buses but they don’t seem to be “an issue with a capital I” here. Maybe because the ones here don’t do much actual bending. They are used on the most crowded routes, which largely fall within the straight lines of the Manhattan grid. Possibly it’s because there are only 300 of them in a current active fleet of 6400 (and the smaller electric-hybrid buses outnumber them 3 to 1) so you might only encounter them occasionally. I do understand the objections I hear voiced about the London bendy buses. I’ve never driven one myself but I can certainly see the hazard of the blind spot on such a vehicle. For whatever reason, I’ve only taken a bus in London a handful of times. It’s always walking or the Tube (or in isolated instances – a cab) for me. Just works out that way somehow.

Traffic of the two-wheeled variety is also a very much a headliner here despite Mike not being the mayoral poster boy for cycling that Boris has been. In fact, I’ve just tried to picture Mike on bike and failed. Oh well. Still, I think Boris would be pleased to know that there are some very dedicated people working to make his hometown a better cycling city. More bike lanes are in place now than ever before, the Hudson River Greenway is nearly complete so you can get nearly all the way around Manhattan on a bike, while taking in marvelous waterfront views. Bike lanes have even become an issue in our mayoral race (for those of us who can remember we are having a mayoral race) with the challenger saying he may roll back some of the ones currently in place.

NYC cyclists face the usual obstacles from an aggressive vehicular population but there is an equally vocal (and increasingly annoyed) pedestrian lobby to cope with as well. Yes, the biggest dramas of late have been cyclists vs. pedestrians. Once again, Summer Streets (three Saturdays in August when the city shuts seven miles of Park Avenue to cars) meant those on wheels clashed with those on foot every weekend. Fists flew, arrests were made but where things are really heating up between them is on the Brooklyn Bridge. Tensions are high and people are getting nasty. I am surprised we aren’t constantly peppered with tales of injuries and brawls from that iconic crossing.

That’s the scene on the streets. What’s happening underground? Well, I mastered the London Underground much faster than I did the NYC subway. This is almost entirely due to the station signage and system maps in London are much clearer than any published here. I wonder if Jay Walder, the man behind the Oyster Card and new NYC transit director, will address NYC’s uninspiring and often very unclear materials. Probably not. He’s faced with a budget crunch, an aging system, capacity problems, stations that are falling to pieces – pieces that keep landing on passengers’ heads and skyrocketing costs and massive delays on two major expansions. 

I’m sure London officials face many of the same challenges but at least when they undertake an expansion, the expansion happens. It may not happen on time or on budget but eventually, there is a tunnel and a train. Do you know how long the still non-existent Second Avenue subway has been in the works? Guess! Go on, guess! You’ll never guess – I’ll just tell you. 86 years. That’s right. They started it in 1923.

I hope Jay likes a challenge.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not anti-NYC subway. Yes, I get annoyed with those in charge but I am a huge fan of the system itself. I love the station mosaics along the N and R lines. I think the sleek rolling stock purchased a few years back with electronic signage is terrific. I’m thrilled to hear that we will shortly have electronic signs telling us when the next train is coming (all while being annoyed it’s taken this long to get them). I think the midweek conductors on the 6 local are hilarious – even their puns are funny and puns are almost never really funny. Then there’s Grand Central, which I have always loved. I love the elaborate astronomical ceiling. OK, it’s painted backwards and upside-down but it’s gorgeous anyway. I love the brass and opal central clock (yes, all four faces are opal so we are very careful around the clock) and everyone loves the Oyster Bar. If you haven’t been, go. You will thank me.

I also recognize that I see the Tube through rose-colored glasses, dealing with it for only a week or two at any time. I know it has capacity problems, system-wide mechanical meltdowns, station flooding, etc. All these are familiar to a NYC subway rider. After all, the Tube may be oldest transit system of its kind but the two systems are roughly contemporary to each other so they show similar signs of day-to-day wear and tear.

Not so familiar to me was the experience I had years ago, exiting Covent Garden via a very long, very narrow, spiral staircase. Trains in London run considerably deeper underground than the trains here, you see, so that staircase was a bit of a shock. The lifts were out of order, we were told and we could either continue to Leicester Square, where everything was working or we could take the infamous stairs. Suffice to say that I reached the street eventually and that next time – I will continue to Leicester Square.

Of course, time and weather permitting, I’d rather see either city on foot.

13 thoughts on “Clean air in the Capital and the problem of Traffic”

  1. I can’t believe that the London Underground is so highly rated across the Pond – perhaps we should be appreciating it more>

    Like Gotham Girl I love to walk – and fall prey to all that street food even in the rain and storm.

  2. There is definitely an element of “the grass is always greener” to my view of the Underground. As I say, I know it’s probably got the same problems as the system here. Heck, it’s larger, older, more heavily used – it’s probably got MORE problems than the system here. But it’s not the system that plagues me every day so I look more fondly on it.

    Plus I love the map. I know, I know. That’s minor and shallow and doesn’t actually IMPACT the physical running of the system. But it is what it is.

    Also, I’m very down on MTA transit at the moment so that’s not improving my mood re transit either. This Second Avenue subway thing has really ticked me off (and I’m not even one of the people losing their apartment or their sunlight). I won’t rant endlessly about it here (because it’s hard to stop once I get started) but I am hoping that even if Mr. Walder can’t find a way forward, he will at least set himself apart from the previous “Powers That Be” and be honest about it.

    I was half hoping that mini-Mayor would go from being mayor to being Emperor of the MTA and kick those guys into shape. If anyone could do it, it would be him. But it was not to be. He likes being mayor too much to let it go.


    Oh well – a girl can dream.

  3. New Yorkers and Londoners are lucky to even have a subway system. LA does too but it only services a small part of city center and doesn’t reach most of the business districts. So there’s no real choice other than to drive and if you’ve ever been on the 405 at 6pm on a Friday evening you’re basically idling on a very long parking lot.

  4. Off Topic:

    Just watched ‘When Boris Met Dave’ – could they have got uglier actors?! The one playing Bojo looked middle aged and wasn’t a good likeness – Boris isn’t stupid. The interviews were interesting. But I think George Osborne should have been included too.

    Boris for PM!

  5. Clean air in the Capital and the problem of Traffic | Boris Johnson « London Underground Information says:

    […] Read more from the original source: Clean air in the Capital and the problem of Traffic | Boris Johnson […]
    Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

  6. @Misstee: Oh right. That’s not a transit system. It’s a highly detailed movie or TV prop. 🙂 I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s actually been on it and the only times I’ve ever seen it is while watching 24 or in the movie Speed.

    I rather like DC’s system. Chicago’s I mostly experienced from a “from suburb to center” point of view. Never had none growing up in Houston (because despite appearances, Houston is a swamp and if you try digging down that far, you will drown). In Rome, I stuck to buses just because they seem to cover far more of the city than the trains.

  7. I understand that Boris can not abolish the Congestion Charge because he needs the revenue. Some of this revenue goes towards the significant subsidies that finance his vast london bus fleet. So let me make a modest proposal.

    Let all the advertising space on the side of London buses to the militant atheist Professor Richard Dawkins. Professor Dawkins would display his standard message “There is probably no God. Now go and enjoy your life”. Even at a high rate for the advertising space, Professor Dawkins would find it much cheaper than buying his own buses.

    Besides raising revenue, this would have the advantage of focussing terrorist attacks by Jesus freaks and Mohammed freaks on the bus fleet. Knowing where the attacks are likely to occur would make policing and counter terrorism much easier.

  8. Boris…

    please, come on.

    the air in london is just fine. let’s not waste time, money, bureaucracy, hassle, your credibility on this. give us a break. isn’t there enough going on?

    let’s get less thrown down our throats and keep your e-mailings valuable. if they become debased like this we won’t bother to open them and your reputation will be shot.

    helen addison

  9. Why did Boris Johnson bendy buses “wipe out cyclists, there are many cyclists killed every year”, when at the time there had in fact been no fatal incidents involving cyclists and the buses?

    Was is dishonesty to serve his agenda or incompetence?

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