Healthy streets and the right to the city

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Author: Tiffany Lam, Consultant, NEF Consulting.

The Mayor of London wants more Londoners cycling, walking and taking public transport. And that’s why Transport for London (TfL) have adopted the Healthy Streets Approach, to prioritise cycling, walking and public transport to create a healthy city. This means putting people and their health at the heart of TfL’s decision making.

“The Healthy Streets Approach is a system of policies and  strategies to put people, and their health, at the heart of decision making. This delivers a healthier, more inclusive city where people choose to walk, cycle and use public transport.”

But we can’t get more Londoners cycling without addressing the inequalities in cycling. In London, 73% of cycling journeys are made by men. 85% of cycling journeys are made by White people. And 49% of Londoners say that cycling isn’t for ‘people like me.’ There is a lot of work to do to make cycling more inclusive, which is why Croydon Living Streets hosted a Healthy Streets for All event on Saturday 18th January, which I chaired.

If we want inclusive Healthy Streets, we must adopt an intersectional perspective to the Healthy Streets Approach. This means understanding that there are multiple aspects of identity such as gender, race, class, physical ability,  that interact in complex ways to shape people’s lives and experiences. We also need to understand that there are multiple interconnected, types of discrimination and inequalities – sexism, racism, classism, ableism. In other words, we all experience streets and public spaces differently because of social attitudes towards race, gender, class, age, ability and modes of transport.

Infrastructure – for whom and what?

So, what does that mean for infrastructure? Well, first, we must ask: Infrastructure for whom and for what? Research from the US shows that there are socioeconomic and racial inequalities in cycling infrastructure investments. In fact, a recent analysis of New York City’s cycle hire scheme, Citi Bike, found that it disproportionately serves the whitest, wealthiest and most privileged parts of the city. And it overwhelmingly serves people who already have good access to public transport.

There is no such study in the UK and research on race, class and cycling in the UK is lagging behind the US. But consider the Boris Bikes. It’s relatively easy to find a Boris Bike station in Zones 1 and 2, but what happens when you venture beyond?  When was the last time you saw a Boris Bike outside Zone 1 or 2?

Safety – perceptions and experiences

And how would we approach safety from an intersectional perspective? Of course, to get more people cycling, people need to feel that cycling is safe. But our identities influence our perceptions and experiences of safety in public space. Road safety is gendered – not only can women experience street harassment on a daily basis while cycling, they also experience significantly higher rates than men of near misses.

And there’s evidence that fear of racial profiling and police harassment is a barrier to cycling for Black and Hispanic men in the US. Here in the UK, we know there are racial disparities in Stop and Search, which has increased by 32% in England and Wales from 2018 to 2019. Compared to White people, BAMEs are over 4 times more likely to be stopped and searched, and Black/Black British people are 10 times more likely to be stopped and searched. This can deter BAMEs from cycling, especially as a recent FOI request revealed that cyclists receive 91% of tickets along a key London commuting corridor, Cycleway 2.

So, how do we create Healthy Streets for All?

Let’s change the narrative and situate Healthy Streets within the right to the city. In Europe and North America, cycling and active travel promotion tends to centre around environmental and public health concerns. These are certainly important, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about the Right to the City – ‘democratic control of the city, with the right to access, occupy and use urban space.’ So when we talk about Healthy Streets, we are talking about a collective, and global, demand for all inhabitants – present and future, permanent and temporary – to have the right to inhabit, use, occupy, produce, govern and enjoy just, inclusive, safe and sustainable cities, towns, villages and human settlements.

As a next step, Croydon residents can continue to pursue the Healthy Streets for All agenda through the council’s Climate Crisis Commission, chaired by the New Economics Foundation’s chief executive, Miatta Fahnbulleh. Using the citizens’ assembly’s findings, this Commission will form an action plan to make Croydon a more sustainable and inclusive borough. And surely, that includes Healthy Streets for All.

Tiffany is currently working as an advisor for Sustrans on TfL’s Healthy Streets Officers Programme.

Healthy Streets Officers Programme

Transport for London (TfL) has a programme to help reduce road danger, encourage safe travel by public transport and increase the number of people walking and cycling.

A team of 16 Healthy Streets Officers will work across London’s boroughs to reduce school-run traffic, discourage engine idling and enable people to walk, cycle and use public transport more often. They will tackle road danger by responding to local road safety concerns and will support boroughs to raise awareness of new Cycleways. In addition, they will promote training to improve cycle safety, as well as encouraging people to use public transport.

The programme, managed by the charity Sustrans, is part of TfL’s wider programme, working with boroughs to reduce road danger and improve air quality by creating greener, cleaner and healthier places. The charity is working in partnership with NEF Consulting’s Tiffany Lam to ensure that the delivery of Healthy Streets is inclusive by design, and therefore appropriate for London’s diverse population.

Tiffany said: “Walking and cycling are the best ways to experience cities, and enable you to connect with where you live, work or go to school in a social and enjoyable way. Sustrans has expertise in collaborative design, managing complex infrastructure projects across borough boundaries, and delivering a range of behaviour change programmes, which strongly positions it to take the lead in making London’s streets healthier and more liveable.”

For more information visit Transport for London’s website.