We need to make outer London travel more sustainable

Centre for London researcher Zarin Mahmud on how travel in Enfield and elsewhere needs to change

The North Circular in Edmonton
The North Circular in Edmonton

We all know that we’re facing a climate change crisis. We also know that the way we travel can make a big difference. By walking, cycling, or taking public transport, we can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and congestion, while improving air quality.

But when the same journey takes ten minutes by car but over half-an-hour by public transport, it’s easy to see how the less sustainable option can be the more attractive one. This is the reality for many of us living in outer London, where there are fewer reliable transport options.

The reality is that travelling sustainably is often difficult for us. Residents of inner London have a range of options available to them, with e-bikes, e-scooters, frequent buses and multiple tube stations densely packed in the centre of the city. But in outer London, the same level of infrastructure just doesn’t exist, especially for local journeys.

In outer London, where more children, families and older people live, a large proportion of people’s journeys are local trips – to schools, local shops, and relatives’ homes, among many others.

The gendered nature of caring responsibilities means that women generally make these more frequent, short trips throughout the day. In contrast, men tend to make fewer trips, typically long-distance journeys during peak hours. But urban planning in London has often focussed on transport networks that carry people into central London, reflecting a male bias.

As a result, outer Londoners are often left with limited attractive options to travel around their local areas. Infrequent and unreliable public transport options, and the lack of safe crossing points, cycle lanes and shared transport options can prevent people in outer London from travelling in more sustainable ways around their local areas.

That’s why many people in outer London are reliant on cars, even for short local trips. More than half of all car trips made in outer London are less than two miles in length – only ten minutes on a bike. Research commissioned by a Green member of the London Assembly found that nearly a quarter of outer Londoners feel forced to own a car (24%), compared to only 14% of people in inner London.

The reaction to the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) expansion in some outer London boroughs demonstrates how many people feel that they have no option but to drive. Car dependency is more pronounced in outer London, with 69% of households owning or having access to a car in outer London, compared to 42% in inner London.

Acknowledging the differing travel needs and options available for people in outer London is essential to understanding how to enable more people to travel in more sustainable ways. That’s why at Centre for London we wanted to research the issue. Our new report explores the ways in which sustainable travel can be supported in outer London. We’re calling for national government to work with Transport for London and local authorities, providing the funding needed to improve the transport environment in outer London.

This includes installing better street lighting, more cycle lanes for local journeys, more space for cycle storage and better car club parking. To improve the public transport options that people have in outer London, we’re calling for increased frequency of train services and a requirement to deliver new bus routes for new housing developments, so that people moving in have less need for a car.

Improving the options that people have to travel sustainably for local trips is at the heart of making London a more liveable city. And it might save you having to drive next time you need to make a short trip.

Read Centre for London’s report on outer London travel:

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