In a blow for active travel in London, a High Court judge has ruled that Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Streetspace initiative, rolled out in the capital last summer, is unlawful following a judicial review initiated by two organisations representing members of the capital’s taxi trade.
Today’s decision, which Transport for London (TfL) plans to appeal, also sees Interim Guidance to Boroughs, under which many have introduced pop-up cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) quashed, as well as restrictions that closed Bishopsgate in the City of London to all traffic other than buses and cyclists between 7am and 7pm on weekdays.
That doesn’t mean that LTNs and pop-up cycle lanes will be torn up tonight, with Mrs Justice Lang strongly suggesting in today’s judgment that TfL and the Mayor “substantially” revise their plans in the light of today’s decision while they appeal, and that even if they lose, more time can be granted before the quashing orders are issued.
The Streetspace programme aimed to “rapidly transform London’s streets to accommodate a ten-fold increase in cycling and a five-fold increase in walking,” but was challenged at the High Court by the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association and the United Trade Action Group.
They argued, among other things, that no consideration had been made of the taxi trade by TfL when it drew up the Streetspace programme or the Interim Guidance to Boroughs, as well as the closure of Bishopsgate to traffic including taxis.
The judge said that TfL and the Mayor “took advantage of the pandemic” to enforce “radical changes” to London’s streets and that they “failed to distinguish taxis from ‘general traffic’,” disregarding “the distinct status of taxis as a form of public transport, reflected both in law and policy” and “the role played by taxis in facilitating accessible public transport for those with mobility impairments.”
She said that “It was both unfair and irrational to introduce such extreme measures, if it was not necessary to do so, when they impacted so adversely on certain sections of the public.”
Mrs Justice Lang said: “In my judgment, quashing orders rather than declarations are appropriate because of the nature and extent of the unlawfulness which I have identified, which affects not only taxi drivers, but also their passengers.”
She said that TfL and the Mayor would need to reconsider the Streetspace plan, the Interim Guidance to Boroughs and the Bishopsgate scheme, with all three needing to be “substantially amended” to reflect the judgment.
“To reduce disruption, the defendants can turn their minds to this task now, on a provisional basis, as there will be a stay and a delay whilst they pursue their appeal,” she concluded, adding that in the event of the appeal being unsuccessful, they could apply for further time to finalise revised plans ahead of the quashing orders coming into force.
A TfL spokesperson commented: “We are disappointed with the court’s ruling and are seeking to appeal this judgment. Temporary Streetspace schemes are enabling safer essential journeys during this exceptionally challenging time and are vital to ensuring that increased car traffic does not threaten London’s recovery from coronavirus.
“We absolutely recognise the need for schemes such as our Bishopsgate corridor to work for the communities they serve and have worked hard to ensure that people across London, including those who use taxis, can continue to get to where they need to be.
“We also recognise the need for schemes to be delivered in a fair and consistent manner and have worked closely with the boroughs to create clear guidance for implementing schemes, updating this regularly to reflect what we have learnt. We are now carefully considering our next steps.”
Steve McNamara, general secretary of the LTDA, said: “It's fantastic to see the judge rightly recognising the key role licensed taxis play in our great city. This is an extremely important judgment for London's hard working taxi drivers and the passengers who rely on them.”
London Cycloing Campaign infrastructure campaigner, Simon Munk, told road.cc: “TfL, the Mayor and boroughs should consider the needs of disabled and elderly passengers in taxis in every scheme. However, they represent a minority of trips by taxi, and we need to prioritise buses, cycling and walking, particularly during the pandemic. That means working out ways to restrict and reduce unnecessary motor traffic journeys, including in taxis, while ensuring access for those who need it.
“Streetspace schemes have enabled many Londoners to exercise and carry out essential journeys safely when our transport options have been reduced. Similar schemes supporting cycling and walking must continue, not only in response to the pandemic, but the climate emergency, air pollution crisis and to ensure disabled and elderly people have access to a range of mobility options, not just taxis.
“This challenge is the latest in a long history of the taxi industry opposing any scheme that seeks to cut car use and boost walking and cycling. We look forward to TfL’s appeal of this judgement because it is in the best interests of Londoners, including the elderly and disabled, to reduce motor traffic across the capital,” he added.
All 32 boroughs plus the City of London received Streetspace funding from TfL to fund emergency active travel schemes, with a total of £33 million provided in six tranches and helping to finance 36 low traffic neighbourhoods, 111 school streets, 11 strategic cycle routes and six town centre schemes.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.