Are Children’s Rights addressed sufficiently in the Draft Mayor’s Transport Strategy 2017?

School’s out for Summer!

Many children will be heading out of London for the Summer holidays but a large proportion will be here for all or part of the six week break. We used to make space for designated play streets in London. Unfortunately these have disappeared as cars have made inroads into our most precious of public space:


‘London authorities recognised the value of children being able to play safely in their neighbourhoods in 1938 when they passed legislation preventing traffic from entering designated roads for certain periods of time. The popularity of play streets then spread throughout the capital until the popularisation of car ownership in the 1950’s and 1960’s.’

Common Law sets out the duty of Councils to protect people when creating, designing or maintaining highways. Discriminating against Children, inadvertently or knowingly is a breach of that duty of care.

Children’s ability to travel independently in their local environment has been significantly impeded by infrastructure design that is dangerous and intimidating. Speeding, aggressive motor vehicles, parked cars and shared space bring specific dangers for Children.

However this was not always the case. In Islington I have met many older people in their seventies who cycled independently across London and beyond as 11 year olds. One gentleman described cycling to Southend and back as a twelve year old. We infantalize older children by restricting their accessibility to safe, independent active travel.

Outdoor activity is a crucial component in the growth and development of the child’s brain, body and intellect

New York has provided play streets for over 100 years

The importance of outdoor activity cannot be overstated; instead of sitting on a couch watching cartoons, children learn how to ride a bike, roller skate, kick about a ball.

Physical activity develops social, emotional and cognitive competencies. It is also essential for healthy bone development and exposes children to natural vitamin D, sunlight.

Children acquire knowledge experientially through play, experimentation, exploration and discovery. Learning by doing creates more neural networks in the brain and throughout the body, making the entire body a tool for learning. The more neural pathways, the larger the brain.

Physical activity activates the brain much more than doing seat work because moderate to vigorous movement feeds oxygen, water and to the brain, optimizing performance. Sitting, on the contrary,  increases fatigue and reduces concentration.

Activity helps children develop their fine and gross motor skills as well as dexterity and balance, all through exploring, risk taking and having fun. This enhances their anticipation and prediction. In short it helps them become streetwise!

Independent travel by bike or on foot is the perfect way for children to make choices, plan and expand their creativity. It is also necessary outlet for reducing stress, allowing the brain to recharge.

The shocking statistics of

must be a wake up call.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

The UN convention on the rights of the child sets out some basic principles. I have selected a few that might be appropriate to the Mayors Transport Strategy:

  • Article 4 (implementation of
    the Convention)
    Governments must do all they can to make
    sure every child can enjoy their rights by
    creating systems and passing laws that
    promote and protect children’s rights.
  • Article 6 (life, survival and development)
    Every child has the right to life.
    Governments must do all they can to
    ensure that children survive and develop to
    their full potential.
  • Article 27 (adequate standard of living)
    Every child has the right to a standard of
    living that is good enough to meet their
    physical and social needs and support
    their development. Governments must
    help families who cannot afford to
    provide this.
  • Article 31 (leisure, play and culture)
    Every child has the right to relax, play and
    take part in a wide range of cultural and
    artistic activities.

Are Children being airbrushed from the planning system? 

Our public space is so unwelcoming for children that George Monbiot believes they have been ‘airbrushed from the planning system’.

I sit in on many Transport Committees at City Hall, where the interests of business and needs of adults are listened to at length. But rarely do I hear the interests of children raised and debated. The absence of representation in the halls of power creates a system where children are essentially ‘prisoners of bad design’

Jay Griffiths describes starkly how children are penned in and marginalised in her seminal book Kith: The Riddle Of The Childscape:

“Today’s children are enclosed in school and home, enclosed in cars to shuttle between them, enclosed by fear, by surveillance and poverty and enclosed in rigid schedules of time.”

These metal boxes that shuttle children from brick box to brick box bring their particular dangers. Air pollution is ‘nine to 12 times higher inside the car than outside’. They are effectively ‘pollution boxes’.

Children’s special needs must be taken into consideration when designing streets

In 2011, research by Royal Holloway College, London University revealed that children ‘cannot detect’ cars travelling faster than 20MPH:

‘children’s perceptive limitations place them at greater risk of stepping in front of cars travelling at higher speeds’

Meanwhile their lower height puts them more at risk of ‘backovers’ because they cannot be seen in the blind zone behind a vehicle.

This picture illustrates how children cycling can’t see and be seen through a solid wall of parked cars. It has also been pointed out to me by Isabelle Clement, director of Wheels for Wellbeing, that Londoners in wheelchairs, hand cycles and recumbents face similar issues with parked cars. This is an equality and accessibility issue.

Range Rover bonnets meet the shoulders of an average 8 yr old. Small children are shorter so the car bumper more likely to strike them in the pelvis or torso. Armoured 4X4 vehicles designed to ‘protect’ children are ironically weapons against their potential independence.

How will our children meet the daily level of activity vital for health?

Lucy Saunders, one of the key architects of the Healthy Streets approach, embedded in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy Draft, writes:

‘Our efforts to tackle childhood obesity have focused on modifying diet, but the other side of the ‘energy in/energy out’ equation deserves careful consideration for the many co-benefits we can reap. A study by Mackett and Paskins (2004) assessed children’s energy expenditure during different activities and found that children burned the most calories when playing outdoors unsupervised or travelling actively. Neither activity is a routine use of time for the majority of children in the UK. Unlike past generations, most children in the U.K. do not spend several hours a day drifting around the streets looking for adventure and opportunity. Instead a car ride to organised activities, playing computer games and watching tv are more common.

There is good reason for this, over recent decades cars have filled our streets in ever increasing numbers. Now more affordable, convenient, comfortable and faster than ever their ubiquity means we don’t think to question their right to line our streets when parked and take precedence over other uses and users of the streets when they are moving. As a result many parents are reluctant for their child to walk with their friends to school, the park, the community centre or library and the sight of a child kicking a ball around in their street is rare. While many children living in urban areas live within walking distance of parks their ability to access them is constrained by the availability of an adult to accompany them. If we are to address inactivity amongst children then this is the issue we must face head on: how we will create street environments which are safe enough for children to travel on foot or by bike unsupervised.’

My response to the Mayor’s Transport Strategy Draft

I support and welcome the radical direction of The Mayor’s Transport Strategy Draft. Minimising motor traffic is the only strategic solution to London’s congestion, air pollution, inactivity and obesity crises. And of course Climate Change. But I want children to be at the heart of redesigning our streets too.

So here are some of my early recommendations, specifically but not exclusively aimed at London’s children:

  • We need road pricing across London to reduce motor traffic to ‘essential’. This will decrease road danger, air pollution and congestion that impedes children’s access to outside play and independent travel.
  • We must remove car parking strategically to reintroduce dedicated play streets and a car-free cycling network across London. Children need to see and be seen.
  • The Healthy Streets approach needs to include cyclists from all walks of life as well as pedestrians from all walks of life.
  • Staggered crossings are not acceptable design, leaving children stranded in the most polluted part of the road. No child should be severed from school or parks through lack of safe crossings
  • We need 20 MPH speed cameras. 20 MPH London streets are worthless without appropriate enforcement.
  • We need weekly car-free Sundays in Central London and Town Centres for families to enjoy.
  • Cycling infrastructure must be suitable for children cycling independently, as a minimum requirement. NB Bus lanes are not appropriate cycling infrastructure for children.
  • Children’s health and wellbeing must be prioritised over car use and storage.
  • We must ban and price polluting cars, whether petrol, diesel, hybrid, electric or hydrogen by real world emissions. Our children’s future must not be burdened by our failures on emissions, including  air pollution , water pollution and greenhouse gases.


Review: Evidence supporting Mayor’s Transport Strategy 2017

The key conclusion is that for London to grow and thrive, it is essential that London’s residents, workers and visitors do more walking and cycling and use public transport more to improve their health and the environment, to make streets work more efficiently & keep London moving.


Car use

The car mode share is highest in the evening and overnight, at weekends and lowest in the daytime interpeak. The car mode share is highest for middle distance trips (2-5km), with longer trips more likely to be made by public transport. Nevertheless, a third of jobs are in outer London, with a 56% car mode share for commuting. As London grows, we need to ensure more sustainable commuter patterns for travel beyond the centre.


The life expectancy of Londoners has been increasing but adults are living more of their lives in poor health. This has major repercussions for the NHS. Adults need at least 150 minutes and children 420 minutes of physical activity a week to stay healthy and reduce their risk of common, preventable diseases. Building physical activity into your daily routine by walking or cycling is one of the best ways to stay active and healthy. Currently, a third of Londoners achieve their recommended level of physical activity from active travel alone.

Mode shift

Inner Londoners walk more than outer Londoners, women walk more than men, and
adults aged 17-44 walk the most whilst older people walk the least.

Cycle travel grew by 133% London-wide and 221% in central London between 2000 – 2015. There is considerable opportunity to deliver growth in cycle travel, with more than nine million journeys currently made by a motorised mode every day that could be cycled instead. 77% of Londoners believe that cycling is enjoyable and people continue to cycle in London because it is fun, quick, convenient, cheap and a good way to keep fit.

People that don’t currently cycle in London can be concerned about safety and worried that cycling may not be a convenient option for them – to help them start cycling means overcoming the following barriers:

• Fear and vulnerability
• Lack of infrastructure
• Whether they identify with cycling and
how attractive it is to them
• The physical effort of cycling
• Access to a bike
• How cycling compares to the alternatives
• Lack of confidence

Over 8 million trips could feasibly be cycled but aren’t now. Over 1 million stages as part of a longer trip could feasibly be cycled but aren’t now. More high quality, safe and pleasant routes, supported by plentiful and secure cycle parking.

Road danger

  • Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are most at risk of being KSIs by road user type
    involved in a collision.
    • Londoners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups suffer a
    disproportionately high number of road casualties.
    • Pedestrians in the most deprived areas are more than twice as
    likely to be injured as those in the least deprived areas.
    • Between 2005/09 and 2015, child pedestrian KSI reduced by
    52% and child car occupants by 72% showing more needs to be
    done to increase child pedestrian safety.

Space economics

At present, 57% of London households own a car, making 6.8m car trips per day. Car
ownership is the strongest determinant of inactivity – 70% of people without a car do
some activity compared to 50% with one car. Since its invention, the car has provided
welcome connectivity and opened up new opportunities. Even in a densely populated
city such as London, some journeys can only reasonably be made by car. But the amount of space that can or should be taken up by private road transport is limited, and the population is growing.
As well as prioritising more space-efficient and sustainable modes, research suggests that most people agree that the limited remaining space should be prioritised for
‘essential’ traffic.

Private cars, taxis and private hire vehicles take up three quarters of the road space used for personal travel in central London but account for just a fifth of the personal
distance travelled.

93% of car journeys under 2km have an alternative available, but just 16% of trips over 8km. Shorter trips are also more likely to have more than one alternative available.


Air pollution

Under the most recent government plans, London will not comply with
legal limits for NO2 until 2025, 15 years after the original deadline.
About 25% of London’s roads are forecast to be non-compliant with
NO2 levels in 2020. Of these, about a third require reductions of
between 25% and 50% of road transport NOx emissions, and a tenth
require at least a 50% reduction.

Transport is the biggest source of emissions damaging to health in
London: around half of emissions (NOx and particulate matter
(PM)) in Greater London come from road transport. London is in breach of legal limits on NO2 and while there is no safe level for particulates, does not meet levels recommended by the World Health Organisation of PM smaller than 2.5 micrograms.

The communities suffering most from poor air quality are often the
most vulnerable. 360+ primary schools are in areas exceeding safe
legal pollution levels.

Without further action, London is expected to exceed World
Health Organisation levels of PM2.5 until well after 2030. 75%
of road transport PM comes from tyre and brake wear. There
are limited technological solutions so only a reduction in road
traffic can effectively tackle PM in the medium/long term.


Carbon Emissions

Climate change is a serious threat to global quality of life. Carbon dioxide concentration is 40% higher than in pre-industrial times and between 1880 and 2012, the earth’s surface warmed 0.85O Celsius. London’s transport providers must play their part in delivering reductions in carbon emissions. The Mayor’s ultimate ambition is to make London a zero carbon city by 2050.

While transport CO2 emissions are projected to have fallen by more than 2 million tonnes by 2025 from 1990 levels, they will still be 2.35 million tonnes above the target previously set for 2025. Meeting this would require a reduction in emissions equivalent to a 40% reduction in road traffic.

Technological advances will reduce vehicle emissions but this will be made quicker and more feasible if the distance travelled by car is reduced. London’s bus, taxis and private hire fleets are on a pathway to reach zero emission.
London’s rail services are primarily electric so CO2 emissions will decline with the decarbonisation of the energy supply. Need the government to electrify all remaining
diesel lines. Emissions arise from the taxiing, take off and landing of aircraft at Heathrow and City Airport. Plans to expand Heathrow’s third runway are unclear on what this would mean for meeting the UK’s climate change targets.

Private Car problem solved in Central London? Not according to new 24/7 data 



Why we urgently need to review the Congestion Charge

When the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone brought in the Congestion Charge Zone on February 17 2003 it was a brave and radical new policy for London and a timely birthday present for me.

In those intervening 14 years our economy has changed markedly. Anecdotally many Central London residents and visitors have become aware of increased congestion in the day time, evening and at weekends. People complain of increased road danger, air and noise pollution, slower bus journeys and more sirens disturbing sleep as emergency services struggle to move efficiently through stagnant evening and night time car traffic.

In Fitzrovia, 70% of residents live car-free lives. This is in line with the majority of Central London residents. It begs the question where is this extra traffic coming from?

Reasons for Freedom of Information request

When I stood as an Independent London Mayoral Candidate in 2015-16, I asked Transport For London why the Congestion Charge only covered a third of the week, when there was clearly a problem 24/7?

I was also incensed when TFL  waived the Congestion Charge during a spike in air pollution over Christmas and New Year 2016/17. This meant all residents, workers and visitors were exposed to higher air pollution in Central London. It is highly likely this build up of particulates contributed to the black alert in January 2017.

Current and historical TFL data releases have only showed motor traffic composition for the Congestion Charge hours, which is one third of the calendar week. I believe this is not giving the whole picture.

Reasons for data selection

In February  2017, I made a  Freedom of Information request  FOI- 2560-1617 for 24/7 data of motor vehicle composition entering Central London.

I have extracted data for cars, Taxis and PHVs because they are the least efficient use of public space and contribute more proportionately to road danger, air pollution and congestion.

24/7 data gives us a clearer picture of the car problem

The  data I received for April 2017 clearly shows a marked escalation in cars from 6pm Monday-Friday and at weekends. On Sunday alone, 137,461 cars are entering Central London.

This is my my initial interpretation of the data:

  • The wave of cars triggered at 6pm, doubles the car traffic facing commuters trying to make their way home.
  • This inevitably impacts on road danger at junctions and crossings for commuting pedestrians and cyclists.
  •  It results in slower journey times for pedestrians and cyclists who are held at controlled signals as TFL prioritises ‘traffic flow’.
  • It increases exposure to air pollution at a time when many people are out on the streets, coming home from work and studies.
  • It increases bus journey times for commuting Londoners, stuck in toxic traffic.
  • It increases exposure to road danger, air pollution and journey time for those visitors coming into London to enjoy the evening and night time economy.
  • It disturbs residents sleep at night time and in the evening, with wailing sirens of emergency vehicles stuck in car traffic
  • it increases emergency vehicle attendance times
  • If ever there was data to support car-free Sundays, this is it
  • Every car journey contributes to carbon emissions, we can count the carbon released and carbon costs to our environment.

Mike Brown, head of Transport for London said at the London assembly Transport Committee this year that “anyone bringing a car into London has got the wrong end of the stick”. He is absolutely right. This is echoed by Janette Sadik-Khan, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation. She commented recently at the Living Streets Summit 2017 that reducing motor traffic IS a bus priority measure. It is a priority measure for walking and cycling too.


The Mayor of London and Transport for London have a duty of care to protect Londoners, workers and visitors and increase quality of life and health. Prioritising cars over the well-being of residents is an equality, social justice and moral issue. I hope that the new London Transport Strategy will address this seriously and urgently.




24/7 data: Car, Taxi, PHV entering Central London for a whole calendar week April 2017



The data is broken down day by day for a single weeks sample in April this year. Typically the cameras at Transport For London’s CCZ cordon are unable to detect all vehicles. Each vehicle type within the camera data is ascribed a mode attribute based on a look-up-table that has a combination of an extract from the DVLA database, TfL’s registration details of private hire vehicles and TfL’s registration details of buses. It remains our best view of the mode mix entering and within central London.

* Note Congestion Charge only operates Monday-Friday 7am – 6pm, which is 55/168 hours out of a calendar week, approximately one third of the week

* PHV are Private Hire Vehicles like Uber, Minicabs

Source: FOI- 2560-1617 (previous FOI ref 1885-1617)

Car, Taxi, PHV entering central London Monday 3rd April 2017
Hour Car Taxi PHV
00:00 2766 1143 3083
01:00 1693 834 2361
02:00 1158 486 1578
03:00 1097 326 1208
04:00 1229 349 1264
05:00 2153 527 1579
06:00 3968 957 2140
07:00 3193 1613 2363
08:00 3806 2340 3082
09;00 3513 2817 3152
10:00 3563 2898 2875
11:00 3492 2957 2714
12:00 3726 3385 2735
13:00 3877 3483 2798
14:00 3593 3612 2778
15:00 3599 3595 2688
16:00 3797 3674 2983
17:00 3784 3684 2998
18:00 7535 3661 3684
19:00 6147 3573 3538
20:00 5338 3198 3734
21:00 5204 2935 4102
22:00 4586 3022 4488
23:00 3445 2323 4243
Car, Taxi, PHV entering central London Tuesday 4th April 2017
Hour Car Taxi PHV
00:00 2555 1482 3326
01:00 1497 862 2555
02:00 1088 523 1644
03:00 975 347 1237
04:00 1236 417 1250
05:00 1919 535 1497
06:00 3855 1018 2190
07:00 3217 1783 2325
08:00 4002 2927 3357
09;00 4038 3389 3630
10:00 4042 3566 3285
11:00 3957 3689 3033
12:00 4157 4125 3156
13:00 3964 4205 2955
14:00 4009 4253 2981
15:00 4073 4545 3261
16:00 4126 4547 3319
17:00 4283 4656 3511
18:00 7936 4561 4144
19:00 6628 4245 3979
20:00 5542 3671 4285
21:00 5300 3559 4594
22:00 4621 3733 5315
23:00 3554 3069 4988
Car, Taxi, PHV entering central London Wednesday 5th April 2017
Hour Car Taxi PHV
00:00 2576 2045 4160
01:00 1704 1168 3204
02:00 1228 639 2050
03:00 1135 448 1500
04:00 1322 423 1361
05:00 2113 560 1651
06:00 4014 1103 2275
07:00 3251 1828 2491
08:00 3744 2575 3055
09;00 3952 3136 3505
10:00 4110 3427 3303
11:00 3916 3559 3167
12:00 4062 3885 3247
13:00 4005 3917 3061
14:00 3995 4079 3024
15:00 4013 4286 3252
16:00 4174 4349 3309
17:00 4232 4520 3460
18:00 8251 4607 4085
19:00 7128 4414 4404
20:00 5900 3966 4634
21:00 5541 3679 5012
22:00 5610 4121 6127
23:00 4190 3656 6309
Car, Taxi, PHV entering central London Thursday 6th April 2017
Hour Car Taxi PHV
00:00 2905 2301 5002
01:00 1836 1307 3718
02:00 1276 756 2423
03:00 1211 484 1742
04:00 1450 481 1607
05:00 2052 571 1784
06:00 3977 1123 2381
07:00 3265 1826 2559
08:00 3845 2637 3168
09;00 3934 3134 3554
10:00 3961 3447 3431
11:00 3916 3476 2947
12:00 3962 3938 3110
13:00 3817 4211 3001
14:00 3905 3649 3094
15:00 3801 3907 3067
16:00 4046 4611 3379
17:00 4238 4647 3695
18:00 8319 4467 4454
19:00 7273 4421 4563
20:00 6527 4093 4897
21:00 6441 4028 5542
22:00 5555 4130 6618
23:00 4711 3861 7102
Car, Taxi, PHV entering central London Friday 7th April 2017
Hour Car Taxi PHV
00:00 3323 2920 6080
01:00 2305 1845 5187
02:00 1710 1120 3747
03:00 1596 705 2526
04:00 1519 507 1914
05:00 2180 580 1910
06:00 3874 1068 2329
07:00 3181 1629 2533
08:00 3606 2339 3220
09;00 3905 2695 3660
10:00 3803 3025 3197
11:00 3725 3123 3079
12:00 3877 3571 2866
13:00 3807 3607 2804
14:00 3906 3748 3146
15:00 4042 3887 3062
16:00 4092 4065 3490
17:00 4348 4030 3830
18:00 8852 4183 4699
19:00 8256 3992 4847
20:00 7227 3671 5144
21:00 6892 3396 5749
22:00 6264 3487 6361
23:00 5616 3096 7264
Car, Taxi, PHV entering central London Saturday 8th April 2017
Hour Car Taxi PHV
00:00 4411 2592 7161
01:00 3345 1981 6699
02:00 2487 1421 5419
03:00 2104 985 4294
04:00 1681 656 3054
05:00 2017 493 2293
06:00 3264 637 2128
07:00 3819 816 1872
08:00 4149 1213 2037
09;00 4925 1763 2305
10:00 5440 2441 2617
11:00 5932 2765 2801
12:00 6406 2925 2956
13:00 6774 2909 3074
14:00 6486 2712 2987
15:00 6525 2918 2963
16:00 6924 3024 3154
17:00 7274 3027 3493
18:00 8955 3025 4100
19:00 8840 2805 4885
20:00 8062 2692 5299
21:00 7461 2635 5542
22:00 6836 2671 5836
23:00 6058 2504 6346
Car, Taxi, PHV entering central London Sunday 9th April 2017
Hour Car Taxi PHV
00:00 5072 2112 6548
01:00 3876 1731 6495
02:00 2742 1277 5595
03:00 2116 970 4373
04:00 1660 671 3232
05:00 2092 467 2304
06:00 3219 514 2079
07:00 3599 640 1713
08:00 4054 924 1745
09;00 6078 1360 1981
10:00 7173 1790 2429
11:00 7577 2099 2684
12:00 8032 2300 2755
13:00 8217 2264 2795
14:00 7677 2295 2884
15:00 7382 2153 2816
16:00 7517 2113 2935
17:00 8198 2226 3001
18:00 9050 2194 3248
19:00 8515 2073 3261
20:00 7527 1884 3360
21:00 6495 1743 3447
22:00 5479 1629 3444
23:00 4134 1301 3180

24hr data: Car, Taxi, PHV entering Central London on Sunday April 9th 2017

If ever there was data to support car-free Sundays in Central London, this is it.









00:00 5072 2112 6548
01:00 3876 1731 6495
02:00 2742 1277 5595
03:00 2116 970 4373
04:00 1660 671 3232
05:00 2092 467 2304
06:00 3219 514 2079
07:00 3599 640 1713
08:00 4054 924 1745
09;00 6078 1360 1981
10:00 7173 1790 2429
11:00 7577 2099 2684
12:00 8032 2300 2755
13:00 8217 2264 2795
14:00 7677 2295 2884
15:00 7382 2153 2816
16:00 7517 2113 2935
17:00 8198 2226 3001
18:00 9050 2194 3248
19:00 8515 2073 3261
20:00 7527 1884 3360
21:00 6495 1743 3447
22:00 5479 1629 3444
23:00 4134 1301 3180

Source: FOI- 2560-1617 (previous FOI ref 1885-1617)

Cycling Infrastructure Shopping List

Many thanks to Paul Gasson, Waltham Forest Cycling for providing these costings for cycling infrastructure. It is very useful for campaigners to have figures associated with local spends.


Copenhagen (or blended) crossing: £15-25k

Modal filter using bollards:

  • bollards: £2k
  • bollards plus 2 buildouts to protect parking: £10k

Sinusoidal hump: £2.5k

Tree pit & tree: £500

flush with footway: £500
in box container: £4k (via Marshalls), potentially cheaper if sourced elsewhere


What does the Dieselgate scandal tell us about the algorithmic transparency of driverless vehicles?


There is a real danger that there will be a class who use algorithms and a class that are used by algorithms

The global health impact of the diesel emissions scandal is estimated to be a minimum of 38,000 premature deaths per year.

Lee McKnight, an associate professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studiesght warns that ‘right now, literally, coders can get away with murder.

Dieselgate illustrates why we urgently need a debate on how we ensure algorithmic literacy, transparency and oversight in Government and amongst campaigners.

I have attended meetings on ‘Smart Cities’ where there is a refusal to answer even the most basic questions on the cyber security and algorithmic transparency of driverless vehicles. The answer is evaded on the grounds of ‘sensitivity’.

Do we want to repeat the Dieselgate scandal where corporations have deliberately concealed technological flaws for profit, and at the expense of citizens health and the environment?

It was a little lab in West Virginia that caught Volkswagens big cheat

The lab explained  “It’s both writing the code, but you also need to do validation. So someone had to take these vehicles out, test them on the standard test cycle, make sure that the emission controls are supposed to be working when they’re supposed to be working.”

However it took a year long investigation by expert researchers to completely unravel and identify the code.

‘Researchers found code that allowed a car’s onboard computer to determine that the vehicle was undergoing an emissions test. The computer then activated the car’s emission-curbing systems, reducing the amount of pollutants emitted. Once the computer determined that the test was over, these systems were deactivated.

“The Volkswagen defeat device is arguably the most complex in automotive history,”  said Kirill Levchenko,   scientist at the University of California San Diego.

Researchers found a less sophisticated circumventing ploy for the Fiat 500X. That car’s onboard computer simply allows its emissions-curbing system to run for the first 26 minutes and 40 seconds after the engine starts– roughly the duration of many emissions tests.

They also noted that for both Volkswagen and Fiat, the vehicles’ Engine Control Unit is manufactured by automotive component giant Robert Bosch. Car manufacturers then enable the code by entering specific parameters.’

Scott McLeod, an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Colorado, Denver warns:

‘Right now the technologies are far outpacing our individual and societal abilities to make sense of what’s happening and corporate and government entities are taking advantage of these conceptual and control gaps’

Meanwhile Justin Reich, executive director at the MIT Teaching Systems Lab, observed:

‘We also need new forms of code review and oversight, that respect company trade secrets but don’t allow corporations to invoke secrecy as a rationale for avoiding all forms of public oversight.’

Another anonymous Professor cautioned:

“[The challenge presented by algorithms] is the greatest challenge of all. Greatest because tackling it demands not only technical sophistication but an understanding of and interest in societal impacts. The ‘interest in’ is key. Not only does the corporate world have to be interested in effects, but consumers have to be informed, educated and, indeed, activist in their orientation toward something subtle. This is what computer literacy is about in the 21st century.”

And Robert Bell, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum added:

“Transparency is the great challenge. As these things exert more and more influence, we want to know how they work, what choices are being made and who is responsible. The irony is that, as the algorithms become more complex, the creators of them increasingly do not know what is going on inside the black box. How, then, can they improve transparency?”

The FBI warns driverless cars could be used as ‘lethal weapons’

‘Criminals might override safety features to ignore traffic lights and speed limits, or terrorists might program explosive-packed cars to become self-driving bombs.

This ‘directly contradicts the message that many developers of self-driving vehicles are trying to communicate: that these cars – immune from road rage, tiredness and carelessness – can be even safer than human operators.’

Charlie Miller is a cyber security researcher who famously hacked a Jeep Cherokee sparking a 1.4 million recall of vehicles. He has recently left Uber, citing a need to talk more openly about how securing autonomous cars from hackers is a very difficult problem

Lack of algorithmic transparency means that commercial driverless vehicles, developed alongside the military, could have deeply embedded software that can be activated on the streets at any time, transforming vehicles into military weapons.

Like Dieselgate we can never be sure what is hidden in the code? There will be a lot of ‘snake oil’ cyber security companies wanting to make mega bucks out of the impossibility of securing driverless vehicles. But it is a dead end tech. Cyber Security is impossible.


Why we must ban car advertising and sponsorship as was done with tobacco


Powersliding a sports car through a rain-slick city at night might seem like an unrealistic activity that most car owners won’t participate in, but marketers count on the excitement generated by this imagery to influence consumer decisions. These marketers are seeking those consumers most driven by “a need for speed.”

These are called ‘Hedonistic Considerations’.

How often do we see a car that solely occupies space in an advert? It is a fantasy world that deceives not only the driver but demands that we all give way to that fantasy by prioritising traffic flow.

The anger at this disconnect between fantasy and reality materialises on the ground as projected ‘road rage’ onto the perceived or socially constructed ‘weakness’ of pedestrians and cyclists.

Nothing brings a driver crashing down to reality more than a pedestrian who walks faster or a cyclist who weaves ahead.


Another technique for selling cars is called ‘Utilitarian Considerations’. Focusing on prevention goals, the advertiser identifies a painful experience and then elicits feelings of safety and security. Their aim is to make the individual feel like they are a smart, responsible consumer.

‘Other types of car commercials might showcase families taking advantage of safety features, like anti-lock breaks, rear-view cameras, and sensors that alert them when other cars come too close.’

The alternative reality to ‘safety’ ‘smart’ and ‘responsible’?

 ‘Travelling in a car is like being trapped in a pollution box,’ says Dr Barratt, Kings College


Inactivity has been linked to diabetes type 2 and new analysis by Diabetes UK has revealed that the number of diabetes-related amputations in England has now reached an all-time high of 20 a day. Car drivers are much more likely to be inactive.


Are cars the new tobacco? asked a paper published in the Journal of Public Heath in June 2011:

Private cars cause significant health harm. The impacts include physical inactivity, obesity, death and injury from crashes, cardio-respiratory disease from air pollution, noise, community severance and climate change. The car lobby resists measures that would restrict car use, using tactics similar to the tobacco industry. Decisions about location and design of neighbourhoods have created environments that reinforce and reflect car dependence. Car ownership and use has greatly increased in recent decades and there is little public support for measures that would reduce this.’


So how would a car advertising and sponsorship ban work? Here, as an example, I have taken the Tobacco Advertising Directive and replaced tobacco and smoker with car and driver

Ban on cross-border tobacco advertising and sponsorship

 Tobacco advertising increases consumption in several ways, most importantly by encouraging children or young adults to start smoking. It also encourages smokers to increase consumption, reduces smokers’ motivation to quit, encourages former smokers to resume and creates an environment in which tobacco use is seen as familiar and acceptable and the warnings about its health are undermined.

The Tobacco Advertising Directive (2003/33/EC) has an EU wide ban on cross-border tobacco advertising and sponsorship in the media other than television. The ban covers print media, radio, internet and sponsorship of events involving several Member States, such as the Olympic games and Formula One races. Free distribution of tobacco is banned in such events. The ban covers advertising and sponsorship with the aim or direct or indirect effect of promoting a tobacco product.

Ban on cross-border car advertising and sponsorship

 Car advertising increases consumption in several ways, most importantly by encouraging children or young adults to start driving. It also encourages drivers to increase car use, reduces drivers’ motivation to quit, encourages former drivers to resume and creates an environment in which car use is seen as familiar and acceptable and the warnings about its health are undermined.

The Car Advertising Directive (2017/102/EC) has an EU wide ban on cross-border car advertising and sponsorship in the media other than television. The ban covers print media, radio, internet and sponsorship of events involving several Member States, such as the Olympic games and Formula One races. Free distribution of car related products are banned in such events. The ban covers advertising and sponsorship with the aim or direct or indirect effect of promoting a car product.

This is an opener to further debate on campaigning for a cross border car advertising and sponsorship ban. Please feel free to comment here or on twitter. My handle is @Privatecarfree

The story of a re-wilded road in the heart of London

Sometimes it seems that road expansion is an inevitable consequence of our insatiable car addiction. The last 100 years has witnessed the erosion of nature on an unimaginable scale. Tarmac to satisfy the wallets of the motor industry has been unremitting and overwhelming. What is the biggest human threat to nature? a new report suggests it is in fact road-building.

Last November I stumbled on Cantrell Road, whilst on a foraging walk at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. It was a revelation; a road that had been reclaimed. I photographed teasels and briar rose and was amazed at how much it looked like the South Downs in Sussex.

So this Spring I returned and Dan Hall kindly sourced this original photo. It is a bit obscure but Cantrell Road appears on the right of the photo. It was home to some seven car scrap yards, mostly illegal. It was given to the Friends of Tower hamlets cemetery in conjunction with the Derelict Land Grant.

cantrell road

Cantrell Road seen here on the right. London Metropolitan Archive

The ground was contaminated with oil and metal pollutants so part of the tarmac was removed and the rest was bashed to provide drainage. Because of the contaminants, the surface was raised with a mixture of sand, chalk and overlayed with 2cm of limestone dust. The low fertility was deliberate, aiming to encourage native wild plants that would compliment the rich woodland flora of the Cemetery.

By May 2007 it was ready for planting and there was a wet serendipity which allowed the wild flower seed to flourish.


Cantrell Road, Tower Hamlets London Spring 2017

A few years later clusters of shrubs, a hedge and wild roses were planted to stop quad bikes laying claim to the new environment. Cultivating a mosaic of plants and reigning in thuggish plants that would dominate if unhindered, has been central to creating a vibrant biodiversity.


Guelder Rose

Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery have succeeded in making this area an educational oasis for foraging and food sustainability in one of London’s green desert boroughs.


Wild Rocket


Chinese Mugwort

‘Sous les paves, la plage!’ (under the tarmac is the beach!) was the slogan of the May 1968 events in Paris. 30cm under our roads IS the earth. Seeds can lie dormant in the soil for years, waiting for the right conditions to emerge in all their life-giving beauty.


Chalk ‘South Downs’ low fertility to encourage wild plants


Car-free public space is essential for public health; giving children and adults alike the freedom to roam and play


We need streets fit for humans

We want streets where children and adults alike have the freedom to roam on bike or on foot without the fear of intimidation, injury or being killed by motor vehicles.

We want streets where our children can play. Designated residential play streets have been replaced by dangerous rat-running traffic and parked cars.

I sometimes look around in our villages, towns and cities and think we live in a pied piper world where children have been disappeared from our streets, locked away in brick or metal boxes.

We want streets where our children can thrive, become active, independent and street wise. We need to release children from the bondage of being driven.

4 out of 10 children are now obese or overweight as a result of being inactive. And now children are being kept indoors when air pollution hits the highest levels.

We need 3 billion per year of dedicated funding to build a UK wide, traffic-free, protected cycle network so that all UK citizens, whatever their ability, can benefit from being active. Whether cycling to school, to work, to the shops or visiting friends and family.

I know Jeremy Corbyn cares about the health and well-being of UK citizens.

No one should be forced into ill health because they cannot cycle or walk safely in their neighbourhood. Or even breathe!

Unstructured play helps us understand who we are.

Freedom to roam helps us discover what makes us happy.

Reclaiming public space builds self-esteem by connecting us to our fellow citizens and our environment.