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From the iconic red double-decker buses to the world's first underground metro system, London's transportation network has a rich history. Today, Transport for London (TfL) plays a vital role in managing much of this vast and interconnected system, including the London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, London Overground, buses and more. But one of the most pressing issues TfL is tackling is the impact of climate change on the city's transport infrastructure. In this episode of Better Cities by Design, we speak with Katherine Drayson, Senior Environment Manager at TfL. Katherine provides insights into the ways that climate change is impacting London and how people can move around the city. She also talks about how TfL is evolving to meet the climate challenge head on and ensure that, come what may, safe, reliable, and comfortable public transportation remains a hallmark of life in the British capital.

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Senior Environment Manager at Transport for London Katherine Drayson joins the show to talk about TfL’s efforts to make its operations, and therefore public transportation in London, more resilient and ready for the future. Like most cities around the world, London is experiencing increasing negative impacts from climate change. Katherine talks about the effect that warmer and wetter winters and hotter, drier summers are having on the city, and how this interacts with the fact that much of London’s transport infrastructure is very old.

Aligned with the ambitious targets set in the Mayor's Transport Strategy, TfL aims to make 80% of all journeys in London sustainable by 2041. Katherine talks about how achieving these goals will involve not only reducing emissions, but also significant efforts to make the city more resilient against climate change. When it comes to emissions reductions, getting more people in London to use public transport instead of cars is clearly key. But Katherine points out that Londoners will only make this shift, if they deem their public transport options to be safe, comfortable, and reliable. During the discussion, Katherine also speaks about the history of the City of London and shares her view of what the future may hold.


The Arcadis global podcast

Better Cities by Design

Arcadis' fortnightly global podcast series, where we talk to change-makers to discuss how they are making our urban environments better places for people to live, work, and play

Episode transcript:

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    Davion Ford 

    Welcome to Better Cities by Design, a podcast brought to you by Arcadis where we talk to changemakers who are working to make our cities better places for people to live, work and play. I'm your host Davion Ford. This week we're going to London for a conversation with Katherine Drayson, Senior Environment Manager at Transport for London, also known as TfL. It's the organization responsible for many aspects of the transport system in Greater London. We're going to discuss the ways in which climate change is impacting London, and its mobility network, and TfL is massive and ambitious climate change adaptation efforts.


    Davion Ford 

    As the city that seamlessly blends history with modernity, London enthralls millions of visitors each year with its iconic landmarks, bustling streets, and the public transport system as diverse as its population. Picture yourself strolling past the magnificent Tower of London, catching a glimpse of Buckingham Palace or immersing yourself in the vibrant energy of Piccadilly Circus. And what better way to navigate this sprawling city than aboard one of the legendary red double decker buses, which have become one of the many enduring symbols of the British capital. But beneath its surface, you will find a truly groundbreaking marvel of urban mobility, the world's first underground metro system, dating back to 1863, when the Metropolitan Railway opened its doors, London became the birthplace of a transportation revolution. Initially using steam power trains, the early subsurface lines were later revolutionized with electricity and safe lifts in the late 1880s. These advancements pave the way for the interconnected tube system, which expanded over time as the city's population soared. By 1933, all public transport including buses and trams came under public ownership. But let's leave the past behind and jump into the present. With the London Underground commonly known as the Tube being the backbone of the city's mobility network. London boasts a comprehensive and well connected public transport system managed by Transport for London or TfL, as I said earlier. Here's Anusha Shah, Senior Director for Resilient Cities at Arcadis.


    Anusha Shah 

    Transport for London is responsible for the day to day running of the capital's transport system. TfL, as we call it, is a strategic planner rather than just an operator. One of the key to success is the mayor of London, championing the transport agenda and securing that political and financial support for it. Also, with having that statutory responsibility across transport and land use, transport is developed in a way that unlocks new development sites and facilitates that continued growth of the city. And over the past several years, the transport system has become easy to use with the introduction of smart ticketing in the shape of the Oyster card in 2007, and cashless payment cards in 2014, and that allows people to use their debit and credit cards. Clear network maps at stations and street maps across the city make getting around easier and more hassle free, especially for the tourists. As Gustavo Petro, Colombian economist and politician rightly said, a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation, and TfL has enabled London to do exactly that.


    Davion Ford 

    Each day millions of passengers rely on TfL services, the Tube alone handles an astonishing volume of up to 5 million journeys every day. At peak times more than 543 trains zip around the capital, covering a total distance of 402 kilometers. This is in addition to a bus fleet of around 9300 vehicles operating on 675 routes all managed by TfL. Now, despite TfL’s remarkable success in managing such a vast and complex network, London's public transport system faces a number of challenges in a rapidly changing world. One of the most pressing issues is the impact of climate change, which poses a significant threat to the city and its transport infrastructure. For more on this here again is Arcadis’ Anusha Shah.


    Anusha Shah 

    London's climate is changing, and we've had many signs already. For example, on 12th of July 2021, nearly a month's worth of rain fell in parts of London, resulting in 120 Kensington and Chelsea residents being evacuated from their homes. And then the same month on 25th July, two hospitals and eight Tube stations were closed for a day. We've also been experiencing short but intense heat waves just last year with temperatures soared to 40 degrees. A series of grass fires broke out across the capital. I remember seeing the smoke from my balcony, looking out at east of London. And I remember fire brigade declared a major incident as firefighters battled several significant fires across the capital. Also, analysis shows London could face severe water shortage in the next 20 years. And the science especially in the southeast, so visible already.


    Davion Ford 

    As London strives to become a greener and more sustainable metropolis. TfL is committed to helping the city achieve the ambitious targets set out in the mayor's transport strategy. One of the key targets is for 80% of all journeys to be made by walking, cycling, or public transport by 2041. To better understand TfL’s efforts to combat climate change and create a resilient transport network, I'm happy to welcome to the show TfL’s Senior Environment Manager, Katherine Drayson.


    Davion Ford 

    Hello, Katherine, welcome to Better Cities by Design.


    Katherine Drayson 

    Thank you very much. It's lovely to be here.


    Davion Ford 

    So can you start off by explaining what Transport for London is for those out there who don't know what your organization's mission is?


    Katherine Drayson 

    Transport for London is London’s Integrated Transport Authority. And probably one of the world's largest integrated transport authorities. And we're certainly the world's oldest Metro. So we've got London Underground, which is over 160 years old. And our mission is to be the strong green heartbeat of London, which is a rather exciting and forward looking vision as far as I'm concerned.


    Davion Ford 

    It sure is. London is a massive city. So TfL is operating on a massive scale. Can you just quantify the scope of your operations?


    Katherine Drayson 

    Sure. So London obviously is the UK’s capital city, and we're also a global city so one of roughly 300 around the world. Transport for London operates across, well it owns about 1.2% of London's area. We operate across the entire city and also slightly beyond. So we're not just within London's boundaries. And every year we have around 1.4 billion passengers, which is rather exciting. And as an integrated transport authority, we're not only run the London Underground, we also run the Docklands Light Railway, large parts of the London Overground network, London trams, we manage London buses, we also manage the strategic network, road network, for London, and Emirates Cable Car, Santander Cycle hire. We usually have some kind of a role in it. But we're not the only transport providers within London or transport authorities within London. We also work very closely with Network Rail. Also national highways and the boroughs. So London's boroughs are local authorities, we've got 30 plus the City of London within the Greater London Authority area, and they manage 95% of London's roads. So really important stakeholder for us.


    Davion Ford 

    So we know that cities are fueling climate change and that public transportation does play a big role in helping to reduce urban emissions. But getting more and more people to use public transportation isn't the only thing that TfL is doing to contribute to London's climate goals. Can you talk a bit about that?


    Katherine Drayson 

    Sure, I mean, one thing I do want to push back on a little bit is the idea that cities are fueling climate change. I think people are fueling climate change, absolutely. But in some ways, cities are actually helping because of the agglomeration effect. So having more people in a smaller area can actually help in terms of embodied carbon with us in terms of housing, ability to then make the business case for public transport, etc. There are some good things about cities in terms of reducing carbon emissions. That being said, TfL is very conscious of the need that we do need to reduce carbon emissions and one way of doing that is by encouraging people to use public transport. So the mayor's transport strategy, which covers the entirety of London's transport, has a commitment for 80% of trips to be made sustainably, so either through active travel, or public transport and back to travel, talking about walking and cycling. So that's a really important commitment for us. But what we're also trying to do is reduce our carbon emissions directly. And several of my colleagues lead on that. So I'll encourage you to invite them onto this podcast to tell you more.


    Davion Ford 

    I’d be happy to do that. So speaking of climate change, we do know that the climate crisis is already upon us. So in what ways is climate change already impacting the City of London and TfL’s ability to carry out its mission?


    Katherine Drayson 

    This is a question I could talk for hours about. So this is a really important question. We've all seen the impacts of severe weather events over the last few years and we're getting better and better globally as a community to attribute particularly the likelihood of particular weather, it's happening as a result of climate change. So we know that as the climate changes, London is going to become, it's going to have warmer, wetter winters, and hotter, drier summers. But it's also going to be seeing sea level rise. And also more frequent and more extreme severe weather events. In translation, we're going to be seeing more summer storms that are going to cause surface water flooding, we are seeing an increased risk of tidal flooding as sea level rises, and we're going to see increased risk of heat waves and droughts. Those also then have impacts on people and also TfL’s assets and the people side of things is something really close to my heart. I'm a user of TfL services. I want to make sure that the services I use and that Londoners use are comfortable for people to use, even during high temperatures. But this is very much a work in progress. So we've got air conditioning on an awful lot of our networks already, we're looking into whether or not we can roll that out along some of our more challenging lines, and describe some of the issues around that later. But we recently carried out our most detailed and comprehensive climate risk assessment to date, and it highlighted that we've got around 333 climate risks. And the two categories, it's a lot and actually, there are more. We know that because we've seen some extreme weather come in, that have had some impacts that we now need to add on to that register. But the two categories that have the largest number of risks were precipitation, and temperature. And what's really interesting with both of those is that it's not just too much precipitation, it's also too little, that's an issue for us, because it results in embankment instability, ground movement, and also potentially water use restrictions. And that could have implications or things like watering our trees, but also potentially have impacts on our fire safety systems. And then on temperature. It's not just too high, but also too low. And I know that we're a maritime climate, so we don't see quite the extremes that continental Europe does. But they are still quite significant changes across particular day, season or year. So that also needs to be factored in. The other thing I wanted to mention that's really important is that by adapting to climate change, we are going to be contributing to our net zero commitment. Because only by making sure that our public transport networks are comfortable and accessible, and reliable to Londoners and visitors, then we can help encourage the mode shift that we know is necessary to be able to meet our net zero requirements.


    Davion Ford 

    So, much of London's infrastructure is quite old, London is an old city. What impact does this have on TfL and its climate adaptation efforts?


    Katherine Drayson 

    It's integral. And it's also part of the really interesting part of my role, and the fact that I get to deal with history as well as the current day. So and also that I get to deal with not just TfL infrastructure. So a key part of climate change adaptation is managing surface water flood risk. So that's flood risk, from rainfall. And the main adaptation measure that we have in place to manage that risk is our drainage system. And that's really important in the context of history, because London a while back, the 19th century, would just throw all of its sewage out into the street or into the rivers. And it caused such an enormous stink, that Parliament finally had enough and commissioned an engineer called Joseph Bazalgette to solve the problem. And what he did was develop a drainage network that took both sewage and rainfall. I mean, he was clever enough to design this system to cope with double the number of people that London had at the time, which was great. But unfortunately, we're now double that again. So there is basically very little headroom left in our drainage network to cope with rainfall because they're mostly taken up with sewage. And that has implications because it means there's nowhere for water to go. And as we densify our city and there's more concrete, more asphalt, there's less soil for the water to infiltrate into, and you end up with surface water flooding. So that's kind of the link between history, TfL assets, and today. We also see that when it comes to temperature, so for example, some of our London underground lines are particularly old, they’re over 160 years old and when they were built, they were built quite small. And that limits then what technology we can use to put in air conditioning, because it's just so narrow. There's very little space available. So as technology improves, we're hoping that situation might shift. But in the meantime, that does cause some issues for us. So yeah, history and age are critical issues. The other consideration is that even apart from the historical configurations about infrastructure. As assets age, they also get more vulnerable to climate change. And so maintenance is absolutely crucial. And generally speaking, certainly in the UK, I'm sure worldwide, maintenance tends not to be quite as attractive a proposition as capital projects. It's nice having a shiny new project to open, rather than just putting in more money into maintenance. But as the climate changes that is becoming increasingly important.


    Davion Ford 

    So, what are the main barriers to and opportunities for TfL is progression towards climate change adaptation?


    Katherine Drayson 

    There are lots of both. I’ll start with the barriers and will end on a positive note. On the barrier side of things, a key one that I'm facing is data. TfL collects a huge amount of data on all kinds of weird and wonderful things, are very important on a daily basis for our asset management and performance reporting. However, a lot of those systems are quite old. And they weren't designed to allow us to identify which issues are actually the result of severe weather events. So whether it's faults, whether it's delays, we can't identify what has been caused by severe weather. And that's a problem because if we don't have that information, we can't then use the Met Office’s climate projections to figure out what the future impact of climate change is going to be on our business. And that means we then find it really difficult to make a business case to invest in potentially costly adaptation measures over time. So data is an enormous gap that we're working really hard to sell. We've got a strategic research program, got some really exciting data, it's gonna be coming out this year. So I look forward to sharing that with you over time. Another barrier is skills and knowledge. Climate change adaptation, as a field, has been around for quite a long time. But it hasn't been massively popular, shall we say, until really the last I'd say five years. And so there just isn't a lot of skills, knowledge, or even awareness about the impacts of climate change on infrastructure added in a detailed way. And that's something that we're working to change as well through training, and awareness raising measures. And then, of course, the third gap that everyone's gonna mention is funding. So TfL, as a public sector body, we're not for profit, all the revenue that we generate, gets poured back into the services that we run. We had a really tough time with, with COVID when passenger revenue obviously dropped through the floor. And government very kindly, lent us or gave us money to see us through. But we're just coming out the other side of that and trying to become financially sustainable is a long term challenge. And it does make it difficult then to make the case for doing things differently, when we are so constrained in the money that we have available. So now I'll cover the opportunity side of things, which is also very exciting. I mean, don't get me wrong. Fixing the barriers is a big area that I'm really interested in, but the opportunities are fascinating. So carbon has had some really interesting times recently, we're starting to see much more in terms of carbon finance, and low carbs are a low carbon finance. And whilst it's much more challenging to apply some of this to adaptation, because it's hard to quantify the return on investment, because it's hard to say investment in this particular adaptation measure resulted in Y number of avoided delays or avoided floods or whatever. There is potential to develop some really interesting market mechanisms where we can start attracting private sector and third party funding for adaptation of the UK's infrastructure. The other really exciting thing is that climate change adaptation is absolutely integral to good asset management, which means you can bundle it up with other initiatives, and kind of piggyback off those. So key examples would include carbon so that there will be some overlap between adaptation and carbon. But also things like green infrastructure. Green infrastructure says all things vegetation is an adaptation measure in its own right. So trees provide shade, vegetation helps reduce surface water flood risk. It has all kinds of opportunities based around that and sustainable drainage systems that London is exploring, in particular, through the development of our first ever pan-London surface water flooding strategy, which we're in the process of procuring at the moment, it's very exciting work. Then there's also the health and safety issue. Climate change adaptation is fundamentally a health and safety issue. If you're looking at flooding, either issues around slips, trips and falls, but also things like a flooded street can have lifted manhole covers. But because the flood waters are often opaque, it's got lots of debris and sediment in it, you can't necessarily see to the bottom of the street so you can't see if a manhole cover has lifted. And so you could end up literally falling through a manhole. It's very unsafe to walk through flood water, please don't do it for any of your listeners out there. But then also in terms of temperatures, during the heatwave last year, July 2022, we saw a few incidents of staff and passengers fainting because of the high temperatures, and the fainting itself is a health safety issue. But also, what often happens is that when people faint unexpectedly, or very short notice, they'll often hit their heads. And that can be extremely damaging: concussion, etc. So there are a lot of links with health and safety opportunities to integrate adaptation with that agenda. Fundamentally, when we design projects, we design them with safety in mind. So as far as I'm concerned, the opportunity is designed with safety and climate change adaptation in mind, they should be integral.


    Davion Ford 

    So if you look forward to the year 2050. Yeah, everybody's talking about 2050 out there relative to climate change, what are the hallmarks of a climate resilient London, and maybe you can talk about that in terms of, from the perspective of the people living there in the city.


    Katherine Drayson 

    My hope, at least is that by 2050, London will feel much more livable. It will look fresher, there'll be more green infrastructure, it will smell better, because there'll be fewer cars emitting pollutants. And also there'll be more green infrastructure, helping with, have you smelled lime blossom lately? It is beautiful. It will also feel better, because we'll have tree lined streets to provide shade and shelter from from severe weather events, it will also be a much easier place to find shade and shelter within so we've already built or created a network of cool spaces within London that so when there are heat waves, people can go and just cool down because it is a real danger if people have particular people have preexisting health conditions. I think, also London will be a little bit, the soundscape will change. So won't necessarily be quieter. But you'll move away from the sound of traffic to the sound of cyclists and also birdsong. The UK is one of the least biodiverse countries in the world, because we've just depleted it horribly over centuries. And unfortunately, we've got this shifting baseline syndrome where people think that actually what we've got is really great. And it's terrible. You go to the Lake District, and you just want to cry. It looks, it's aesthetically beautiful, but in terms of biodiversity, it's not particularly great. So I think for cities, it's really important because we've got such heterogeneous land, you've got gardens, you've got parks, you've got canals, rivers, there is so much so many different types of habitat within any given area of city, I think we can do a lot more to encourage biodiversity and enhance what we already have. And TfL certainly looking to develop that through our first ever Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Plan, which we’re in the process of writing at the moment. So yeah, London will look, sound, smell, feel much more livable.


    Davion Ford 

    So on that very hopeful note for the future of London. I want to really thank you Katherine for your time. And thank you for joining the show.


    Katherine Drayson 

    It's a pleasure. Thank you very much.


    Davion Ford 

    That's all for this episode of the show. A big thank you to our guest Katherine Drayson, senior environment manager at Transport for London. Tune into our future episodes as we continue to bring changemakers to the table who are driving progress in urban development. And if you haven't already done so, please be sure to subscribe and check out our other episodes. I'm David Ford, and you've been listening to Better Cities by Design. We’re a podcast brought to you by Arcadis, the world's leading company delivering sustainable design engineering and consultancy solutions for natural and built assets. You can learn more about our company by visiting our website or following Arcadis on LinkedIn or Facebook. And please stay curious, get inspired and remember that the future belongs to those who dare to make a difference in the cities we call home.

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