Streets are places too – the Mayor's vision for world-class streets and roads in London

Friday 20 September 2013

London’s streets are an important part of its public realm and deserving of far more than the ‘dramatic underinvestment’ they get at present.

So said GLA deputy mayor for transport at the GLA Isabel Dedring in a half-day conference at the NLA last week that examined the mayor’s vision for world-class streets and roads in London.  ‘If you want to do something to make London a nice place in which to live, the roads network is a place you must absolutely look at, not just in function but in shaping what London feels like’, she said. This was especially true given that more people are living and staying in the city, with an extra one million coming inside a decade rather than the 20 years previously predicted. But although investment in roads has doubled from £2 billion to £4 billion over four years, this is still a ‘drastic underinvestment’ – ‘It can’t be right that roads which carry 80 per cent of trips get only a minority of investment. It can’t be the right answer.’ Dedring’s department had set out the case for £30 billion of investment – she said the industry needs to raise its focus and set out bold projects for funding along the lines as that pushed by the rail industry, where schemes such as Crossrail 2 have ‘momentum’ and support. Elsewhere, Dedring said that there is work going on looking at capturing third party sources of capital similar to that underway at the Northern Line Extension and that government is also looking at charging for road use in a world where cars have become more efficient. 

Transport for London’s Ben Plowden said TfL broadly agreed with many of the recommendations put forward by Dedring’s roads task force, and that it is crucial to improve the public realm around the roads network – which makes up 80 per cent of London’s public spaces – as well as capitalising on the ‘unprecedented’ £1billion being put into cycling. In Camden, said the local authority’s assistant director for environment and transport Sam Monck, cycling growth is a ‘massive challenge we need to face creatively’ – ‘we want to seize the day and keep 1/3 less traffic’, while Grosvenor’s senior development manager Niall Tipping said improving the developer’s public realm was a ‘differentiator for the estate’ which also brought about a competitive edge in increased footfall for some of its occupiers. Indeed, cities are made of spaces rather than buildings, said Stanton Williams director Alan Stanton, talking through the new Kings Cross Square project in front of the station. Encouraging developers to develop their frontages and creating narrowed boulevards will also help over at Nine Elms along with sensitive planting of trees as a mediator between human scale and buildings, said TfL’s head of urban design Robin Buckle.

The conference also heard about the prospects for tunnelising problematic areas such as Hammersmith’s ageing flyover, the integration of cycle lanes, restoring life to high streets and dismantling the ‘long shadow of roads first, rather than places and streets first. ‘Always be prepared to make difference’, said LLDC director of design integration, Selina Mason. ‘There’s always a way to make it better’.

David Taylor, New London Quarterly

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