Boris Johnson - Streets Ahead!

Thursday 4 February 2016

© Agnese Sanvito

They said it was going to be an informal visit, but all the top brass are there: Mike Brown Commissioner for TfL: Leon Daniels, MD for Surface Transport; Isobel Dedring, Deputy Mayor for Transport and Richard de Cani, Director of Strategy and Policy. All that’s missing is the limo.

Instead, of course, Boris arrives on a bike. He’s a bit late, but then he has a busy schedule these days being a Mayor and an MP. As he is locking his bike up he is surrounded by journalists keen to know his views, not on our exhibition, but about David Cameron’s negotiations with the EU. Is Boris ‘in’ or ‘out’? The press aide says they ask him that all the time these days. He’s scheduled for 45 minutes at NLA so Mike Brown, Richard de Cani and I give him a quick tour of the exhibition, starting with the history. He discusses the Gustave Doré  view of St Paul’s with the  roads crammed with carts, omnibuses and sheep. I point out the London’s Society’s plan for London published in 1918 - the first London Plan - which proposed the north and south circular as well as the green belt. We move on to look at Buchanan’s vision of the Tottenham Court Road area with its raised walkways and multi-lane roads. We discuss the unpopularity of the City of London’s pedway system. “We need to move on” says the aide and we whizz across towards the end of the exhibition where there is a display about sinking major roads into tunnels. This is what Boris is really here to talk about.
En route he is diverted by the voting system where visitors are asked to place a plastic disc into yes or no tubes in response to such questions as: Do you agree with road pricing? Do you like the idea of autonomous vehicles? Do support the idea of a car free day like Paris? He enthusiastically drops his disc into the yes slot for car free days.
Then onto the tunnels - he’s full of praise for the Big Dig in Boston - “did they build developments along it to pay for the work?”  for Hamburg -“That looks great - doesn’t it?”  He admires images of decking over the A13 and the A40 before being swept off to interviews with the assembled press. A reporter from the Nick Ferrari show on LBC aggressively questions him about tolls on the proposed bridges in East London. A quick interview with BBC London and London Live and then its to go. I take him to the door. We discuss cycling infrastructure and the transformation that is taking place in London right now. “I hope the next Mayor is going to carry on the good work” I say. “You’ve got to make sure they do!” Boris urges. Then he said “I often recall that slogan you came up with ‘A cyclised city is a civilised city.’ That has really influenced my thinking over the years.’  I was very chuffed to hear that. 
He unlocked his bike and rode away.
Peter Murray, Chairman, New London Architecture
For more information about the 'Streets Ahead: The future of London's roads' exhibition and event series click here.

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