Making London ‘streets ahead’

Wednesday 3 February 2016

London is facing up to the challenge of reconciling the place and movement aspects of its streets, armed with investment and a new map TfL has devised to characterize every road in the capital. But it must strive to make cycling as ‘supernormal’ as it is in other European cities, with a ‘safe system’ approach to appeal more to women and children.

Those were just two of many views to emerge from a wide-ranging breakfast talk at NLA this morning as part of its Streets Ahead season.

Social Research Associates director Kris Beuret said things had moved rapidly in the last eight years since a mixed priority routes study was published. Today there are more people on the streets, more scooters and cyclists and declining car use, albeit more light vans. But designers of public realm could take lessons from other industries including retail, applying more ‘psychology of movement’ principles. ‘Think about streets as you would about your own sitting room’, said Beuret. ‘We’re all living in exciting days – go for it!’

TfL director, surface strategy and planning, Ben Plowden said that the demand side is growing sharply largely because of population growth but there is little political interest in increasing the supply of roads. So if congestion is not dealt with it could rise to 60% in central London and 15% in outer by 2031. But the other main challenge lies in the trade-off between different users on the road network, said Plowden, and between the movement and place or ‘living’ function of London’s roads. To this end TfL has now completed its work in designating every London street according to its credentials, resulting in a matrix of nine different grades. ‘That allows you to start to have a different conversation about what those streets are for’, said Plowden.

London Councils corporate director, services, Nick Lester said roads are a critical issue for the capital’s boroughs, which control 95% of the network, including most of the busiest bus routes. Traffic levels, though, have stabilized and are declining, reported Lester, with the number of households with no cars increasing. Some 50% of households in the capital do not have access to a car, and younger Londoners have half the car ownership of their older counterparts. But Lester felt that projects live the Hammersmith ‘dive-under’ had become ‘frayed at the edges’ and although it has 80-90% local support, if this can’t get going it will be difficult to get other tunnels projects built elsewhere.

Finally, International Transport’s Philipe Crist said the key challenge was to make cycling ‘supernormal’, no longer recognized as a separate discipline for – particularly – male, lycra-clad people going to ‘war’ in the city. ‘Women and children are who you need to keep in mind when designing cycling policies’, he said. ‘We have to focus on those who do not cycle now.’ Speed management is key, with the aim being to reduce streets to 30km/hour and even 20km/hour in some areas, as the most effective safety management that can be deployed. Cycle tracks should be built where it is necessary and often difficult and controversial, Crist added, avoiding the temptation to put in speed managed zones only where people don’t travel. But the outputs are sometimes surprising. In New York, where temporary cycle lanes became permanent, cycling numbers went up and injuries down, but vehicular speeds also went up. ‘Good planning can benefit everyone’, said Crist.

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