Street Talks with Sir Terry Farrell: walking towards a better Westminster

For the March edition of Street Talks, the Movement for Liveable London are teaming up with Living Streets to host architect, planner and urbanist Sir Terry Farrell to discuss what can be done to make the City of Westminster a better place for pedestrians.

Westminster is well-known in cycling circles as somewhat of a bike-riding black hole; the cycle lanes and advanced stop lines dry up almost immediately as you cross the border from progressive Camden in to the city.  The horrors of cycling on Oxford Street or around Parliament Square barely need an introduction.

July 27th 2012 at PM peak in central Lindon
An unusually car-free Charing Cross Road in Central London (on the night of the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.) Look at the life that's left over in the spaces in between and which could flourish.

But as the seat of our Government, our central shopping district, a major residential area and not to mention the heart of London's night-time economy, Westminster is not as happy a place to be a pedestrian as it should be, either.  It suffers from some of the country's worst air pollution and highest pedestrian casualty rates.  The number of people on foot struck by buses every year on Britain's most famous shopping boulevard - Oxford Street - is truly shocking.  The streets of Soho spill over with people but are designed for nearly non-existent cars, whilst beautiful and architecturally significant corners of Westminster like Berkeley Square are treated as gyratories instead of places to accommodate people.

Sir Terry Farrell is one of the world's foremost planners, and on Tuesday he'll be sharing his vision for a better Westminster for people.  With over 40 years in practice (MI6 headquarters, anyone?) in both designing buildings and the public realm, he's currently engaged in the planning of the Thames Gateway.  Come along to hear about successful schemes that have already changed the face of London, and what could be done to make Westminster a truly world-class urban environment.

The March Street Talks - with Living Streets and Sir Terry Farrell - takes place at Terry Farrell and Partners, 7 Hatton Street, NW8 8PL at 6.30PM for a 7PM talk (directions via this PDF) on Tuesday 12th March.

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David Arditti said...

I've seen little evidence in the past that Terry Farrell has any interest in cycling or understanding of the contribution cycling could make to the London environment. His partnership damaged (but they wanted to destroy) the Seven Station Link cycle route through Bloomsbury, as I outlined in this post, in the name of the crazy notion of 'shared pace' (but without actually seeking to limit motor traffic). if he has changed his position, or I am maligning him incorrectly, that will be very interesting to find out. (The Foster Partnership, on the other hand, do see to be pro-cycling.)

London Bike said...

Charing Cross Road has been unusually car free ever since Crossrail construction closed it off at the Tottenham Court Road end.

David Arditti said...

Curse of he missing consonants there: should shave been 'shared space' and 'do seem to be'.

ibikelondon said...

Hi David, thanks for your thoughts. I wondered if you might pop up here as I know you follow cycling developments in Camden very closely and you're right that Terry Farrell's firm were involved in schemes which sought the removal of some of the cycling infrastructure there.

I too have concerns about "public realm makers" casting themselves as knowing what is best for cycling. Whilst I broadly think that much pro-public realm work is very good, and shares similar aims to cyclists in their hopes for how a city should be, there are some key differences.

It will be interesting to see what is said on Tuesday. I'm expecting some sort of announcement about unwinding large parts of Westminster's hideous one-way-system (good for cyclists, though potentially good for motorists too), but also expecting proposals for more footway widening and street narrowing (good for pedestrians and business, not necessarily great for cycling) As always, it will be interesting to see what is pulled out of the hat and cyclists and campaigners will have to be on their guard.

Lastly, I think your comments about Foster are very true (the same even more so for Lord Rogers and his excellent books "Cities for a small planet" and "Cities for a small country".), which is surprising considering that Foster sat at the knee of some arch modernists as a young man; architects like Corbusier who wanted to destroy the city street as a place all together.

christhebull said...

What is interesting to me is that my tutors for architecture are far more inclined to emphasise the benefits of shared space than lecturers in transport planning I know (which include Steve Melia, who debated against Ben Hamilton-Baillie on the merits or otherwise of shared space).

For the project I am currently working on, Terry Farrell was mentioned as somebody to look at, and as a minor road runs through our site, shared space / shared surfaces / home zones were all mentioned. In reality these are appropriate approaches to this location, as the street concerned is never realistically going to have more than 100 vehicles per hour (considered the threshold above which "sharing" behaviour deteriorates into normal pedestrian behaviour).

I think the most disappointing thing about shared space is that it so often represents a wasted opportunity for the re-allocation of space and prioritisation of sustainable transport, an opportunity hidden beneath the aesthetic qualities. Shared space will not, for example, give buses priority over other traffic like a bus lane would. Where this priority for certain modes has been effectuated in shared space, the legal or physical basis behind it (eg road closures) could almost certainly have been implemented using more traditional traffic engineering techniques.

It would be perfectly possible to have an urban realm project where the aesthetics were to a greater or lesser extent based around cycling infrastructure - imagine cycle paths of a constant width, in a pleasing buff texture, that act as a buffer between a tarmac road and a granite pavement. Or a strip of salmon coloured tarmac diagonally across a junction emphasising a historic route that was once severed. The infrastructure could help to re-enforce axiality along a path where traffic is diverted elsewhere. Unfortunately, cycling schemes are to a significant degree “siloed” into a separate agenda, which not only allows Vehicularism to gain a hold (both in terms of reactions to the scheme, and in some cases the limited nature of the scheme itself), but also means other regeneration or urban realm schemes for city centres (shared space or not) are wasted opportunities because cycling is not typically an express goal. (I am not saying that cycling budgets should be abolished, but merely saying that they could be stretched further if reconfigurations that will require road works anyway could be used as an opportunity to improve cycling, so that the cycling budget is not then spent fixing mistakes).