An Open Letter to Camden's West End Project (and why I support its principles)

Campaigners with their fingers firmly on the pulse will not have escaped recent announcements to transform a large area of London's West End by Camden Council.  The plans are bold and sweeping and - crucially - look at the area as a whole as opposed to taking a street-by-street approach.  

There is some concern, and justifiably so, about the provision for cycling in these plans.  Some of the plan's results will be beneficial for cyclists, some less so, and I will endeavour to highlight in detail on my blog over the coming weeks exactly where I think there are problems and where the focus for improvement should be.

However, I do believe that these are very carefully considered plans from Camden that deserve to be considered carefully by us in return.  I've been a vocal proponent of more separated cycling infrastructure in London from the start, but I know that shouting "Stick a cycle track down the middle!" loudly without considering the wider area is not always the right solution.

A key theme emerging around these proposals is that not all of the cycling community agree on what is good and what is not here, and the most important outcome of this is that we all talk about it and that there is more debate; firstly to alert Camden that their ideas may need improvement and secondly to try and form consensus before the consultation is over in July.

However, I very strongly believe that Camden should be applauded for their commitment to turning Tottenham Court Road and surroundings in to a more people-focused area and our approach should be cooperative, informed and constructive.  

Much more will be achieved with these plans if we take an open-minded approach as oppose to just standing on the sidelines shouting, which is why I have added my name to the following open letter along with Councillor Caroline Russell, (Local Transport Spokesperson, The Green Party), Bruce McVean (Founder, Movement for Liveable London), and John Dales (Director, Urban Movement)

To view this text in full, visit the Liveable London website.



Anonymous said...

I think no-one is disagreeing with the stated aims of this project. The problem is more that, in this form, it just doesn't achieve any of them.

Tottenham Court Rd will have 7,000 vehicles an hour in its central section (and twice as many buses as now), on weekdays, and will be a two-way free-for-all artery that increases traffic flow at evenings and weekends.

The scheme doesn't reduce traffic dominance - it just shifts traffic around - decreases in some streets are matched by increases in others.

The small improvements in east-west cycling are made ineffective because the key north-south routes are still barriers to elderly, child and less able cyclists - and all those who don't like cycling in close proximity to HGVs. There's nothing to promote the kind of mass cycling that might enable significant modal shift.

The improvements for pedestrians (slightly wider pavements) are again nullified by the failure to significantly reduce traffic Which makes crossing the roads as difficult as ever.

Maybe 30-40% of the motor traffic here is taxis and private cars. They're a dirty, noisy ,space-inefficient form of transport that only the rich can afford.

A scheme that is truly worth the 26 million that this will cost (in terms of environmental, health, congestion, road safety benefits) will create cycling conditions that allow access for anyone, of any age and ability, on a bike. It will do this, not by slowing buses, but by restricting through-movement of taxis and private cars to that possible when cycling, walking, and buses have been given the priority they need. Anything else isn't worth the cash.

So, yes, support the intentions. But for 26 million of public money, we need real improvements, not just prettifying and moving things around. If we can get real improvements, great. If not, we should reject outright.

Anonymous said...

Sorry - TCR: 7,000 vehicles a day, not hour.

Good intentions are good. Spin and illusion is not. In this regard, the lack of detail, and the omissions, on the West End Project website are worrying.

Same anon as above.

ibikelondon said...

@Anonymous We agree on more than on what we disagree! I also believe that we should push for real improvements, but I also believe the way we will get these is by engaging in constructive and cooperative ways.

I will endeavour to lay out on my blog soon what I think those improvements should be.

Anonymous said...

Agree about being constructive and cooperative - but think it's also useful to be very clear about our red lines, and why they exist - in particular, in terms of minimum acceptable standards of quality and integrity for routes to be suitable for mass cycling - and of which routes need to be enabled for mass cycling.

liz said...

I've been trying to work out the best way to respond to Camden's plans. I'm not an engineer or a planner, so I really can't provide the kind of detailed alternative that some of the bloggers have proposed, and I'm not really sure that I should have to - I should be able to make the case for better cycling provision, and it's up to them to work out the implementation for that.

On the other hand, as someone who works on Gower Street, I really want to see improved conditions for cycling here, and I agree that the last thing we want is the council backing off from the plan.

But I'm really concerned that these designs are going to cement in patterns of use that make it even harder for Camden to push through bigger changes in the future. Returning TCR to two-way working with no infrastructure to enforce the 'buses only' restrictions, and the loophole of 'local access' is likely to mean that taxis quickly start ignoring the restrictions and will lobby hard against any attempts to further restrict traffic in the future.

While we should welcome positive incremental change, we need to be aware that the 'baby steps' the council is taking might actually do more harm than good.

a f h said...

The actual figure for Tottenham Court Road is 7000 PCU/day (passenger car equivalent units, a measure of traffic volume) - one bus or HGV counts as 3.5 units. But either way, it's a LOT of traffic.

I think we should comment within the spirit of Camden's plans, but try to fine tune to make things better for cycling. One thing I've suggested on other forums is that the carriageway on TCR be narrowed to just 6m (one bus in each direction) with pedestrians and slow cyclists (people shopping, sightseeing and visiting cafes by bike) sharing the rest. More details if you're interested over on Cyclescape

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