29 January 2016

Streets Ahead: The future of London's Roads at the Building Centre

Having escaped the office because of technical problems there I had an afternoon to fill and so one of the places that I went to was the Building Centre just off Goodge Street.

It somewhere that I go to fairly regularly, like RIBA, because it is easy to walk to at lunchtime and there is always much to see there. There were three exhibitions on at that time and I could have spent hours looking at all of them but I only had time to look at Streets Ahead, which had only just opened.

As with other things I had seen there, the exhibition was comprehensive, detailed, well structured and made good use of graphics and photographs. Because of that I learned a lot in a little time.

What I learned was a mix of good news and bad news. Very little progress had been made on improving London's streets for pedestrians and cyclists in recent years, despite the obvious success of Ken Livingstone's plan to create a walkway along the south bank that connects Trafalgar Square to St Pauls, but some small trial schemes were starting to show what could be done and there were examples in the rest of the world that London could learn from.

One thing that I would dearly love to see is some of Central London's main roads either buried out of site or just closed to cars altogether. An obvious place to do this would be on the north bank between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge where a dual carriageway create a physical and emotional barrier between the city and the river.

The exhibition showed how Boston and Madrid had both managed to remove cars and to replace large roads with linear parks. This is the sort of city that I want to live and work in.

The river featured again on another of my favourite topic boards, on bridges. Looking at a map shows that there are quite a few bridges over the Thames but these are clustered with significant gaps between some of them, some are rail bridges so cannot be used by pedestrians and some of the road bridges are either quite narrow for pedestrians or are unpleasant to use because of the proximity to traffic.

It is no coincidence that the wonderful route from Trafalgar Square to St Pauls that I mentioned earlier has two new pedestrian bridges, the vastly extended Hungerford Bridge at one end and the iconic Millennium Bridge at the other.

We need more bridges like that and there are several good suggestions for them. One idea is to connect Rotherhithe with the Isle of Dogs, two peninsulas that are isolated by the river that almost surrounds them.

We do not need the Garden Bridge, however. It connects nowhere to nowhere, would be closed at night and for private functions, is not much of a garden and would interrupt the existing views from places like Waterloo Bridge.

There is scope to make London a much nicer place to be but it takes the imagination and leadership of somebody like Ken Livingstone to deliver it. All that Boris has given us is the fantasy cable car and the threat of the unnecessary and unwanted Garden Bridge.

I think that London needs to be a much nicer place too as it is dragging behind other major cities in creating nice spaces and pleasant routes between them.

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