Friday, 27 July 2012

Liveable London Streets

"Jon Snow sees Olympic Lanes as 'hope for liveable cities'... " a provocative and ironic headline from Mark Sutton in BikeBiz on 26 July

Segregation - the post-WW2 highway engineering technique of dividing road space between users - has apparently made London streets temporarily less congested and more inviting - but for the twenty-first century city, the 'architecture' of occupying street must evolve with a new urban environment. Cyclists were agreeing with Snow on twitter that (ironically) the ZIL lanes had made Whitehall more pleasant for cycling.

Segregated cycle infrastructure, in the form of dedicated lanes, even re-purposed olympic (VIP limousine) lanes may be one way to make a visible political gesture in support of cycling. We have seen this in the form of the blue 'Boris' lanes - where there have also been cycle fatalities. I have seen an example on Peace Avenue, the main east-west traffic artery in the rapidly-developing Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar. There, a short section of segregated green-painted cycle lane was installed to promote a local political campaign to modernise and globalise (in appearance at least) a city full of jeeps and coal-fired power stations. These lanes have done little for pedestrian environments, for aesthetic qualities of streets, or for any holistic idea of liveable streets. In London, 'Going Dutch' as the London Cycle Campaign is branded, will require more than road-space reallocation, but also changes in head-space of all street users. In inner-city London, there is currently too little understanding distinctions between roads and streets in the public realm.

In the case of London, the task of developing more liveable city streets might be helped somewhat by maintaining VIP lanes as a legacy for cycling, and by continuing to deter motorists from entering London. The cause will be helped somewhat by the prevalence (in both road space and head space) of urban cycling advocates like Jon Snow, my boss, Mark Sutton (and me - MAMIL tendency noted). However, streets will also have to be reclaimed by citizens as part of the public realm, beyond 20th century transport engineering (TfL). The physical environment of London streets needs to be recolonised and designed by, with and for people who live and work in them. GC

Friday, 6 July 2012

Caledonian Road & Niddastrasse: Songs / Themes

Reviewing more than forty interviews I conducted, I composed twenty main themes.

Songs of Niddastrasse / Bahnhofsviertel Frankfurt

1. international culture and expectations of the city
Hotel guests from China visiting the Frankfurt book fair don't understand the situation with Frankfurt drug-users in the street (F14) 
2. contrast of different types of people
"that place makes great dumplings" two architects, also "we saw someone ‘painting a building with their with fingernails’ " i.e. drug user scratching wall in the street (F18) 
3. safety and health in the street and behind the building fronts
In Niddastrasse I conduct industrial health and safety checks in offices and workplaces here, DBSV calls for provision for blind people, kerbs, crossings (F4)
4. active frontages
I've walked Niddastrasse for twenty years. The street is very narrow at the Taunusanlage end, has inactive frontages (F21) I didn't notice the gambling hall (F14)

5. greening the street
"Niddastrasse needs a few more trees" cafe waiter at Luna Park talking with two architects, also graphics office also Dona Carmen F21

6. ideal future of Niddastrasse
Church minister imagines Niddastrasse as heaven: "no drugs, no prostitution, the born-again into God's Kingdom" F5

7. decluttering
nobody has mentioned obsolete duplicated or unnecessary signage or street furniture
8. habitable street space
Furriers morning coffee meetings at benches outside cafe Luna Park, birthday party. Restaurant tables on Karlsplatz
9. vehicle traffic flow
vehicle access is important. Parking fr 25h Hotel. Narrow end, street parking. The area has a high level of public transport accessibility (F19)
10. trees
lack of active frontages F21

Songs of Caledonian Road / King’s Cross London

1. two way and one way streets
Safety on the traffic gyratory: cyclist and heritage activist (L14), advertising exec (L19, L13) Shared space difficult to use for blind people and guide dogs, tactiles are ambiguous (L3)
2. attractive old buildings and scale
nice buildings on lower Caledonian Rd - advertising exec (L19) even in cold weather and rain
3. public realm design
public realm risk and safety (L1) Huxf (L2) Russell spaceshaper process games to collaborate CN (L10)

4. pedestrian safety
safe, viable, vital and attractive streets lighting near buses L7 Sanaz

5. cycling environment
King's Cross to Marylebone by bicycle - less Stop-Start than Fft, non-signal controlled junctions left traffic, shop facades (L8) cycle activists “Bikes Alive” K (L17, L19, L16) nature, (L15, L14) LCC

6. mix of uses
Green Sky thinking L6, north section improvements Vaultex planter boxes, Cine club and Mosque

7. decluttering
Difficult to get agencies together to deduplicate signage and unnecessary street furniture (L12)
8. Distinctive Independent Shops
Shopkeeper says Tesco chain store has benefited small independent Italian Continental Delicatessen (L13)
9. Vital and distinctive area
Visitors Italy (L18) Belgium (L11), optimistic about the future of the area, London vitality
10. Gyratory removal
return to two-way traffic will require removal of some buildings (L20)

draft 6.7.12