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

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