Category Archives: UK

More on public, private and social space. Dispatch from Andrew Curry reporting from occupied London

We think quite a lot about space here at World Streets, from at least two perspectives. First and naturally enough given that the goal of transportation/mobility/access is specifically to find ways to bridge space, in one way or another, and for better or for worse. And second, because when we get to cities, and given the bulimic, gorging nature of our present dominant transportation options, space starts to get in very short supply (the so-called elephant in the bedroom syndrome). But it is not just space per se; no less important is the quality of public and social space in cities that is (or at least should be) a continuing concern of policy makers and citizens alike. So when we spotted a thoughtful piece such as Andrew Curry’s short article that follows, we are glad to be able to share it with our readers. Continue reading

Unfair, unsafe and unwise – a major crisis abuilding for sustainable transport in Britain

Dear British Friends and Colleagues,

Forgive me if I am being naïve, but based on what I am reading and hearing it strikes me that there is a major crisis abuilding for sustainable transport in Britain in the months immediately ahead — as a result of the coalition government withdrawing funding from a lot of mainly small and local (since they really have to be small and usually local and focused if they are to succeed) sustainable transport initiatives This strikes me as a caring if distant observer as unfair, unsafe and unwise. Continue reading

Transport, environment and public policy in hard times

We have no money gentlemen, so we shall have to think.
– Ernest Rutherford, on taking over the Caversham Laboratory in 1919

On 2 December the managing editor of World Streets, Eric Britton, was invited by the organizers of the National Autumn Conference of ACT TravelWise to present the keynote address, following an opening presentation by Norman Baker, MP and Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Transport of the just-elected UK coalition government. The theme of the conference was “The Right to Travel – Getting more for less” — and Britton was asked to bring in some international perspectives and possibly some less familiar ideas for the largely British audience after the Minister’s presentation. Continue reading

No need for speed

As our regular readers know well, World/Streets believes that there are a lot of excellent reasons for slowing down. And every time we run into something that we think can help advance this worthy objective, well here we are. This time the irrepressible Elizabeth Press, peripatetic videographer from New York City’s StreetFilms project, got on a plane and made a short film about what happens when cities slow down their traffic in a uniform and substantial way – in this case the terrific UK program ” 20’s Plenty for Us”. Her five-minute film went on-line yesterday. Continue reading

Hell is a gyratory system . . . so we want our cities back – Views from Britain on our one-way past

We put in traffic lights and stop signs in order to make our streets safe. We convert from two-way streets to one-way streets in order to permit cars to move more rapidly down them. And in almost all cases these decisions are made not on the basis of a broader systemic understanding of the traffic network as a whole, nor from an explicit philosophy as to what the basic underlying values and priorities should be, but always piecemeal, ad hoc, and one of the time. All of which renders the networks of most of our cities ripe for rethinking and redesign. Here is one view from London.

Hell is a gyratory system,
so let’s celebrate the return of cheerful anarchy to our roads

– Stephen Bayley, from The Times

It is the end of the road for the detested one-way street. Transport for London, perhaps the biggest manager of one-way systems in the world, at last acknowledges a truth painfully proved by harrowed pedestrians, bruised bicyclists and infuriated drivers: one-way systems do not work. Cities have been wastefully sacrificed to the false gods of efficiency and rationality. Now we want our cities back.

After a consultation in 2006 Tottenham Court Road — and soon Piccadilly, Pall Mall, Gower Street and the notorious Wandsworth one-way system (a congealed eternity of hot metal and annoyed people) — will return to two-way traffic. So a ruinous experiment is under final notice after 50 years of fuming. A culture that thought speed a measure of success and volume a measure of prosperity is being driven down the off-ramp.

This is a powerful metaphor for the new, more liberal, reasonable, responsible, lightly governed future that we are told awaits us. Certainly the one-way past created absurdities we could do without.

What is more existentially exasperating than a No Entry sign? This graphic of universal urban frustration was standardised by the League of Nations in 1931 (the year that the same ineffectual busybodies merely tut-tutted about the Japanese invasion of Manchuria).

Roads are not natural; they are inventions. And sealed roads to carry heavy traffic are inventions as typical of the 19th century as the typewriter and the diesel engine. MacAdam created the information superhighway of Victoriana. One-way streets were the final, and now obsolete, refinement of the road as a communications medium. They remain as dread memorials to vanished concerns, alien values and hopeless, irrelevant targets.

The concept began with good intentions. Albemarle Street in Mayfair became uni-directional in 1808 when crowds attending Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s lectures at the Royal Institution made traffic-planning necessary. But the modern theology of traffic management dates back only to 1963 when Colin Buchanan, a town planner, published his ruinously influential report Traffic in Towns.

Wheeled traffic has been successfully mingling in towns and cities since the Etruscans, but Professor Buchanan took great exception to the idea and intended, with great athletic earnestness, to separate people and cars, the better for us to prosper by accelerator. The official attitude to cars in 1963 was curiously similar to Victorian ideas about prostitution: a mixture of acceptance and disgust.

With a fixity of purpose perhaps inviting Freudian interpretations, Buchanan wanted flyovers, clearways and pedestrianisation. Out went the clutter of accumulated townscape. Towns were to be cleansed of intimacy, hazard and surprise. In came Mr and Mrs Citizen swooping at high speed along urban motorways in a bizarre dystopia where your Cortina “saloon” would drive you to a Ballardian destiny in a tower block (where unspeakable crimes might be perpetrated).

In towns, the false god of the one-way street was an agent of change that proved catastrophic. This, of course, was the very moment that other visionaries thought it wise to, quite literally, decimate the railway system in the interests of “economy”. The M25 between Junctions 8 and 9 northbound on a Monday morning is their memorial. And the hell of Wandsworth, Vauxhall Cross or Hammersmith is Buchanan’s.

One-way systems are wrong because they are counterintuitive and seek to impose a spurious logic on human behaviour, something always at its most interesting when irrational. There is surely something very nasty in the concept and expression “gyratory”. It suggests circles of Hell and invites the conjoined idea of futility and an endless quest for an impossible goal.

To enter any gyratory system — often survivable in a car, more precarious on a bike, but suicidal on foot — is to go on bargaining terms with urban aggression and the one-dimensional solutions of the traffic engineer. In pursuit of something that looks good on a graphic, but does not work on the ground, sinister gyratory systems generate millions of unnecessary miles and thousands of tons of pollution.

And people hate them. Best to reinstate the Darwinian struggle of the two-way street and re-create cities that respond to the cheerful anarchy of individual purpose, not a chilly master plan. This is a prospect pleasantly hinted at in a new exhibition. The architectural publisher and bike evangelist Peter Murray has created a series of enamel plaques mocking London’s one-way system. Of Fitzrovia he says it “fails in its aspirations to speed the traffic, but succeeds in confusing cyclists and traffic alike”.

One-way was designed to “reduce congestion”. In true conformity with the Orwellian model, it did the opposite. One-way ? “Wrong way, go back” as the signs say on US freeways. I’m glad to say we are.

# # #

About the author:
Let me quote the author directly from his website you can find at http://www.stephenbayley.com/: “Stephen Bayley was once described as ‘the second most intelligent man in Britain’. This is controversial and very possibly untrue, but what is indisputable is that – as the author of more than ten books, nearly thirty exhibition catalogues, countless articles, broadcasts and newspaper columns – he is one of the world’s best known commentators on modern culture. Tom Wolfe said of him “I don’t know anybody with more interesting observations about style, taste and contemporary design.”

Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article7097837.ece

Op-Ed. Twenty is plenty

A pedestrian hit by a car at 40 mph has a 95% chance of being killed, at 30 mph this becomes 50% and at 20 mph it becomes 5%.

– Dr. Stephen J. Watkins, from the National Health Service, UK Continue reading

Honey, you got to slow down

– David Levinger, Mobility Education Foundation

The Obama Administration and the world at large can learn a lot from other practices at the leading edge about speed mitigation. Traffic safety research supports the adage that “speed kills.” In State Highway Safety Plans mandated by the 2005 SAFETEA-LU legislation, many states have targeted “speeding” as a top priority. There is an important difference between this focus on “speeding” and a focus on “speed” in traffic safety and congestion management. When law enforcement agencies target “speeding,” they focus on extreme behavior, but ignore the normative behaviors.

Federal policy makers and transportation leaders can have tremendous impact on safety, congestion, and road construction costs by learning from many international efforts to mitigate traffic speeds to benefit of all roadway users. Here are several effective and inspiring innovations:

Lower limits for residential areas. Residential streets should have maximum speed limits of 20 mph (presently states have minimum speed limits of 25 mph or 30 mph). (EUROPE)

Due Care provision. Implement driver training to a national standard of “Due Care”. This requires drivers to yield to anything obstructing their path, even if that thing should be yielding right of way to the driver. (UK)

Home Zones/Woonerven/Living Streets. An American pilot programs should be launched to make neighborhood streets conducive for community interaction and safer children to play next to. (UK & THE NETHERLANDS)

Enforcement should be at 4 mph over the limit. US enforcement agencies typically provide a lenient 10 mph buffer before they enforce speed limits. This means that the defacto speed limit on a 25 mph residential street becomes 35 mph. New Laser RADAR increases accuracy, and has resulted in countries formally adopting policies to enforce at 4 mph over the limit. (SWEDEN)

Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA). ISA is an in-vehicle system that informs, warns and discourages the driver to exceed the statutory local speed limit. (SWEDEN)

Dynamic Variable Speed Limits. The M25 in London and highways elsewhere actually vary their speed limits for maximum flow and safety. (UK, FRANCE, others).

Lower speed standards for urban highways. Present standards make US highway replacement cost-prohibitive. Introducing a new “urban highway” classification with lowered speeds through dense urban areas would eliminate the need for wide shoulders and travel lanes, saving Billions of dollars in construction costs, increase fuel efficiency, and reduce the toll of traffic noise. Compliance with a 50 mph speed limit is achieved via automatic photo enforcement. (EUROPE)

URL Refs:* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_limit#Variable_speed_limits
* http://dx.doi.org/10.3141/2078-15
* http://publikationswebbutik.vv.se/upload/4314/2008_109_an_independent_review_of_road_safety_in_sweden.pdf

David Levinger, david@mobilityeducation.org is President of the Mobility Education Foundation, in Seattle, WA, USA

Editor’s note: Click here to read a good earlier piece under this same title by Robert Winkle which originally appeared in the New York Times on 13 November 2005

Contribution by the author to the world wide collaborative project “Messages for America: World-wide experience, ideas, counsel, proposals and good wishes for the incoming Obama transportation team”. See www.messages.newmobility.org for latest version of this report of the New Mobility Agenda.