Sunday, 22 April 2012

More Brent pavement parking, and Exhibition Road

A correspondent living in Australia (it's nice to get an outside view from another Anglo-Saxon country), commenting on my last post, said:
I cannot believe the state-sanctioned dystopic practice of car parking on pavements.
That's a good way to put it. Parking on pavements is "dystopic" because it produces an ugly street environment, it damages the pavements, making them hazardous for pedestrains, it messes up the distinction between roadway and pavement, eroding, in the minds of motorists, the principle that the carriageway is the place for parking and the pavement (or sidewalk) the place for walking, and it leads to a chaotic situation where, in a place like north Brent, where parking pressure is very high, because of the urban density and the poor quality of non-motorised transport alternatives, people start parking their cars everywhere.

We see this in the euphemistically-named Village Way in Neaden NW10. This is the "spine" road in the rather un-village like residential area sometimes referred to as Neasden Village, a group of streets isolated from the rest of the borough by the North Circular Road to the east, the underground lines and depot to the south, the A4088 to the north, and the River Brent and the Grand Union Feeder Canal to the west. It is, as I pointed out recently, a deeply inaccessible place for those not using a car as their main mode of transport. This is another road in which Brent Council have designated on-pavement parking space using white lines and small blue signs.

Village Way, Neaden
Parking has only been permitted on the right-hand pavement in this view, but motorists have started parking on the opposite pavement as well. Parking is explicitly marked out on the roadway on the left-hand pavement, but they are parking on the pavement and the roadway as well, creating two lines of parking alongside one another. On the side-road off here, West Way, parking has been permitted on both pavements, so maybe that is why the motorists are thinking that they are allowed to park on all pavements in this group of streets.

West Way, Neaden
I think that when councils start down this "dystopic" road of confusing pavement with car-parking space, it just leads to a general erosion of respect for all pavements by motorists. It is analogous to that other shoddy, cheap practice councils employ, of creating "shared use" areas on pavements for cycling, which also erodes the sanctity of the pavements for pedestrians, leads to confusion and cycling on pavements where it has not been permitted, and fails to provide safe conditions for cyclists as well (particularly at junctions). That subject has just been covered nicely by the At War with the Motorist blog.

When I was active in Camden Cycling Campaign, we had regular meetings with councillors and officers in a forum called the Walking, Cycling and Road Safety Advisory Group. Being advisory, this group did not create council policy, but it had the potential to influence it. It was (and I presume still is) dominated not by cyclists, but by pedestrian and local amenity groups. There were always some conflicts of opinion between cycling and walking representatives, but one thing that all could agree on was the undesirability of parking on pavements. The view that this group consistently put to councillors was that, though the conversion of pavement to parking space was generally undesirable, should it be that certain streets really did have an unnecessary excess of pavement, and there was a politically impossible-to-resist local demand for more parking, then it would be preferable to rebuild the kerbs to transfer pavement space to the road, rather than marking parking on pavements.

I do not know whether this idea was ever formally accepted as Camden Council policy, but it seemed to have an effect. To have such a policy would immediately put a big damper on moves to transfer pavement space to parking, because to do it properly in this way would be far more expensive than painting lines, and officers would certainly think hard before recommending it. It does seem to be the case that Camden has far less pavement parking than Brent, and other boroughs, to this day, despite the huge inner-city parking pressure, so kudos should go to Camden Council for resisting the easy option of allowing motorists to take over the pavements. Camden also was the only council in London ever in a significant way to transfer road space to cycle tracks. Again, this was because Camden Cycling Campaign insisted that it did not want cycle facilities to be created at the expense of pedestrian space.

One road where parking on pavements is impossible, because the pavements, in the sense of footways raised above road level, have been abolished, is the newly-rebuilt Exhibition Road in South Kensington. I paid a visit there this week to see how it is working. The results are rather different to what I expected. When it was being built, I expected the central line of pointed lamp columns to define the northbound and southbound carriageways all the way from Hyde Park to Cromwell Road. What has happened, rather, and I don't know if this was intended by the original designers, or was a later modification, or has just evolved, is that the road is in two parts, north of the junction with Prince Consort Road, and south of it. (I am ignoring the stub of Exhibition road south of Cromwell Road, which is effectively pedestrianised.)

There is a funny kind-of-roundabout at the Prince Consort Road junction, and, north of this, the two directions of traffic go on opposite sides of the lamp columns. South of it, both directions of traffic are on the east side of the columns. On this stretch, the west side is occupied with diagonal parking, Boris Bikes, and benches, with the space between all that and the building line acting as pavement. On the east side of the road the effective pavement all the way down is defined by the drainage grating and tactile surface, plus some trees and bollards. Though these features are present on the west side, they are only functioning to establish the effective pavement north of the roundabout.

Exhibition Road west side looking north from the Science Museum

Exhibition Road west side looking south from the Science Museum

Exhibition road east side looking south from the Henry Cole wing of the Victoria and Albert Museum

The whole thing seems to me to be complex, cluttered, and, well, pretty much as far from a "naked street" as it is possible to get. There clearly is still "carriageway" and "footway" here, they have just been marked off in an unconventional way. There is no "sharing" between pedestrains and motorists, to speak of, and the normal relationship between motorists and cyclists prevails, though the street is more pleasant than it used to be because of the 20 mph limit. The funny roundabout where the road-use changes, but without the lining and signing one would expect, causes drivers a lot of doubt about what they are supposed to be doing here. Such confusion is held to be a good thing by some of those arguing the Shared Space line. This thinking however, as I have pointed out before, as well as having a "black is white" quality, is at variance with the European road safety mainstream, as summarised in the EU's PRESTO Cycling Policy Guide (p 18):
Creating recognizable and comprehensible traffic situations is essential for safety. Consistent design solutions on roads with similar functions (in terms of road hierarchy) makes potential conflict situations more predictable for cyclists and other users, while also inciting everyone to behave more predictably.
Of the many blogposts to appear commenting on the new Exhibition Road, one of the most memorable was that by Londonneur, who compared the paving to "a giant Argyle sock laid down in the road". The price of this Argyle sock, and oddly placed benches and parking, was around £30 million. I reckon that should have been enough, alternatively, estimating at £7 million a mile, for one high-quality, capacious, safe, segregated cycle highway right across central London from Paddington to the City: just what Camden Cycling Campaign proposed 14 years ago, with their Seven Stations Link idea, the only part of which that was ever implemented (in badly compromised fashion) being the cycle track through Bloomsbury. Think how that scheme would have transformed London if carried out in full.

Then again, the Dutch built the longest cycle bridge in the world, the Nescio Bridge (to British designs, ironically), in 2005, for less than £10 million at today's prices. So we could have had three of those across the Thames for the price of Exhibition Road. Think of what that would have done for cycling in London. We continue to wait for a proper cycle route across London, and for safe river crossings for cyclists, while extraordinary sums are spent on odd, bodged public space "transformation" compromises like Exhibition Road, Piccadilly and Haymarket (£14 million), and the next one the Mayor intends, Euston Circus (cost unknown).

Next Saturday, thousands of London cyclists will congregate in the middle of London to tell the next Mayor that they want Streets as safe and inviting for cycling as those in Holland. It's pretty obvious that we have both the money and the space in London to achieve this aim, and in a relatively short time too. As always, we await only the political vision.

1 comment:

  1. I am currently reading Jan Gehl's book Life Between Buildings as part of exam revision, and I think part of the failing of Exhibition Road as a shared space is that it is not necessarily an appropriately scaled location to do so. In terms of sight lines and width it is not quite a Parisian boulevard, but the layout hardly forces low speeds either. This is not to say that the opposite "solution" of hazardous buildouts and carriageway narrowing is appropriate, but it is worth pointing out that Gehl regards transition from fast to slow traffic at the edge of the city (eg Venice) as being the optimum, with low speed access as found in Delft being second best. Exhibition Road however has no access restrictions apart from some turning restrictions that rather stupidly also apply to cyclists.

    I also think that his critique in the same book of the "Radburn Layout", originating in New Jersey and found in many post war housing developments, can be applied to any kind of back street cycle network - as "pedestrians follow shorter routes rather than safer, more lengthly routes" - the same applies to cyclists and is why "Go Dutch" matters as it will focus on the main roads which are, as it happens, the most dangerous both subjectively and objectively.