People-friendly Elephant and Castle regeneration plan axed by Transport for London

A new ‘Trafalgar Square’, a people-friendly space in a run-down area of South London: surely this is something our Mayor would embrace?

Elephant and Castle has become the latest victim of Transport for London and the Mayor’s strict adherence to ‘smoothing the flow’, ensuring the free flow of motor vehicles at the expense of the safety, convenience and comfort of pedestrians and cyclists.

Mention the Elephant roundabout to many Londoners, and they’ll probably cringe at the sheer awfulness of the place, and most local cyclists will have a not-too-distant memory of a high-speed near-miss with a car or lorry.

Tragically, if you mention this location to a not-insignificant number of people, they think of loved ones who’ve been killed there in collisions with motor vehicles, or those who’ve suffered permanent injuries as a result of daring to negotiate the motorway-style road layout by bike.

Only today, a cyclist suffered a broken arm riding around the Elephant and Castle roundabout.

Time for change

Making Elephant and Castle more bike and people-friendly has been discussed for decades (watch this news clip of us from 1985), and earlier this year it looked like a redevelopment plan strongly favoured by Southwark Council would finally provide an antidote to decades of car-centric planning.

The hope is to create something that seems an obvious benefit to the area: a large, people-friendly public space. The centrepiece of the plan is a new civic square, which uses an aptly christened 'peninsula' to connect the shopping centre to the rest of the locality.

Until recently, the only realistic way to access the shops has been to navigate one of several gloomy, intimidating, urine-soaked subways.

Building the civic square would require substantial changes to how motor vehicles move around the area because the roundabout would no longer exist.

If the same number of vehicles tried to navigate the new road layout then it’s possible some journeys would take longer. But that's to ignore that 50% of journeys in London are less than two miles, and it only requires a small percentage of these to be walked or cycled to free up enough road space to allow the remaining motor vehicles to continue to move just as freely. 

Unfortunately, the Mayor and Transport for London have halted the regeneration project, objecting to its interference with traffic flow. This is somewhat surprising because Boris Johnson has been very complimentary in the past about this “fantastic” development plan.

Mayor withdraws his backing

Now, since TfL pulled the plug on it, the Mayor is conspicuously failing to back a civic vision that would provide a vast people-friendly area, including a transport hub where people could switch effortlessly between train, tram, bus and tube.

The plans envision a bold transformation of this rundown area to create a landmark square as large as Trafalgar, providing an arena for local and regional events, as well as a space that residents and visitors could use daily.

Sadly, as the Mayor has shown at Blackfriars, he’s prepared to back down when major urban improvements require a significant reduction in the speed and volume of motor vehicles.

Val Shawcross, chair of London Assembly's Transport Committee and assembly member for Elephant and Castle, along with mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone have both backed the scheme, calling for "development on a human scale" with priority given to pedestrians and cyclists.

TfL has shown that’s not immune to common sense, having earlier this year changed the southern roundabout Elephant and Castle to a more people-friendly T-junction.

This was a step in the right direction towards pacifying motor traffic in the area, giving pedestrians some rights in the neighbourhood, and it hasn’t increased congestion at all, according to TfL.

What will it take for the Mayor and TfL to acknowledge that people should come first? – at Elephant & Castle, at Blackfriars, at London Bridge, and every major development in the city.

There is a growing chorus of disapproval among Londoners for the Mayor’s outdated car-centric ways, and it’s not going to go away.