Temporary works – grabbing the big opportunity of small change

Photo: Richard Evans

The last few weeks have seen significant, sudden and temporary changes to London streets that can be powerful demonstrations of the type of city and scheme LCC is pushing to happen all over London and permanently. These events represent an opportunity to demonstrate to Londoners, politicians and engineers that more and better is possible.

Extinction Rebellion

The Extinction Rebellion (XR) direct action climate change campaign, involving and supported by individuals from many active travel organisations including LCC, took over several key sites in London over the Easter holidays.

Parliament Square, Oxford Circus and perhaps most dramatically, Waterloo Bridge, were taken over by protestors who occupied space previously taken up with motor traffic. On Waterloo Bridge a skate ramp was erected, greenery was added and lectures were held. At all sites, those cycling and walking weren’t just enabled to pass through peacefully but actively encouraged.

A special XR/Critical Mass ride passed through the key sites, a bike swarm hosted a bee-themed die-in and cyclists and pedestrians mixed peacefully crossing the bridge and along a motor traffic-free Oxford Street.

All of these iconic locations forcefully demonstrated what a better London looks like – in reality. But also they look, to a limited extent, to have delivered real world data too. Air pollution was measurably down, according to Kings College researchers, along not just Oxford Street, but across the wider west end. Of course, schools were out and traffic levels were lower than usual – but the result certainly wasn’t wildly choked side streets.

Similarly, the result of a motor traffic-free Oxford Street was wildly successful, despite pedestrians spilling off pavements into roadspace now used by loads of cyclists. Everyone got along just fine – demonstrating a real potential for a pedestrianised future Oxford Street without a cycle ban.

Hammersmith Bridge

Even more sudden and unexpected was the closure of Hammersmith Bridge to motor traffic. The bridge has long been known to need structural repairs and has been deteriorating – the buses that use the bridge were already only allowed on one at a time. But no one expected Hammersmith & Fulham council’s sudden closure of the bridge to all motor traffic on engineer advice.

Now, while the bridge remains a political football and possibly £50 million long-term headache for the council, TfL and the government to deal with, the bridge remains open to those walking and cycling, but not buses or motor traffic. As a result, there is a real and long-term opportunity to not only consider the pros and cons of reopening the bridge to motor traffic (and/or buses only) ever again versus the pros and cons of keeping it shut to all but those walking and cycling (and potentially some form of public transport).

We understand there is a widespread push from TfL and the borough to do traffic monitoring – and this may indeed already be happening – but it’s certainly something LCC and our local groups are pushing hard for.

Traffic counts over time will help us see how much the motor traffic from the bridge has displaced to parallel routes, other crossings; but also how much that settles with time, how much motor traffic “evaporation” occurs over time and even potentially where from and to – how many drivers switch modes, how many continue driving but on nearby routes and how many drive out of the area completely.

One local has already also surveyed Barnes peninsula shopkeepers on the road running up to the bridge – where motor traffic levels will have dropped dramatically. Nearly half already say there’s been no change to business, and over 20 percent say business has improved already. And remember, businesses are infamously unwilling to admit to increased takings.

Of the 35% who do currently report fallen revenue, apparently most are businesses that rely on car deliveries into Hammersmith & Fulham (for instance takeaway businesses). Many of them are now apparently looking at using cargo bikes to cross the bridge. Obviously it will also be important to monitor the impact for businesses here and see how they adapt and hopefully prosper over time too.

Temporary works

Such temporary changes to roads – whether from climate change direct actions, a gas main that needs repairing or just roadworks - represent a real opportunity for councils and campaigners to achieve two aims at once.

They offer a chance, as do more planned trial schemes (such as the Waltham Forest trial of its “Village” low traffic neighbourhood or Camden’s trial of a semi-segregated Tavistock Place extra cycle track), to not only viscerally demonstrate what a different London looks and feels like – what it’s like to cycle along a previously hostile street – but also to study how it might work in practice.

So please, if TfL or your council are closing roads, digging trenches or otherwise messing with usual road layouts in your borough for more than a couple of weeks, ask for monitoring before, during and after, at the very least!

See our infrastructure pages here for more advice on doing your own traffic counts and on how trials should work.