The NLA recently put on an exhibition and public meeting for Camden Council to assist them in their consultation programme on the ‘West End Project’ which will transform the area around our HQ at Store Street by removing the Tottenham Court Road/Gower Street gyratory in order to cater for the massive increase in people coming to the area when Crossrail opens in 2018.
The one-way system will be replaced with two-way streets, some protected cycle lanes in Gower Street, and new public spaces. Initial design work for the £26 million project has been carried out by DSDHA and includes turning Alfred Place, which runs north from NLA, from roadway into a small park. We hope that this will link into the work we have been doing ourselves to convert the Store Street Crescent into a public space. The temporary installation this year of (very convincing) plastic grass, as part of the London Festival of Architecture and the FitLondon exhibition, meant the space was packed each lunchtime with picnicking local workers highlighting the desperate need for such amenity in the area.
The changes to the roads in the area have been made more feasible by the 30 per cent reduction in traffic using Tottenham Court Road as a result of Crossrail construction activity. This has happened without undue impact on traffic flow in the area and traffic will remain at those levels after 2018. In Camden’s plans Tottenham Court Road will be restricted to buses and cycles between 8am and 7pm and Gower Street will be two way with separated cycle lanes in each direction.
This will transform the area, the racetracks of Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street will be tamed and public spaces will be improved. But not everyone is happy. Some cyclists don’t like the fact that there won’t be separated lanes in TCR; but the width of the road varies from 8m to 12m and there is just not enough road space to provide one traffic lane in each direction as well as 2m wide segregated cycle lanes in each direction. The Mayor’s cycling tzar Andrew Gilligan, who is keen on segregated lanes wherever possible, will be keeping a close eye on how well it works. UCL is concerned that Gower Street will be too busy and that the widened crossing outside their main campus isn’t enough to protect the thousands of student who cross the road daily. Local residents are unhappy with the increased cross traffic; taxi drivers want to be allowed to use TCR.
In London’s dense central activity zone such changes are frought with difficulty and perfection is impossible. I think these plans are transformational and fully support Camden’s enlightened approach. We have a long way to go before we get the right balance between various road users but this is a major step in the right direction. The work of the GLA’s Roads Task Force and TfL’s response, the new London Cycling Design Standards, all reinforce the fact that we must treat our streets as public spaces for all and not polluted death traps.