TFL – a New Approach to Traffic management for Sustainable Urban Communities

David Ubaka, Design Champion for London, Assistant Director, Design for London

 

Design for London is a new organisation within the Greater London Authority (GLA) family, bringing together all the design advisers within the GLA. We work within that. I like to think of London as a big co-operative, with the GLA looking after it as a whole. In a very good, democratic way London is actually a metropolitan area governed by its people. And people need to start taking more power for themselves, which is why this Forum is very interesting. 

 

One of the first things that I helped instigate whilst at TfL with my former colleagues at the GLA Architecture Unit, and which I now promote in my role as Design Champion for London, is the Public Realm Strategy for London. We have the London Plan, which sets out a vision, and the Mayor’s Transport Strategy.  What’s missing is thinking about the public realm. How, where and why do we form the public realm? What drives it?  How do we deliver it?

 

TfL Streets is the organisation with responsibility for the Transport for London road network (TLRN) including the red routes you can’t stop on.  However, we need to start thinking not just about the transport links function, but also about urban space as a place.  We have to move buses, but also have to move people.  We have to start looking at the TfL road network as a set of links and places, and rebalance these places to accommodate people, because the one element of society that we completely ignored is pedestrians.

 

One of the reasons for this symposium is the lack of a friendly pedestrian environment in Archway. When I joined TfL five years ago, the Mayor put forward a policy of accessibility, aiming to get rid of all gyratories in London. I know, because I have been working on getting rid of at least six, and it is a challenge, particularly when you have normal line network management duty and traffic management to do as well.

 

So this is the great argument between new urban designers, and all these engineers doing safety plans, lighting signals and network assurance is: what about the people?  What about the natural desire lines - taking into account the local schools, churches and any other important destinations? We have to make traffic do something else - this is a place.  This is a different sort of function that, hopefully, TfL will provide for London. Over the next years we will be consulting the boroughs about how the new TLRN approach is going to work. So we will come back to how that works later.

 

Another thing I introduced at TfL in 2002, not only for roads but also rail networks, was Strategic Urban Rail Plans. TfL needed these to ensure awareness of the stuff they were going to impact on, and which inevitably would be raised at public enquiries. What is important from an urbanist point of view is to look at a TLRN red route or underground station or bus route in the wider context: how are people going to access it?  So we look at movements, look at planning, and at new developments. We look at origins and destinations, and we create these big strategic documents that say, before you get to the actual detail of it, these are things you have to consider alongside all the rest of the transport points. These plans are cleared now for the East London line and BLR extensions, and we hope to create plans for most of TLRN red routes. 

 

TfL has also launched its Streetscape Guidance document, which looks at the detail of what paving should be used, what furniture is important.  However, streetscape guidance documents are dangerous if you don’t take the time to get the foundations right first. You need to get the functions correct before you make it look good. It can look as good as Kensington High Street does, but Kensington High Street has got a lot of the fundamentals right as well.

 

Let us get on to Archway, which is why we are here today.  What dominates this area is the roads, particularly the main road (the A1) that runs through here and is part of TLRN red routes. In a 24-hour period you have got around 556 cyclists, 1,560 heavy goods vehicles, 25,300 car passengers. And you have 1,300 pedestrians during peak hours alone. If you did a full pedestrian count in this area, you would probably find that pedestrians far outnumber the vehicles.

 

Pedestrian movement: – my image shows the crossings at ground level and the various pedestrian movements that you’ve got up and down the major roads. The key thing here are all the origins and destinations - the tube station, library, UCH university, Whittington Hospital,  post office,  public houses and the park.  All this movement has been engineered predominantly by people trying to get round the traffic roundabout system. Yet, in terms of pedestrian movement, this is a severance that occurs. You would not make a car do what we’ve just made the pedestrians do - any traffic engineer would have an apoplectic fit. But for some reason, for our traffic engineering colleagues from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, this was OK because pedestrians weren’t that important.  Fortunately this way of thinking is about to change. 

 

Looking at existing Archway traffic with origins and destinations is important, because it tells you where your conflicts are.  If I am at school and I want to get over there, I have a lot to battle with traffic to get across. To say that it is not ideally laid out at the moment is a huge understatement.

 

Desired pedestrian movements are also key.  What I did with my team is, we came down and took photographs and we just started to observe where people actually want to go, as opposed where they are being forced to go. Here is just a summary and it’s wholly different from where they are supposed to go.

 

What is interesting about some of these pictures is the guardrails. They have a guardrail on the island and a guy is walking down the other side of it because it blocks where he wants to go. Why the guardrail? Pedestrians have the right of way, so who is it protecting?

 

There is an older lady doing exactly the same thing in roughly the same spot. She wants to cross over there and fears she is going to miss her bus because they are making her walk across three crossings to get to her stop. So she wonders, why can’t I cross there, and just stop the traffic. These are things that will have to be truly addressed, and it’s not going to be easy.

 

We need to rebalance much more in favour of pedestrians than the car. The challenge for TfL in future is, how do we do that and allow them to keep up with their responsibilities. The network management duty regulated by the Traffic Management Act requires that you keep traffic moving, because if you stop it, that will have repercussions elsewhere. London is a huge urban eco-system. You can’t change one piece of the system without fundamentally affecting another. While the one part might be really happy, something building up elsewhere could explode and affect the whole body. So you need to consider contextually if you change Archway, what then happens to Highgate, Highbury and Islington, etc. 

 

In terms of TfL’s buses at Archway, 12 services operate around the gyratory, seven of which terminate here. You have got standing buses, you have 188 buses running at peak morning, and there are over 2,000 buses passing in both directions per day. So one of the things we have to consider when we talk about urbanising Archway is how do we deal with the buses?  How do we deal with public transport getting you to other places? What is the argument between public transport and commercial cars, etc. feeding local businesses? And obviously you have got the Underground station as well.

 

In terms of resolving Archway, there are some precedents that deal with rebalancing the public realm. The famous one is in terms of cyclists and cycle lanes, because it’s not just about pedestrians, it’s about sustainable forms of transport.  But buses are also relatively sustainable in terms of traffic and road use: you get an awful lot more people on a bus than you do in cars. So people should use buses rather than cars.  e need to clean up the buses, but again that’s happening. For example Tooley Street, London SE1 is about shared surfacing. Do they need all that space all the time? The lay-by is controlled at a certain part of the day only, but for the rest of the day it is given back to the pedestrian realm so that people have space to walk, because they’re the ones that actually need that space. 

 

There are various aspirations around tube stations; one of my favourite examples in London of how an underground station could be improved, in terms of the connection from the underground to the outside, is Hounslow. I am personally responsible for redesigning things in London like Marble Arch and Carnaby Square, and one of the greatest challenges I have at the moment is St Giles’ Circus. I want a visual connection between the underground and where you’re actually going: when I get to the top of the escalator, which exit do I need? Why not use natural views out of our stations to give us visual links to the public realm out there, to find where we’re going? So this is where, as an organisation, TfL needs to get smarter about connecting with the public realm. 

 

Another example is Great Queen  Street (London WC2), which I think is one of the bravest and most successful attempts in London (nominated for various awards), to rebalance the public realm, recognising that traffic is important, but so is the connection between the river and the City of London - getting people to actually enjoy the experience there. So we are giving space back to pedestrians, with raised tables and changed materials and other things, but you are still allowed to drive there. When you look at it, that says ‘pedestrian realm’, yet it is still a road, and cars still use it.  It is a brave attempt by the City of London that says, enough is enough.

 

One of the examples that I used for a visitor from Turin (we went over to Turin to help them before the Olympics and they came back over here) was to take him to Ken High Street, not because of the choice of materials but because it had a plan.  We just stood there and one of the things you should do and look how various people use spaces.  The great thing about Ken High Street, and it didn’t reinvent the wheel, but just made sure that the fundamentals were right in terms of giving people choice and recognising that people will move at different speeds because they have different ages.  We stood just outside Ken Street High Street tube station. We were meant to go to a meeting with some of the politicians but we stood there for half an hour.  There was an elderly couple were there with their grandchild. The elderly couple chose, because they could, to go and press the button. The traffic stopped and they crossed. The younger person, because there was a median strip, had the choice to look, see that there was an opportunity to cross, cross to the middle and then cross again. 

 

The physical geography also needs to be taken into consideration.  An interesting project I got involved in about two years ago was the Urban Stitches project. Archway is one of what I would call the northern areas of London going to central London.  Now, it’s an interesting area, Archway.  When we walked around the site and looked at the local area, one of my officers observed how clean it was, how well kept a lot of the houses and gardens were, not just private houses, but also public housing.  It is not destroyed in any way.

 

Maybe this is why local people care so much about getting this right, because there is a real severance issue here. That could potentially destroy this place. However, you have an opportunity to engage with the various powers that be in the here and now to ensure that Archway, as a place, as a village, as a centre, not only continues to exist, but gets strengthened. It is actually a very lovely, well populated, diverse area.  The challenge for this group is, how do you take that forward without losing what it is now. 

 

So what you eventually get down to is, what influences public realm development? I am going to go for this and probably get into trouble but start talking politics and talk about what the Mayor did for the GLC and now the GLA, in terms of changing our city. You can have as much public forum as you want, but it ultimately comes down to political will.  When you get the political will, things start to move. You need to get that endorsement signed off, so that everybody knows that at the strategic level, this is where we are going with Archway.

 

I’ll give you another example -Trafalgar Square.  Before  Ken Livingstone came along, all the traffic engineers were going: ‘You cannot close the northern arm, you are going to kill London. It is all going to come to a grinding halt.’ There were arguments and arguments. Then Ken came along and said: ‘I want Trafalgar Square’. Two and a half years later it was built.  And yes they took a certain amount of capacity out of the inner ring road, but London didn’t grind to a halt. Loads of developments in central London are going to happen over the next 25 years. None of them will grind London to a halt, because it is an organism, an urban organism. You just have to allow and plan for it elsewhere.

 

The great piece of education required in all our professions is co-operation and I talk to the professional institutes a lot about this. Political co-operation is key for Design for London to realise its public realm strategy for London, which will include Archway and other areas of London. We will need to work with the London Borough of Islington, who will need to work with other people to actually get it to work. So before you implement and deliver something, you need to get the political will in place, otherwise you are going to go round in circles.  

 

Once you have got the high level strategy agreed, you need to get your funding sorted out, because you can draw as many master plans as you want, and God knows how many I have seen in my job. When I was first handed Victoria to look at five years ago, I made the mistake of saying, ‘I need to see all the background’.  It took me weeks to read through the lot, because the amount of master planning for the changes to Victoria was massive. And the one key thing that killed all of them, apart from not having the political will – and that killed some of them - was that they could not find the money. So you really need to think: how are we going to get funding?  It’s not just public purse money, because public purse money only stretches so far. You need to look at Section 106s, etc. You need to get smarter and look at how the rules work in Europe. Look at what you want to do and how it ticks the boxes to get the funding into this area to get moving - absolutely critical. You need to get organised and really think about your vision and how you are going to deliver it.  Without money. it is just not going to happen.

 

You could completely change Archway, but how do you do that whilst retaining some of the really good features you already have? I don’t know the answer to this. It has to be done in part through consultation in the next stages. How do you want to do it and what do you need to give up?  Because you are not going to get everything you want, that is one of the key lessons - you never ever do.  So come up with a plan and strategically pick what you really need, and what you can let go of so you can get the things you really want.

 

In terms of delivery, forget politics, forget money, where transport projects are involved, as a practising architect and urban designer, what has always been important to me is local people. Buildings can be pulled down in 10 years and replaced. But when you build an underground station, or you change a road, it is there for generations. For me, one of the biggest pressures of my job is that sort of responsibility. It is not about the throw-away society that we have become, it is infrastructural change, the bones of the city, the transport links.

 

Whenever I talk to people, it is about engagement, because engagement is different.  I hate consultation, because I have realised in my time at TfL and other organisations, that consultation is basically sending out lots of flyers into people’s post boxes and getting back 1.5% of responses to the consultation. With the big public projects, how does that 1.45% response on the consultation work? That is not good consultation, that is just paper flying. Good consultation is doing what I used to do when I was young architect designing Becton. It is sitting down in front of the people and literally ducking when tomatoes are thrown at you when you go into schools - letting them draw what they want to draw. 

 

Another scheme is Dalston Junction (Hackney). What TfL were proposing to do there five years ago, as part of the East London arm, was to form a bus route and an underpass.  Dalston is on the A10, so not dissimilar to Archway but with crossroads rather than a gyratory. There is a newly refurbished station there, and above the underpass they were going to put some massive ramps and a bus ladder on top. But it had an infant school right next to it, and what they proposed to build would for the next hundred years have completely disconnected one side of Dalston from the other. 

 

So I took £250k from my budget of £350k and suggested a different idea. Instead of putting a bus route up there, looking instead at intensification: the idea of a compact city and building a new town centre for Dalston, developing round the station and connecting pedestrians, reconnecting parts of Dalston.  It took three and a half years and an awful lot of championing and screaming, but the approved plan now for Dalston is my plan. Engineers needed to see the bigger picture. And nobody helps you see the bigger picture better than local people, who live there day in and day out, people who have to live there for the next 100 years after we have gone. 

 

By designing that way, giving people choice, not hemming them in (I mean, it’s a phrase that I always chuck at my engineers ‘not hemming pedestrians in’) by giving people choice, recognising that people have common sense, that actually the ones that are dangerous are the ones in the cars, because they are the ones that will kill you or the ones on the bikes, if you give people choice of actually using the urban realm in a way that allows them to use it safely they will do.  So it’s not that complicated.  You just have to be brave in how you deliver it.

 

Finally, another thing that you have to know, which Terry [Farrel] already talked about at length, is the history of the place. The only thing that does not move in Archway is the pubs. The Archway Tavern has been a pub for the last 100 years or so.  The hospitals move, the station even changed names. It used to be called Highgate Station and its now Archway. But the pubs stay.

 

So to round this off, in terms of urbanising Archway there are huge challenges, but they are not insurmountable.  You really have to engage with the people who have the funding and who have the statutory powers to change Archway. But to do that you have to have a vision of where you want to go and take that vision through the local political system. Get it endorsed properly and coherently as a local opinion.

 

I have got two young children myself.  What legacy do we want to leave for the next generation?  If it is the legacy we were left by our forefathers, and some of us remember that period of the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s when all we were worried about was how to accommodate in the city those metal boxes that we kept building. We have a responsibility for the next generation, for my children, for your children, to actually start to think about how they will perceive the way places have been treated in terms of the urban ground. I think in Archway the biggest challenge is getting it right, getting it balanced.  It will be a battle, which is why I always talk about rebalancing a place, rather than changing it. I wish you luck. 

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