WAF Newsletter - Forgotten pedestrians need help to move at speed - November 2020

2 - 4 December 2020, Lisbon

Forgotten pedestrians need help to move at speed

Paul Finch, 5 November 2020


Almost everybody is in favour of the maximum number of people being able to move about London in a speedy and convenient way, writes Paul Finch

In recent years, the attack on cars has implied that such a policy is beneficial to pedestrians. This is not necessarily so. Investment has been poured into the capital in favour of cyclists, a small minority of the population, in order to allow them to move about in a more convenient way, whatever inconvenience it may cause others.

I have no problem with cycle-friendly policies, except where they result in absurd reductions in overall road capacity. The latest example of this in many parts of the capital is the sudden closure of bus lanes to ordinary traffic outside morning and evening rush hours. The result is lanes that are empty most of the time, while traffic piles up in single adjacent lanes, doing nothing for air quality but hugely increasing congestion.

Our mayor seems to have forgotten that a massive increase in Uber and other private hire vehicles, plus the new world of online orders and hence deliveries, means there is a need for greater road capacity, not less. Reducing capacity at a time of increasing demand is a moronic response, but it is what one now expects in our so-called world city.

Happily, there are still positive thinkers about transport who are interested in transforming an unworkable situation into one which benefits the greatest number – that is to say pedestrians.

Step forward veteran ideas-architect Andrew Chadwick, who is proposing a simple remedy to address the hell-hole that is Oxford Street, supposedly one of the world’s great shopping streets, but in reality a thoroughly dismal urban experience, not least because of nose-to-tail traffic (ordinary cars are excluded), including hundreds of red buses carrying tiny numbers of passengers.

Chadwick’s proposal is simple: remove all east-west traffic, and install travelators along the entire street, breaking at the north/south crossing points. After all, if Oxford Street were an airport, travelators would need to be installed as a result of international conventions aimed at helping passengers move at greater speed, also helping the young, less able, those with heavy luggage and so on.

Since this is highly useful in an airport, why can’t the principle of using travelators for difficult pedestrian journeys be adopted throughout cities? Why don’t we give help to pedestrians crossing central London bridges, particularly those connecting London Bridge and Waterloo rail stations to the other side of the Thames? (By the way, use of travelators would be voluntary. The slower pavement experience is always available.)

The proposal illustrated here shows the advantages of Chadwick’s thinking. In effect the installation creates a large duct for the entirety of Oxford Street. Shops can be serviced from below-ground service roads; there would be no need ever again to dig up the street for ‘repairs. Pedestrians would benefit from welcome Coved-responsive fresh air, while enjoying shelter from rain. Cyclist are not ignored: they get dedicated lanes built in.

While this project is specific to one famous street, the principles underlying the proposal could be deployed wherever civic authorities want to make life easier for pedestrians, thereby relieving pressure on other public transport systems. There is plenty of scope for advertising to help generate funds for construction, and in the case of retail streets a huge benefit for shop-owners in terms of the increased footfall of happier visitors.

In short, an idea which always looked interesting –ever since the first travelators were demonstrated at the Paris Expo in 1900 – has been given new impetus as a result of our great health scare, and a desire not simply to get people out of their cars, but also help them to steer clear of public transport for short journeys.

If the Chadwick proposition were adopted, it would be a painless and enjoyable way to enjoy Oxford Street, the horizontal equivalent of Hong Kong’s Central/Mid-Levels escalator. It is surely time for pedestrians to stop being treated as third-class citizens.

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