Camden Council are currently consulting on plans for the Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street area. Known as Camden’s West End Project the public consultation will continue until Friday 1 August 2014. The proposals are the biggest single project undertaken by Camden and have been ten years in the making. The scheme will cost £32m and work is due to start in 2015 and be completed by 2018.
The project area stretches from Euston Road in the north to Shaftesbury Avenue in the south. Camden plans to make Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street two-way, close some side streets to motor vehicles, improve cycling and walking, and create new and improved open spaces. Southbound buses will also be moved from Gower Street to Tottenham Court Road. There are also planned restrictions on private vehicles including taxis in Tottenham Court Road. From 2018 it is expected the area will have many thousands more visitors because of the new Crossrail station. Camden has so far not announced any plans for new public toilets in the area, something which is a continuing irritation for local people.
The details of the proposals are online and there is a single hard copy of the plans at Holborn Library. There is also a summary of the proposals at The Building Centre in Store Street. Camden wants people to give their views on the proposals. Camden has raised £26m so far and is expecting to meet the shortfall during the completion of the the scheme.
Camden’s officers are available at The Building Centre on Thursday 19 June (10am to 5pm) and Monday 7 July (5pm to 8pm) to answer questions about the scheme.
When Fitzrovia News examined the plans on Camden’s website and at Holborn Library we found them to be lacking in detail and vital traffic modelling statistics are absent. We expected a project of this scope to have far better information and better quality documents describing the changes proposed.
While Camden has been feeding the media with positive images of the West End Project, there has been little analysis or mention of the negative impacts. Below we look at the traffic modelling data and reviews of the plans by cycling groups and campaigners.
Motor vehicle traffic
Many residents are concerned that the changes will push more motor-vehicle traffic into the small side-streets. While Gower Street, Tottenham Court Road (TCR), Goodge Street and Store street will see a reduction in motor traffic, Camden’s traffic modelling data shows significant increases in some side streets.
There is particular concern about Torrington Place where the data shows that the amount of vehicles will double. Residents living along the street, which include council tenants, would see pollution levels increase. Camden is also proposing to increase cycling capacity along this street with an extra segregated cycle track.
There will also be a 38 percent increase in motor traffic along the stretch of Grafton Way between TCR and Gower Street, part of a small existing gyratory which surprisingly there are no plans to get rid of. All this motor traffic laden with cancer-causing pollutants will pass between University College Hospital and (ironically) the new cancer treatment centre which is currently under construction.
There will also be increases along Cleveland Street, Charlotte Street, and University Street. But less traffic on Maple Street. As Maple Street connects Cleveland Street to University Street it is not clear why the traffic flows should go down on this connecting street. Or does it mean that extra Cleveland Street traffic will turn off along Riding House Street or New Cavendish Street into the Westminster part of Fitzrovia?
But where are the statistics for Whitfield Street and Huntley Street? Camden say the traffic modelling is taken from TfL’s data from existing traffic counts for the morning peak hour and predicts that overall motor-vehicle traffic in the West End Project area will go down. There is no data from TfL for Huntley Street and Whitfield Street and Camden have not done their own collection of data. And where is the data for streets on the Westminster side of Fitzrovia?
The traffic modelling data produced by Camden also includes predicted figures where taxis are allowed on TCR. Under this scenario Camden predicts that some side streets, particularly Charlotte Street, will not have any significant increase in traffic. *See below for full traffic statistics.
Camden say that negative impacts to the scheme where traffic is increased in some streets will be addressed retrospectively. But they don’t say how this will be achieved.
Car ownership in Fitzrovia is among the lowest in the UK and while residents will welcome reduction in traffic on Gower Street and TCR they will resent increases in the smaller residential streets.
Cycling and walking facilities
Camden propose “light segregation” also called “armadillos” along Gower Street to protect cyclists. These will be similar to the plastic “armadillos” and flower tubs on Royal College Street which have taken a battering from the motor traffic. Our transport correspondent found a broken armadillo (pictured) and several others were working loose.
The proposals for Tottenham Court Road offer little (or perhaps nothing) in the way of cycling facilities, but pedestrians will benefit from pavements being widened and the existing paving is to be improved by removing redundant telephone and utility boxes. Gower Street is being offered as the preferred cycling through route. There is little detail in the plans about how cyclists will be protected at junctions.
Living Streets, the national charity that stands up for pedestrians, has said it is “largely in support” of Camden’s plans and says the project will improve the pedestrian environment.
Camden Cyclists are holding a discussion on CycleScape and will be holding a public meeting (registration required) for cyclists to discuss this project on 30 June 7pm – 9pm at the YMCA Indian Student Hostel, 41 Fitzroy Square, London, W1T 6AQ. They have now responded to the consultation saying: “We applaud Camdenʼs aspiration to be Londonʼs best walking and cycling borough and approve of their overall vision for the West End with reallocation of carriageway space for
walking, cycling, trees and public space on Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street and fewer buses on New Oxford Street.
We welcome the increased permeability planned for cyclists in the area through two-way access to the many side streets as well as on Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street. These are important for the two planned east-west Quietways.” However, they say Camden is not putting into practice the aspirations they have. “The West End Project does not provide adequate space for cycling.”
The Cyclists in the City blog has an analysis of the proposals and is mildly supportive of the proposals and recognises the difficult job Camden’s beleaguered planners have: “This plan has to work for a balance of shop owners, corporate landlords, residents, bus users, pedestrians/shoppers/office workers, people getting about by bike, and people driving or getting a taxi through”. He does however describe the cycling facilities as “sub-optimal”.
Vole O’Speed has a comprehensive and critical review of the plans and takes issue with the current thinking that all one-way systems are bad. He cites Dutch examples where one-way systems play an important and positive contribution to traffic management and encouraging cycling and walking. A second blog post written since Camden presented the plans to cyclists (on 30 June) has further analysis.
The Movement for a Liveable London which campaigns for an improved cycling and pedestrian environment has written an open letter in support of Camden’s objectives and overall vision of streets that are more inclusive of walking and cycling. They say in the letter “The West End Project presents the real opportunity to show how even the busiest London streets can be reclaimed from motor traffic dominance and made into much more enjoyable places for people. If successful, the project will do much to enable progressive schemes to be implemented elsewhere in this city, and others.”
Rachel Aldred, a lecturer in transport, has written a critical article saying she cannot support the current plan as put forward by Camden “because I believe it fails to create welcoming conditions for inclusive, mass cycling (and actually, I think we could do better for walking too, while maintaining good bus services)”. She goes on to state: “If we can’t get inclusive space for cycling, in a major, four-year scheme put forward by one of London’s most progressive boroughs for cycling, in a world class university quarter with key cycle alignments: will we ever get it?” In a second blog post Aldred outlines here draft response to the consultation.
The London Cycling Campaign (LCC) says it will be “doing a full analysis of these proposals to see if they genuinely create high quality space for cycling”. Former owner of cycle shop Velorution and cargo bike evangelist Andrea Casalotti commented: “Anyone who officially endorses the present plans should be expelled from the London Cycling Campaign” (See comment below). The LCC has now responded to the consultation saying it would like to see improved safety for cyclists included in the plans.
Mark Ames editor of iBikeLondon says “if you want safe #space4cycling you have to get involved”. In his blog post he looks at what Camden is proposing and offers his opinion for how the scheme can be improved. Of the Tottenham Court Road proposals he argues that sheer pedestrian numbers around the future Crossrail station does not make it practical to have segregated cycling as some campaigners have called for. “I’d go as far as to say that with such high pedestrian numbers we should effectively ‘give’ Tottenham Court Road itself to them, and the buses and train station that will deliver and take them away.” He offers suggestions to improve upon Camden’s plans for Gower Street.
Andrew Gilligan, the mayor’s cycling commissioner, spoke on BBC London 94.9 today (24 June) about the proposed changes. He told Eddie Nestor that he and Isabel Dedring, deputy mayor for transport, were worried about the plans for Tottenham Court Road. “We have real concerns that the scheme is not good enough for cyclists. It’s going to create another Oxford Street. What you are going to see is two-way buses, possibly two-way taxis as well. And also some crossing traffic in the middle in a space that’s narrower than now. We have agreed to take a back seat and see what the cycling community feel and then we’ll come in at the end if their is significant opposition from the cycling community.”
Mark Treasure on his blog As Easy As Riding A Bike says that despite Camden’s good intentions the project “falls short on cycling, and to such an extent that it really has to be improved”. He also takes issue with cycling campaigners who he says are all too often “happy to sacrifice the quality of the transport mode they want to see more of, in the interests of wider scheme objectives. This isn’t necessarily a comment about the Camden scheme in particular; it’s more an observation about how cycling campaigners almost expect themselves to be selfless,” he writes. “Conversely, in a city like Utrecht, where something like 50% of all trips in the city centre are made by bike, a scheme that neglected the quality of the cycling environment would be completely unthinkable.”
Meanwhile Maidstone On Bike thinks Camden’s plans for Tottenham Court Road need ripping up and redesigning and thinks the plans for plastic blobs on Gower Street are absurd. So the cycling blogger from Kent has come up with a design for an alternative scheme.
Alex Ingram says Camden’s plans would turn Tottenham Court Road into something little better than Oxford Street. “The idea this project can encourage more people to cycle seem unlikely at best,” he says. “London already has a lot of competing uses of road space, and we need to find some more imaginative ways of bringing over continental design rather than just removing gyratories, narrowing roads and making new squares.” In a second blog post he says “proposals for segregated cycle lanes have not been taken seriously and instead effort has been made to fit cycling into a two-way working system”.
Camden Green Party have responded by calling for more space to be created for cycling, walking and buses by removing private motor traffic from Gower Street, not just Tottenham Court Road.
Cllr Phil Jones, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Transport & Planning at Camden Council has also made a further statement due to the large amount of comment about the council’s proposals. “There has been quite a lot written in recent weeks about the Council’s proposals to transform the Tottenham Court Road area and I welcome the constructive debate that continues to take place.”
The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain has commented that the West End Project “caters only for existing cycling demand, and does not envisage a situation in which mass cycling can and should make a vital contribution to the quality of the environment in Camden, as well as reducing congestion, improving public health and air quality.”
Brent Cyclists have responded to the consultation by saying cyclists need routes into the West End and across the Thames bridges, but are critical of Camden plans. “These plans are not really good enough for cycling,” they say. “There should be space found on the north-south routes in this area for top quality space for cycling that will attract a whole new demographic to cycling and be suitable for all those of any age and level of cycling ability.”
Taxis and Tottenham Court Road
Camden are proposing to ban access to Tottenham Court Road by taxis along those sections restricted to buses and cycles only. Taxi Leaks commented:”From 8am-7pm, Monday to Saturday local access for taxis, loading and setting down would only be allowed on short sections of Tottenham Court Road via side roads. This will mean that disabled passengers would need to find alternative ways of accessing the grater (sic) part of the road. This surely is unacceptable and we would hope disabled representative groups will support us on this issue.”
Camden’s traffic modelling has however shown that removing taxis from Tottenham Court will increase traffic in the side streets, particularly Charlotte Street.
Buses and Tottenham Court Road
Under the proposals all bus routes will be moved from Gower Street to TCR so that all buses will arrive and leave on the same street. Bus journeys along the street will be quicker. However, the number of bus stops will be reduced. Instead of four stops there will be three stops for northbound and three for southbound. The bus stop just north of Percy Street is to be removed and the stop outside Whitfield Gardens is being moved north nearer the junction with Howland Street.
Public open space and public toilets
The West End Project will create new open spaces at Alfred Place, Windmill Street, St Giles, Princes Circus, Huntley Street, and Bedford Avenue. There are also plans to restore the Fitzrovia Mural at Whitfield Gardens. However, there are no plans for public toilets. Tottenham Court Road Crossrail station will however have a public toilet. Camden’s nearest loo is at the north side of Russell Square.
Responses from Fitzrovia’s community groups
The Charlotte Street Association has responded (csa-west-end-project-response) by welcoming two-way traffic on TCR and Gower Street but has expressed concern about motor traffic especially taxis being displaced into the side streets. “This outcome is contrary to the principle that through traffic should be directed to main roads to protect residential streets.”
The Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association (FNA) has welcomed many of the proposals particularly the addition of new public open space, and the proposals to reduce the number of motor vehicle lanes on Gower Street and Tottenham Court Road. But in a response to Camden Council concern is expressed about motor traffic being displaced into the side streets. “We commend Camden’s aim to reduce motor vehicle traffic speeds. However, we have a number of concerns about motor vehicle traffic being displaced into the side streets in Fitzrovia and the negative impact on the quality of the environment for pedestrians and cyclists in these streets”. The FNA has expressed concern for the safety of cyclists on TCR and Gower Street. “We feel a much more robust segregated cycle track needs to be installed. We are particularly concerned that there is no protection for cyclists at junctions.”
Response from Fitzrovia Business Improvement District
The Fitzrovia Partnership welcomed Camden’s vision to transform the area into “one of London’s premier districts” and “welcome more safe and attractive streets and agree that this will help boost business and create public spaces for the community and visitors to enjoy.” However they expressed concern about displacement of motor-vehicle traffic from Gower Street and Tottenham Court Road into Fitzrovia’s smaller streets. They also said taxis should be allowed to use TCR. “We think that retaining an element of taxi access throughout the day would be beneficial for business operations and also probably help reduce some of the side road flows.” They also wanted further consultation on proposed delivery times with affected businesses.
“We would not want delivery times to impact negatively on footfall or neighbouring residents during the early morning and late night so further thought needs to be given as to exactly how this could work.” Whilst they welcome the change to buses running north and south on TCR they are concerned about at the possibility of an Oxford Street-style “wall of buses”. “In slowing down the traffic and potentially increasing the number of buses on the road we do not want this to set a precedent for increasing the number of buses further. We also do not want additional routes to be diverted up Tottenham Court Road to alleviate congestion elsewhere in the West End. We would like an undertaking by Camden that this is being thought of and an understanding of what mitigation measures will be put in place.” They welcomed plans for new and improved open spaces, expressed concern about air quality, the needs of the health sector and preserving the unique quality of the area. “As a Business Improvement District, we welcome local jobs for local people, and the proposals currently do not acknowledge this. The BID would therefore encourage a firm commitment from Camden to adopt a policy for the creation of local construction jobs within the project area.” Their full response can be viewed here.
This page will be updated as we gain a greater understanding of the project, and comments will be open until Friday 1 August 2014.
*Traffic Statistics: Sheet 1, without taxis on TCR; Sheet 2, with taxis on TCR.