A monitoring report for Camden Council states that motor traffic levels are down across the West End Project area when compared to 2017, despite some important baseline traffic data being missing.
Consultants AECOM were commissioned by Camden to assess the impact of the West End Project against baseline conditions and project objectives. The report, which was presented to Camden officers this summer, acknowledges that the Covid pandemic has made the process challenging.
The West End Project was approved by Camden’s cabinet of councillors in 2015. The £35million scheme aims to reduce motor traffic and pollution, improve road safety, make the area better for walking, cycling and people using buses, as well as create new public spaces for the benefit of residents, businesses and visitors.
The main traffic management elements of the project — two-way working and restricted access on Tottenham Court Road, and a reduction in the number of motor traffic lanes — were mostly completed by February 2021.
The report looked at motor vehicle flows, cycling and pedestrian flows, as well as the number of taxis, and bus journey times in the Tottenham Court Road area. It also reviewed other changes to the public realm in the WEP area.
High levels of contraventions of the traffic restrictions on Tottenham Court Road were observed early on. As a result work to install Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) Cameras started in May.
However, traffic flow data found that on Tottenham Court Road traffic volumes decreased during the hours of traffic restrictions as well as during unrestricted hours, compared to before the scheme was implemented.
On Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street traffic volumes also decreased during the hours of traffic restrictions on Tottenham Court Road, as well as during unrestricted hours.
“In the wider WEP area: 24-hour weekday traffic volumes have decreased at the majority of sites (9 out of 11) where baseline (2017) data was available,” states the report.
“Only two locations have seen an increase in traffic (Grafton Way and New Oxford Street), however both of these increases can be attributed to temporary restrictions/diversions and works at both locations during the 2022 survey period. This data outperforms the expected modelling impacts of the West End Project,” states the report.
However, data for Maple Street and other streets in the wider WEP area does not show before and after traffic levels. Residents report to Fitzrovia News that motor traffic is worse in Maple Street and increased motor vehicles are passing along Percy Street, Store Street and Totteham Street.
One resident described the situation as “the opposite of a low traffic neighbourhood” — where the commercial interests along main streets like Tottenham Court Road benefit at the expense of the smaller residential streets.
Due to the impact of Covid, improvements for pedestrians have been difficult to measure states the report. However, the “scheme may have had a positive impact in retaining a greater proportion of pedestrians than might have otherwise been expected”.
Cycling volumes have actually decreased on Tottenham Court Road, Gower Street and on Bloomsbury Street, and on other streets in the wider WEP area. However, “sensors on Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street show that cycling numbers in the first three months of 2022 exceed those in 2021, indicating that growth in cycling volumes is accelerating”. Analysis by TfL states cycling flows in central London are recovering but have not yet reached pre-Covid levels, states the report.
The number of taxis on Tottenham Court Road has reduced “by 66 percent from 2017 to 2019, with the majority of that decrease observed in 2019, when interim restrictions were introduced on the road”.
Data on bus journey times is inconclusive. “Due to TfL retaining data for only two years, there is no pre-scheme data available,” states the report. But higher average speeds have been observed compared to March 2020.
Collisions in the WEP scheme area involving pedestrians “grew year-on-year between 2016-2019 but dropped from 2019 to 2021, following the start of the scheme improvements”.
The data showed that collisions peaked in 2019. This coincided with a number of pedestrians being struck by buses on Tottenham Court Road.
An analysis of the London Fire Brigade’s records between 2019 and 2021 for Euston Fire Station appear to show there has been no adverse effects on responding to emergencies.
“The implementation of the WEP scheme does not appear to have impacted on the LFB’s ability to meet their target mobilisation times,” states the report.
Air quality has improved in the area with mean concentrations of NO2 being reduced at all monitoring sites in the WEP scheme area between 2019 and 2021. However, a lack of “post-scheme data makes it difficult to distinguish between the impacts of Covid-19 and the impacts of the WEP scheme on air quality in the area,” states the report.
Analysis of public opinion on the changes shows that over half of the responses were negative.
For local residents 44 percent said they felt “mostly positive” or “positive”, 23 percent feeling “neutral” and 33 percent feeling “mostly negative” or “negative” towards the scheme.
Most pedestrians and cyclists felt “positive” or “neutral” toward the scheme. More than two-thirds of car drivers felt “negative” or “mostly negative” about the scheme.
Unsurprisingly, 97 percent of taxi drivers and private hire vehicle drivers felt “negative” or “mostly negative” towards the scheme. In early 2019 the Independent Taxi Alliance organised several protests blocking Tottenham Court Road.
The report for Cllr Adam Harrison, cabinet member for a sustainable Camden, recommends that dozens of measures are taken to address defects in the carriageway and footway throughout the WEP area and that continued monitoring and enforcement of the traffic restrictions are carried out.
The report and its recommendations were approved on Tuesday 23 August.