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Posts Tagged ‘traffic’

Yes, there has been a lot of noise over the last few days. I went down to the river on Sunday afternoon, and it was ten people deep on the Chelsea Embankment; I just managed to see the royal party by standing on tip-toe, and quite a few people around me couldn’t see a thing. And walking through Victoria on Monday evening, quite by chance, I caught the post-concert fireworks just a few hundred yards away.

But my abiding sensory memory of the weekend was the early morning silence on Sunday. Battersea Bridge was closed for the flotilla, which meant that our street – which runs down to the Embankment – was also closed to traffic. It was eerie, waking up to silence. No buses, no cars, no sirens. It was as if London itself had been suspended, as I lay on my bed taking in the unusual atmosphere; as if there was less – less noise, less activity; but also more – more presence, more awareness of the place itself and not just what’s happening within it. This is what Sundays used to be like!

#76 - empty streets  by cliff_r

No, this isn’t London! Midtown Manhattan after Hurricane Irene hit the city

I’ve experienced this twice before here in Chelsea. Once was a glorious period of a few months when Battersea Bridge was completely closed for repairs after a boat crashed into one of the arches at high tide. Every morning had this same quality – as if we were living in a cul-de-sac. The other time was during the ash cloud when all the Heathrow flights were cancelled, and the very early mornings – 5 or 6 o’clock – even though I’m not up then – weren’t tarnished by the subconsciously-heard roar of planes overhead.

Another random connection: A Jesuit friend of mine telling me recently that in his community they agreed to completely disconnect the WiFi for one day each month. You might say this isn’t too radical, and perhaps once a week would really hurt. But once a month is better than not at all. And they seem to have appreciated it. Rather than being a burden, it seems to have been a liberation – you simply can’t attend to the emails – they are not ‘there’; sure – they are somewhere, but not there, now, in your computer.

We need a completely car-less day in London once a year. Does anyone know about this? There must be some kind of movement dedicated to this – a campaigning group, or a philosophy/cult – that proposes closing every road within the M25, or at least within the North and South Circular, for 24 hours. To pedestrianise the whole city just for a day. Wouldn’t that be amazing? It could be national street party day, and it could be combined with a bunch of other days that already take place, that would benefit from the no-traffic day, like the Open Gardens day. Let me know any links you know to such a proposal (I just haven’t bothered to look myself yet); and if there isn’t such a proposal, I might start a petition or another Facebook event/group. Does Paris already have an empty street day or something?

Later addition: Two wonderful comments that deserve copying into the main post here. One from David:

This is on a par with Down With Telly Zappers – never mind the elderly and the not so elderly but bed- or chair-bound for whom a  zapper is a god-send. Closing down transport in London may be a bonus for some, but it would be a day’s misery for people on minimum wage or paid by the day. And what about  tourists and all the people who depend on them for a living?

The other from Ttony, whose astonishing memory for 1970s Punch articles, or his clever search techniques, unearthed this:

I don’t know whether there is a campaign today, but this is what Cliff Michelmore wrote in Punch somewhere around 1971-73.

“THAT did it. I know my dream holiday. Not for me the wine dark sea, burning sands and browning bodies, the counting of calories and minks. I shall dream.

By noon on Friday next, all vehicles (except bicycles) will be removed from the precincts of London and taken at least forty miles from Charing Cross and are not to return until noon the following Monday. All aircraft are forbidden to fly within sixty miles of the aforesaid Charing Cross and no chimney has permission to smoke within the same area. There shall be no television or radio transmissions nor shall there be any newspapers, magazines or other such matter published. No cinema shall show any film other than one having a U certificate. All employees of and owners of joints, strip, gambling, clip, bingo etc. to take the weekend off.

All public buildings, including Royal palaces, Government offices to be open to the public free of charge, and at all times throughout the weekend. It is the intention of my dream Government to allow families to see London as it should be, to take a long parting glance at it before the whole lot goes up in blocks, to walk the streets without fear of being knocked senseless by senseless drivers, and to breathe air without fear of being choked to death.

That is my dream holiday, with the family, just drifting around London. I have no great love of London, in truth I find it as comfortable and warming as a damp overcoat, but this weekend of standing and staring and drifting may just halt our idiot rush to nowhere.

And back to the dream for a moment. We have already booked Sir John Betjeman as our guide and companion for the weekend – so hands off!”

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The answer to all these questions (which I know have been troubling you for many years) is: sort of.

I’m sure you spotted this years ago, but I have only just discovered the ‘Traffic’ box on the right-hand side of Google Maps, where you can tick the Public Transport option, and – hey presto – see exactly where the tube lines run in relation to street-level reality. I’ve seen these ‘real geography’ (there must be a technical term for this) maps before, and I know that the very first tube maps – like the present Paris Metro maps – were more or less real, without the present simplification, and so with the kinks and the corners and the vast expanses between suburban stations left in. But I haven’t played around and explored the detail in this way.

What it doesn’t show is the zillions of miles you have to unknowingly walk when changing between lines that are theoretically at the same station – e.g. Green Park, Kings Cross, etc. At least Paddington, Bank, etc, have the honesty to have multiple white ‘station dots’ (more technical vocabulary needed please)  linked with the white lines to announce that they are not really the same tube station but no-one has had the nerve to admit it yet.

There must be some site or app that brings to light these dark secrets of the Underground system. Do post one in the comments if you can find it.

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Yes, a zebra crossing in north London has been granted Grade II status by English Heritage. Six white bands on a stretch of tarmac, which I presume have been painted over any number of times since the Fab Four walked across them in 1969, are now up there in the cultural rankings with some of the finest churches and public buildings in our land. Isn’t it fantastic!

Then

Now

I showed my appreciation for the crossing a few months ago in a post about potholes; and regular readers will know that I have an occasional interest in the niche subjects of traffic management and urban planning. Forgive me for copying from my previous post here:

I was listening to the Beatles Blue album in the car on Friday – the first time in years – and by chance my route to the M1 took me along Abbey Road, past the famous recording studios, and across the even more famous zebra crossing. I like seeing the crowds of tourists either side waiting to cross in synchronised groups of four, no-one quite sure if the rules of pedestrian crossings are active here or suspended in some kind of nostalgia-museum bubble. It’s a lovely blur of reality and hyper-reality; a magical time-capsule that can’t separate itself from the ordinariness of a London street.

Here is Sam Jones’s account of the recent listing.

The heritage minister John Penrose took the unusual decision to protect the crossing, which provided the cover shot for Abbey Road album, following advice from English Heritage.

Penrose said that while the crossing was “no castle or cathedral”, it had “just as strong a claim as any to be seen as part of our heritage” because of its link to the Beatles. He added: “As such it merits the extra protection that Grade II listing provides.”

Roger Bowdler, head of designation at English Heritage, said: “the crossing continues to possess huge cultural pull — the temptation to recreate that 1969 album cover remains as strong as ever.”

The Abbey Road album was the last to be completed by the Beatles, although Let It Be, which had been recorded earlier, was the last to be issued.

Fans flock to the crossing from every corner of the globe. On the 40th anniversary of the photoshoot on 8 August last year, hundreds of people relived the moment, causing traffic chaos in the area.

Other groups who have copied the pose include Red Hot Chili Peppers. Their homage, used on the front of 1988’s The Abbey Road EP, had more in common with solo-era John Lennon than the original shot: it showed the Californian band crossing the road naked but for four strategically placed white sports socks.

 

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Very rarely does an advert on a billboard make me stop and think. This one did.

In case you can’t see the image well, the poster reads:

You are not stuck in traffic.

You are traffic.

Well, I was driving along the A41 at 50 mph, so I didn’t stop. But the mental processes were interrupted for a moment, and I found myself thinking about all the times that I distance myself from the people or events around me, treating them as ‘other’, when they are really me, and I am them.

Traffic jam in Bangkok

 

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My geekness extends to an interest in traffic management systems and signage. In case you think this is completely off-centre, the romantic hero of Cameron Crowe’s Singles was a traffic engineer with the city council who spent his evenings worrying about how minute changes in the traffic light phasing could lead to urban chaos. (OK, I think this did cause a few problems in his relationships…)

One of the junctions near me in Chelsea has been given a glorious new makeover. It’s a T-junction: where Oakley Street, which runs from the Albert Bridge, meets the King’s Road, just where the fire station is. The pedestrian barriers have been removed; most of the traffic lights have been placed on adjacent lamp-posts, and the old poles removed; the bollards are no longer bollards, but have become arrow signs held up by thin steel tubes; and the pavements are lower. From a distance the stone-work looks like marble. It gives you a sense of space and freedom. And it makes you appreciate for the first time how cluttered and ugly most junctions are.

I read about this years ago, when the ‘shared space’ philosophy was first applied to Kensington High Street. The counter-intuitive idea is that if you give people fewer instructions about when and where and how to move around city centres, and if you open the common spaces up and de-clutter them, then everyone will become more sensitive to the presence of others, and more careful as they walk and drive around. It’s wonderful to see this experiment spreading to our area.

High Street Kensington. Boring photo, but notice: no railings, low pavement, hanging arrows instead of bollards

This is how the Brake website describes it:

‘Naked roads’ are roads without any of the usual street furniture such as traffic lights, signs, kerbs, white lines and other road markings.

Although initially this may seem like it would cause chaos on the roads and an increase in road crashes, at specific types of location naked roads have had the opposite effect and improved safety, according to some reports.

Although it is thought the naked road idea has its roots in the Home Zone (or woonerf) concept, it is largely attributed to Hans Monderman, who was appointed Head of Road Safety for the northern provinces of the Netherlands in the 1980s. Monderman was given a wide brief to tackle rising pedestrian casualties in towns and villages, and having studied incident reports and conventional traffic engineering for many years, he decided to try a very different, psychology-based approach to improving road safety in some locations where space was shared by a range of road users. Monderman said: “When faced with a safety problem, most engineers tend to install something additional. My instinct is always to take something away.” [1]

Monderman’s belief stemmed from the recognition by behavioural psychologists that single-purpose road such as motorways demand different cognitive skills to the complex human context of shared space in towns. Single-purpose roads benefit from simple, repetitive signs and signals. But it is believed that the opposite is true in a shared space.

Makkinga is a small village in Friesland, which is a province in the north of the Netherlands. The village of Makkinga has a central high street running through it, which is used by children getting to school and by people passing through the village. It is also popular with tourists and has a flea market. The highway in Makkinga used to follow the design principles that traffic was given priority over pedestrians and cyclists. Traditional traffic control measures such as lights, traffic calming and signage were used. As with the scheme in Drachten, Monderman removed all traffic signs, markings and other instructions to drivers to prevent the road looking like a space designed for traffic. This created a more social space which encourages drivers to make eye contact with other road users to inform them of their intended actions.

And here is an old report from Ben Webster when the Kensington scheme was just getting going:

In Kensington High Street, almost 600 metres of railings have been removed to allow pedestrians to cross where they want. The results have discredited the belief that railings prevent accidents: in the two years after they were removed, pedestrian casualties declined three times faster than the London average. Traffic engineers believe that drivers are now keeping a sharper eye out for pedestrians because they know that they may cross at any point.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is planning to introduce shared space ideas to Sloane Square next year. The aim is to encourage pedestrians to make greater use of the square, which is currently marooned by busy roads. A similar scheme is being planned for Exhibition Road. The idea of removing traffic lights was supported in a report published last month by the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Martin Cassini, the report’s author, said: “Removing lights removes barriers to traffic flow and improves behaviour. If you observe a junction where the lights are out of action, there is rarely congestion. People approach slowly, wave each other on and filter in turn. Lights and other controls hamper instead of harness human nature, causing untold delay and harm.”

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