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Saturday, 29 October 2011

Piccadilly two-way

The return of two way traffic to Piccadilly after over 40 years marks the end of an extraordinary effort by Westminster City Council, Crown Estates and Transport for London to return the 1960s one-way systems to proper streets for people to use.

The dramatic increase in private vehicles in what is now Greater London gave rise to the Road Traffic and Road Improvements Act 1960. Parking Meters and Traffic Wardens were the first manifestation of the new law. It also paved the way for the London Traffic Management Unit whose sole job was to speed up traffic. An interesting predecessor to TfL's current role in smoothing traffic flow.

The newly-formed Greater London Council soon endorsed a series of what were called Traffic Management Schemes. In essence they were a major one-way systems often using parallel residential roads. Aldgate, Tottenham Court Road, Earls Court, Kings Cross, London Bridge and Victoria's schemes all were introduced by the end of 1965. There were similar schemes in the suburbs - Richmond, Hackney, Holloway all followed suit.

Nominally as a week's experiment westbound traffic in Piccadilly was diverted to St James' St and Pall Mall from 15th July 1961 and was introduced permanently (until 23rd October 2011) from 26th November.

Needless to say the improved road capacity driven from the one-way systems and on-street parking restrictions did speed up traffic but that simply encouraged the growth to increase further. Average speeds fell again over time and meanwhile more and more of the multi-lane one-way roads became 'urban motorways' which were damaging to business, pedestrians and took bus services away from their ideal destinations.
Now such schemes are being removed and the flagship West End one is now complete. Earlier this year St James' St and Pall Mall were converted to two-way working and now, in a £14m scheme, Piccadilly itself reopened to all westbound traffic (buses have had their own contra-flow lane since the 1970s).

Now the streets in this part of London look normal again. Wide pavements, no railings, high quality materials and space for people to walk and cycle as well as use the road network.

There is a formal launch on this week with a collection of 1960s vehicles including one rather well-known Routemaster!! Watch this space!



  1. "Needless to say the improved road capacity driven from the one-way systems and on-street parking restrictions did speed up traffic but that simply encouraged the growth to increase further."

    What evidence is there that your current "smoothing traffic flow" agenda will be any different?

    "Wide pavements, no railings, high quality materials and space for people to walk and cycle as well as use the road network."

    I took a look a few weeks ago. Where is the space for people to cycle? Who is going to want to cycle in it? I notice that you have *removed* the very useful cycle route from Haymarket along Jermyn Street.

  2. Space for cycling? Do you mean that you have followed the Dutch and put in a barrier between the cyclists and the motor vehicles, and another kerb between the cyclists and the pedestrians? If not, you simply are not following international best practice for making a safe environment for all modes of transport.

  3. The two-way scheme may be a little better than what it replaces, but no effort at all has been made to make it safe or convenient for cyclists. Here are some responses from Westminster to cyclists' attempts to improve the scheme:

    'Advanced stop lines and feeder lanes have been provided at the key
    junctions of Pall Mall / Haymarket and Piccadilly St James's Street.
    Unfortunately in this instance it was not possible to extend the ASLs to
    the rest of the scheme as this would have had a considerable impact on
    other traffic using the route.'

    Why are advance stop lines not provided for cyclists at all signal-controlled junctions?

    The City Council's policy is to only provide advanced stop lines along signed cycle routes at junctions with conflict turning cycle movements.

    Why are the traffic lanes not wide enough to allow a bus to overtake a cycle safely and vice versa?

    With the existing site constraints and to achieve a balance between pedestrian and vehicular traffic with the provision of central medians to provide perch points for pedestrians to cross along the whole length of these roads, it means that the ideal lane widths could not be achieved. (this is because of attempts to fit in two vehicle lanes, where there's only really room for one)

    Will westbound cyclists be able to reach Piccadilly directly from Shaftesbury Avenue?
    There is insufficient capacity in the bus lane between Shaftesbury Avenue and Piccadilly, and also at the signalised junction at Piccadilly Circus, to permit cyclists to use the westbound bus lane.

    Again, Westminster, like TFL prioritise motor traffic flow over cyclist safety, and do not take into account the improvements to traffic flow caused by modal shift when cycling is made safe.

  4. I am glad to see though, that you say:

    Needless to say the improved road capacity driven from the one-way systems and on-street parking restrictions did speed up traffic but that simply encouraged the growth to increase further

    Perhaps it's time to start talking about reducing capacity slightly in some junctions. All the evidence is that reducing capacity leads, initially, to some queueing - but very swiftly the traffic disappears. By reducing capacity slightly in some places, it will be possible to provide safe cycle infrastructure, and promote modal switch (which in its turn will improve traffic flow)

  5. Also - just a small question -

    If you understand that these urban motorways are such a bad idea, why on earth are you building another one at Blackfriars?

    There is another option here - to intelligently reduce capacity so as to maintain free-flowing traffic through demand reduction, and shifts in modal share - and at the same time make a junction that's safe and pleasant to use for cyclists and pedestrians.

    One important point, I think, is that TFL's modelling just doesn't include changes in demand caused by changes in capacity - or possibilities of modal shift to more efficient modes. Until you do this, you can't come up with the most efficient design for a junction....

  6. Perhaps, also, given your opposition to urban motorways, you might think of re-thinking TFL's refusal to allow the Elephant and Castle redevelopment to remove the Elephant and Castle northern roundabout so as to improve access to the station, and improve conditions for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport users. This is a terrible decision by TFL, backed by 'dumb' traffic modelling that does not reflect the way road users act in the real world, that ensures that Elephant and Castle will continue to be affected by the blight of fast through traffic, pollution, and barrier roads. It will maintain the relative poverty of this part of London, rather than allowing effective redevelopment - and without any point, as TFL's traffic predictions (on which all the harm is based) are, effectively, guesswork.

  7. Dear Leon,

    You're invited to:

    A cycle tour of TFLs most dangerous junctions for cyclists.

    10.30 am on the 12th November.

    Starting at St Mark's Church, the Oval, Kennington. Details here:

    Hope you'll make it along to talk to a few cyclists about what the problems are, and how to resolve them...

  8. Leon, this would be a great blog if the evidence suggested that you meant what you said.

    On St James Street there are now seven lanes for cars (two north, two south, two curbside parking and one center line taxi rank) and still no road for cycling.

    The narrowing of road lanes across the scheme, with no cycling provision, has made this part of my regular journey far more threatening. The absence of ASLs at key junctions is appalling.

    This scheme is right in many ways, but don't pretend for a second that there was consideration for cycling, I've seen the safety audit and the number of mentions of cycling or cycles - zero.

    And despite that, TfL wouldn't even approve this scheme today under 'smoothing traffic flow', so lets not pretend it's the start of a bright new day in our town planning.