This week Transport for London have been tweeting pictures of proposed station improvements, connected to Crossrail upgrades.
I’ve been struck – as have many others – by the way these designs appear to involve polishing a turd, and also by the way they completely ignore cycling as a mode of transport.
The West Drayton station visualisation includes a bridge that doesn’t include cycling.
The Ilford station visualisation has an expanse of fancy paving, combined with a fashionable narrow carriageway, with someone cycling right by the kerb.
This is the A123, by the way – the traffic levels in this visualisation are a tad unrealistic.
Southall station gets fancy paving, and a nice coloured carriageway, with unrealistic traffic levels. No cycle provision.
Goodmayes gets a ridiculous ‘shared space’ treatment, miraculously free of motor traffic in this visualisation. No cycle provision.
Again, it’s fair to say this is a ‘charitable’ representation of motor traffic levels here.
Seven Kings actually looks like the best improvement out of a bad bunch; the road in front of the station is going to be closed off, and the existing ASL is going to be painted green.
Not pictured – buses.
Another ‘fancy’ surface, serving no apparent purpose, outside Manor Park. Again, this is an A-road – the A117.
Forest Gate. Another A-road; another smear of expensive granite.
Maryland station – three wide lanes of motor traffic replaced by… three narrow lanes of motor traffic.
Acton station gets some lovely cycling-hostile carriageway-narrowing.
Fancy colouring for the car parking spaces outside Hanwell station (this is a dead-end, so they can’t really get this wrong).
And finally Chadwell Heath. It’s not really clear if there are any changes here at all.Crossrail’s own page on the ‘Urban Realm’ changes involved across London is here (thanks to Alex Ingram for spotting it).
A continuing difficulty in Britain appears to be an assumption that ‘cycling infrastructure’ is antithetical to ‘urban realm’. It’s seen as ugly, and associated with traffic engineering, and facilitating movement, which stands in contrast to what ‘urban realm’ designers think they are trying to create, a sense of place. White lines don’t fit in with the aesthetics of places like Poynton, or of Frideswide Square.
Of course, there’s no reason why cycling infrastructure can’t be blended into attractive urban realm – cycle tracks can be constructed from sympathetic materials for instance. The opposition seems to be based on what cycling infrastructure looks like now, rather than what it could look like, with a little thought and effort.
And the other problem here is a fundamental dishonesty about the function of the roads and streets that are being ‘prettified’ – this is the placefaking I’ve talked about before, or, more bluntly, polishing a turd. Rachel Aldred has also written about this issue at length. The assumption seems to be that cycling doesn’t fit in with these placemaking schemes, despite the fact that they still function as major traffic arteries. The paving might have been changed, trees might have been planted, the carriageway might be a different colour, but fundamentally it’s still a road with thousands of vehicles thundering along it every day.
Maybe having to include cycling infrastructure represents a tacit admission that the problem still remains. But it’s not particularly sensible to bury our heads in the sand, and to pretend that the barriers to cycling can be resolved with some planting and some surface treatments.