Monday, December 4, 2017

The Template For Pedestrianizing A Busy Street

http://www.citylab.com: November 8, 2017


Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a fresh week on the blog and fresh outrage.  Today's outrage is over Mr. Trump announcing the reduction of of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments by half, opening it up to drilling and coal mining interests.  This comes on the heels of his alleged admission of obstruction of justice by tweet and the Senate passing the biggest Tax Scam disguised as a massive reform intended to generate jobs.  This is making America great again?  Blogger does not think so.  Actually, Blogger is not outraged because before the 2016 General Election because this reckless, callous attitude was on full display during the campaign.  The reduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is complete lack of respect for American history and culture in favor of corporate interests.  Apparently, Mr. Trump thinks that coal mining is the future of energy. Now it is not but try convincing him of that.  Thank you Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke (#StinkyZinke) for doing such a stellar job of protecting our national monuments (sarcasm alert).  You really know how to make America great again.  That said, on to today's subject: pedestrianizing urban streets.

We are back in the United Kingdom today to talk about making urban streets walkable.  The focus of the post is London's Oxford Street.  Feargus O'Sullivan exclaims with glee in his CityLab article "How to Pedestrianize a Vital Urban Street," "Finally, it's happening.  After years of discussion,London's Oxford Street is being pedestrianized" (standard.co.uk; Nov. 6, 2017; date accessed Dec. 4, 2017).  Oxford Street is a popular key London artery-known for its boutiques-and its massive population problem. For years, Oxford Street has been know as a "notorious fume trap" because it is a vital corridor for public transport.  Mr. O'Sullivan writes, "As you might imagine,tidying up has been a logistical headache.  But if it works here, the plan could become a template for any city that wants to turn a busy thoroughfare into a car-free zone."

By the end of 2018, about 800 meters (approximately half a mile) of street will be off-limits to vehicles.  The pedestrianization process will be accomplished in two stages in successive years.  Oxford Street is so active and so centrally located, "that many people doubt the change is even possible-" however, "the long-building city-led push or change, powered in part by shaming pollution figures that step far beyond EU-prescribed guidelines, is finally action."  To understand how the pedestrianization process can happen, it is worth taking a look at how London is meeting the Oxford Street challenge.  Let us start with the problem.

"The Problem"

If you have ever been to London, you will quickly notice that the narrow streets were obviously laid out way before anyone thought of the internal combustion engines.  The street is (in one respect) nearly two millennia old, traveling along the path of the Via Trinobantina, an ancient Roman road snaking out of London's west. Mr. O'Sullivan describes Oxford Streets, "While it is fairly broad by London standards, it sits among streets that are narrow and maze-like, meaning that for a long time, buses and delivery vehicles trying to cross town had almost no viable alternative routes."

What makes Oxford Streets so unique is that private automobiles have not been the source for congestion for decades.  Cars have been banned as far back as the eighties, "excluded at that time more to reduce gridlock than pollution."  However, the crush of buses and taxis continue resulting in critically high pollution and congestion levels.  Feargus O'Sullivan reports, "Without parallel alternatives, 200 buses still funnel through the street every hour at peak times, often at a crawl, filling the air with so many fumes that the street typically exceeds its safe emissions levels for an entire 12 months within the first two weeks of every year [citylab.com; Jan. 12, 2014; date accessed Dec. 4, 2017]."  Thus the problem is: How can London close Oxford Street without throttling off the city around it?  What will become of the people who travel through the area in public transport to somewhere else?  The solution to this heady challenge is a tangle of remedies.

"Make rail transit a viable alternative"

London's stellar underground line (a slightly biased opinion) running beneath the street-the Central Line (em.m.wikipedia.org; ; date accessed Dec. 4, 2017)-is massively congested.  By the end of next year, this portion of the subway will finally see some relief in the form of Crossrail (Ibid), a large-scale east-west rail project should be ready to take on commuter traffic and establish two major new stations on Oxford Street.  With the Crosrail taking up the majority of the pressure, "the Underground could (at least initially) find itself with more breathing space, attracting more passengers that currently use buses."  This should ease a lot of the pressure at street-level.

"Rethink the bus network"

Another slightly biased opinion, London has a great bus network.  However, the Crosrail will force bus riders onto trains because the routes will be shortened.  Mr. O'Sullivan points out, "Transport for London is effectively giving up on the nine bus routes that travel along Oxford Street.  Only two will be re-routed to the nearest parallel street north, while two more will be routed away from the area entirely. The five remaining lines,..., will soon terminate at the street's western end,...Taxis will also be banned, with ranks set up on adjacent streets."

Even with the new rail lines paralleling the street, banning buses sounds harsh, but the present situation, where vehicles travel at a snail's pace along the road is already maddening, things could be worse if vehicles were re-routed to even more narrow streets to the north.

"Allow some vehicle crossing-and improve the wider area"

It makes sense to allow limited vehicle crossings.  Although east-west traffic will be re-routed, it is rather unrealistic to turn Oxford Street into a 1.8-mile-long barrier to all automobile traffic.  Therefore, it makes more sense to keep the north-south cross streets open to vehicle crossings.  Mr. O'Sullivan observes, "That should keep smaller streets to the south accessible, even if getting there in a delivery van might be more difficult."

Another thing that makes sense is make the wider area more attractive.  Mr. O'Sullivan writes, "Keeping these surrounding streets open will only work, however, if they're treated as more than just overspill for displaced traffic."  Many of the side streets are home to boutiques, pubs, and restaurants that are far and few between on the high street, dominated by the big retail stores.  The goal is make the area more hospitable by widening the sidewalks and more road crossings.  Eventually Oxford Street can lose some of its high street poshness and let people explore the neighborhood a little more.

"Make the area more attractive"

Making a pedestrian thoroughfare an attractive and bustling place is,goes without saying, absolutely essential. Nothing gets drivers' knickers in a major twist than "seeing a road cleared of vehicles only to be left empty as traffic clogs in this surrounding."  To accomplish this on Oxford Street, the plan is to completely demolish the street so that the curbs and sidewalks disappear.  In their place, perhaps the roads can be filled in with attractive graphic paving that would serve as a billboard for pedestrian ownership of the road, encouraging shoppers to move out from the congested sidewalks during peak periods, which are frankly akin to being stuffed into an already crowded sardine can.

"...And a major missed opportunity"

So far, the mixing of pedestrianization with a re-orientation of traffic circulation sounds good.  Be that as it may, there is one missing component.  The missing components are bicycles, banned under the current plan with its wisp of a promise of improving the cycling infrastructur in the surrounding streets.  Citing TFL consultancy documents justifying this, Mr. O'Sullivan reports, "Surveys show that many cyclist tuned to avoid Oxford Street, and instead use alternative routes."

Well, yes, it only stands to reason that cyclists would avoid a street that is already congested to avoid collisions with pedestrians or vehicles.  Oxford Street's unpopularity with cyclists reflects that the Street is a hostile environment.  It certainly does not mean that cyclists would not ride there under better under more friendly circumstances.  The plans for pedestrianizing Oxford Street may do a lot to clear the air and serve as template for other cities-are you listening Los Angeles Department of City Planning?  The fault in this plan is banning bicycles.  Perhaps this fault can be corrected but for now, London is taking a step in the right direction.