Response to Camden's West End Project Consultation

Our response to Camden's West End Project Consultation.

Camden’s road user hierarchy places cycling second behind walking as a priority, ahead of public transport, taxis, and private motor traffic. We also note that Camden has set a (modest) target of an 8% modal share for cycling in the borough by 2025-6. 

With these priorities and targets in mind, a major scheme like this should surely be aiming to make cycling an attractive, safe and comfortable transport option for everyone, rather than making things slightly better for the tiny minority of people who currently tolerate the conditions on the roads in question.

Unfortunately that is what this proposed scheme appears to aim for, as far as cycling is concerned – minor improvement for the people already prepared to cycle. It does not appear to contemplate opening up cycling to the vast majority of people who are currently not prepared to cycle. To that extent, it caters only for existing cycling demand, and does not envisage a situation in which mass cycling can and should make a vital contribution to the quality of the environment in Camden, as well as reducing congestion, improving public health and air quality.

We would argue that the West End Project should allow inclusive cycling – a transport option available to all, regardless of age or experience. A simple requirement – for instance – should be to allow children to make journeys by bike across the scheme area, in safety and comfort.

That will not be delivered by the current proposals, particularly in a north-south direction, where the choice is between Tottenham Court Road – busy with buses between 8am and 7pm, and open to all motor traffic in both directions for the remainder of the day, and all day on Sundays – and Gower Street, which will only have intermittent 'semi-segregation' in the form of armadillos, disappearing at the junctions.

Two assumptions appear to be behind this failure to create a welcoming, inclusive cycling environment -

  • that the existing mode share for transport within the scheme area - and Camden and London more generally – has arisen, naturally, from people choosing freely between walking, cycling, public transport or driving, rather than from people being forced to make certain transport choices because the alternatives – particularly cycling - are unattractive.
  • that two-way flow for motor vehicles on the main roads of the scheme is necessary, or at least intrinsically better than restricting it to one-way flow.

With regard to the first assumption, cycling is a minority mode of transport in London not because it is an inherently unattractive way of getting about, but because the conditions in which people are forced to cycle are hostile. We would like to see people genuinely being given a choice between cycling and other modes of transport, rather than a scheme which appears to cater for the existing cycling demographic, and offers little to those who would like to cycle, but don't feel able to.

The second assumption – about accommodating two-way flow for private motor traffic on both the major roads of the scheme – limits potential options for creating those inclusive conditions for cycling. Retaining the existing one-way flow for motor traffic on Gower Street and Tottenham Court Road, but limiting it to just one lane in each direction, would open up large amounts of space for other more efficient and beneficial modes of transport; space that is not available under the current plans.

Such an arrangement would – crucially – allow protected space for cycling on one or, even better, both of these roads, while still allowing bus priority. Moreover these benefits would be continuous, running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, rather than on a part-time basis, like the existing proposals. It could include cycle tracks running north and south on Tottenham Court Road, and a cycle track (potentially bi-directional) on Gower Street.

Maintaining one-way flow isn't, of course, necessary for creating inclusive conditions for cycling. Other options include filtering either Tottenham Court Road or Gower Street, removing through motor traffic – to levels below 2000 PCUs per day – to create pleasant conditions for walking and cycling. Alternatively, protected space for cycling could be achieved alongside two-way flow, particularly on Gower Street. But the potential benefits of limiting private motor traffic to just a single lane on each road should not be discounted.