diamond geezer

 Wednesday, February 03, 2010

I love a good TfL press release.
Here's a bad one from last Friday.
Lots of good positive things, wrapped up in drivel.
Pedestrians come first in the West End as £2.4m improvements to new walking route completed
A new West End walking route has benefited from £2.4m of public realm improvements funded by Transport for London (TfL) which were unveiled today.
Such promise. Lots of money being spent (tick). A new walking route (tick). And a grand unveiling (tick). Unfortunately, as it turns out, two of those ticks are crosses.
Great Queen Street public spaceAt the heart of the new walking route, which runs from Covent Garden to Holborn Circus, is a newly created public space at Great Queen Street. The existing space has been greatly improved by increasing footway space for visitors to shop, socialise and relax in. Traffic signals, guard rail and street clutter have all been removed from the area.
This new public space in Great Queen Street is the big tick. Lots of money has been spent remodelling a fairly minor road junction, with a set of unnecessary traffic lights ripped out and the roadway shifted in favour of a mini-piazza where pedestrians can mingle. Camden Council have added a few chunky indestructible concrete benches, and there's one of Boris's pet bike-rental stations under construction round the corner. It's rather splendid, in an understated transformational way, should you ever be in the area. But I don't believe it was officially opened last Friday, it's been looking complete for a fair few weeks now. Unveiling, sorry, no (cross).
The improvements are part of the Mayor's policy of 'Making Walking Count' and have been designed to encourage more local walking.
The fact that all this money has been spent on the doorstep of the United Grand Lodge of England is, I'm sure, a complete and utter coincidence. And especially fortunate given that the other three "Key Walking Route" improvements are considerably less impressive.
Long Acre, widened pavementThe key retail street of Long Acre has seen pavements widened and re-laid using high quality materials and new street lighting.
The word "key" is being bandied about here a lot, isn't it? In this case, lots of new pavement extensions mean that shoppers and foot-based folk in Long Acre won't have to walk in the road quite so often as they used to. Which is nice, but not quite key.
The historic square of Lincoln's Inn Fields has been restored through new footways, finished in characteristic materials and featuring accessibility improvements including drop kerbs and tactile paving.
I don't know whether you've been to Lincoln's Inn Fields, but it was already lovely and huge, with plenty of circulatory pavement space, before all of these supposed improvements took place. I had a wander round at the weekend, and quite frankly I couldn't see anything fresh and praiseworthy at all. Maybe wheelchair-enabled Londoners can now get into the central park with greater ease, but that doesn't really hang easily with the idea of a key "walking" route, does it?
High Holborn median strip...while High Holborn has been de-cluttered with improved crossing facilities for pedestrians and more cycle parking.
Let's be clear here, we're only talking about a short length of High Holborn, the bit below Chancery Lane. This used to be a broad thoroughfare with a hatched bit down the middle, and now it's a broad thoroughfare with a strip of paving and some cycle racks down the middle. Easier to cross, sure, but useless for walking along. There is no key walking route here (cross).
TfL has funded £2.4m of improvements between Long Acre and Holborn Circus. The TfL Key Walking Route programme links important local destinations such as stations, offices and shops through high quality walking environments.
And here's my big gripe. The Key Walking Route between Long Acre and Holborn Circus exists only in the mind of some TfL planner. There are no signs at Long Acre pointing towards Holborn Circus, nor any at the other end in the opposite direction. Any pedestrian who attempts to walk from one to the other without a map will get horribly lost, as no attempt whatsoever has been made to define this walking route on the ground. Neither is there any obvious attempt at even linking one place to the next. Lincoln's Inn Fields isn't freshly signposted from the pavement along High Holborn, and Great Queen Street isn't clearly waymarked from the environs of Lincoln's Inn Fields. This walking route isn't key, it's physically non-existent.

Kingsway minilithAnd yet the link through Great Queen Street and Long Acre ought to be a massively important walking route. TfL are desperate to get would-be Piccadilly line passengers to walk from Holborn to Covent Garden (via Great Queen Street and Long Acre), because the lifts at the latter station can't always cope with weekend and evening crowds. There's even a sign outside Holborn station telling you how easy it is to walk to Covent Garden, and sort of telling you how to do it. Set off, however, and you're on your own. You might spot a new Legible London minilith on Kingsway which hints at directions, but there's no explicit route-finding here. A few pedestrian symbols on lampposts might help, or even a discreet line painted on the ground, but instead walkers are left to work out every twist and turn for themselves. As flagrant public misdirection goes, this press release misleads nigh perfectly.

So it turns out that a "key walking route", despite its name, isn't anything specifically signposted for pedestrians to follow. It's merely an on-street zone of opportunity within which improvement work takes place - a nebulous linear cluster of widened pavements connected by nothing more than a budget line. What TfL have done here is to deliver some lovely street improvements, hurrah, but then allowed some faceless bureaucrat to rebrand them with a name that sounds important but is meaningless. Don't be taken in. And maybe stick to taking the tube to Covent Garden, because you're far less likely to go astray.

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