Solving St James’s traffic nightmare is a two-way street

The politics of property: Steven Norris

Being a conscientious board member of Transport for London and the London Development Agency, as I endeavour to support our mayor in his great vision for our capital city, it is my bounden duty to go to a lot of meetings that are, to put it as delicately as I can, crashingly, stultifyingly, stupendously boring

That is the enormous burden borne by those of us who toil away at the coalface of public policy. So it was a particular pleasure for me this week to go to the delightful Cavendish hotel in Jermyn Street to hear about plans for one of the most exciting projects to come my way in many years. It is one I have personally long hoped would come to fruition and there is now a very good chance that it will.

Piccadilly circuit

The plan is to restore two-way traffic to Piccadilly, Pall Mall and St James’s, while taking the opportunity to look afresh at the whole look and feel of what, for me, is one of the most beautiful parts of London, which in recent years has not been looking its best.

The initiative has been led by Beverley Aspinall, managing director of Piccadilly’s finest food shop, Fortnum & Mason.

She has been ably supported by Martin Low, director of transportation at Westminster City Council, who has worked up some first-class plans. At last, we can say farewell to those appalling nannying railings that disfigure so many of our glorious streets and which run virtually the whole length of Piccadilly. When will local highways people realise that they actually make pedestrians less safe, not more?

Don’t take my word for it. My Transport for London colleague, councillor Daniel Moylan, led the comprehensive makeover of Kensington High Street a few years ago where we now know that, following the removal of all the railings, the safety record there is actually better than before.

“At last, we can say farewell to those appalling nannying railings that disfigure so many of our glorious streets”

By rerouting two or three bus services we can not only improve traffic around Piccadilly Circus, but humanise Pall Mall and St James’s as well. Widening footways improves the sense of space but also lets people enjoy the views of these majestic streets as they should be seen.

Putting in such obvious things as straight-across crossings and soft landscape treatments helps to transform the ambience of the area, not to mention improve air quality.

Tie all this in to the sort of really useful “Legible London” signage developed by Transport for London and all the beautiful nooks and crannies in this fascinating quarter ringing the exquisite St James’s Square come alive.

We still need to do more work to understand how to accommodate the cycle hire scheme infrastructure, which will arrive over the next few months, and Westminster will look at improving the way service vehicles access the area.

But already you can see just how much it can be lifted for what, in project terms, is really a modest amount of money, particularly when shared between both public and private participants.

As far as I’m concerned, we need to look for many more places where this kind of intensive treatment can lift an area up so dramatically. One of Boris’s strongest messages during his election was that London could look so much better with just a little more care. If we want to put flesh on the bones of that vision then the Piccadilly scheme should definitely get the Green light.

(Steven Norris, Property Week)


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