December Street Talks: your topic here

The next Street Talk is on Tuesday 6th December. We’re doing something a bit different for December — including, just this one time, meeting at Look Mum No Hands instead of the Yorkshire Grey.

And, just this one time, we have a different format. Instead of one speaker and one topic, ten or twelve people will each get 7 ½ minutes to tell us something — to explain, to entertain, to argue, or campaign — that fits the “liveable London” theme. Anything London transport and built environment, and their borderlands with politics, culture, philosophy, science, health, environment, economics…

So send a short summary of something you want to talk about, following these instructions.

Street Talk #7: People first – putting the public back into the public realm

I am in the land of civilised streets and truly super cycle highways, but I might be persuaded to get on a boat on Monday in time for Tuesday’s Street Talks, in which Oliver Schulze, director of the Gehl Architects’ design studio, will talk to us about how to make civilised streets:

The public realm is the social heart of any city, but social activities of all kinds continue to be squeezed out by efforts to accommodate rather than reduce traffic growth. When cities put cars before people the social and economic life the city suffers and no one has the option to opt out of the environmental impacts.

Join us and Oliver Schulze from Gehl Architects at October’s Street Talk for a journey from Copenhagen to the bike lanes of LA – via taco trucks, snowball fights in Times Square, surface parking lots, Starbucks and Disneyland – as we consider how to put the public back into the public realm. What needs to be done to ensure walking down the street or pausing to chat in a local square is a pleasure rather than a chore? What lessons can London learn from recent efforts to prioritise pedestrians in cities across the world, including New York and even car centric Los Angeles?

Usual time and place: upstairs at the Yorkshire Grey on Theobalds Road, doors open for food and drink from 6, talk at 7ish.

Street Talk #6: Clean Air London

Don’t forget, y’all: Street Talks returns from the summer break on Tuesday week, the 6th, upstairs at the Yorkshire Grey from 7pm. Do come along?

The topic is air pollution, and the speaker is Simon Birkett. Air pollution causes thousands of premature deaths in London each year, mostly through disgusting lung diseases, and it exacerbates those diseases that are caused by sedentary lifestyles. However, unlike sedentary lifestyles, there isn’t any way for individual Londoners to opt out of the effects of air pollution. As usual, there is more on the Liveable London website.

How to make a great street — and why we’ve built so many awful ones

This evening Andy Cameron, an engineer who advised the last government and has written standards for transport and urban design, will join us in the pub to talk about making streets for people.  That’s upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey on Theobald’s Road at 7pm (bar open from 6 with excellent food available).

If you can’t join us, the slides and audio will be online sometime later.  But in the meantime, you can see a talk Andy gave to CABE — not quite the same audience as a pub, so presumably not quite the same talk, but entertaining all the same.  Most interesting, perhaps, is a little insight into why local authorities have been turning our high-streets into hostile motor roads: they mistook the Highways Agency motorway design manual for an instruction book for city streets.

If you’re not familiar with CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, they were a Department for Culture Media and Sport quango full of architects whose main purpose was to understand the ways that architecture and the built environment impact on our lives, and to apply that understanding to reviewing nationally-significant construction projects and planning applications — iconic new buildings, large developments, important public spaces.  Created in 1999, they are partly to thank for the more positive trends of the last decade.  They did their best to hold back the worst excesses of out-of-town barn retail sprawl, and to establish a fashion for new public spaces and squares and streets and bridges that prioritise people over the movement of vehicles, as in the redevelopment of the old industrial waterside areas of Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester, and Gateshead.

CABE was cut in the bonfire of the quangos, and, in the name of economic growth and people power [er, are you sure it can be both? -Ed], Eric Pickles and George Osborne have relaxed government control over development.  But people rarely have the time, money, resources, or expertise to exert much power over development decisions, and even when they do, are easily stepped over by better-resourced councils and corporations.  A new wave of cheap corrugated-sprawl-and-car-park development is on the way.

Street Talks 4: how to build a better street

I’m on the road for a few weeks (don’t worry, I’ve prepared a few posts in advance and instructed my cobloggers), so before I go, here is your reminder of the next from Street Talks a few weeks early: Andrew Cameron will talk about designing streets for living in — how to has been done wrong and how it should be done right.  Andrew is director of urban design at the architecture and transport engineering consultancy WSP, and contributor to modern street design guidelines, like the recent Manual for Streets.  As you can imagine, there will be some amount of nerdy details, and slides depicting things like cycle path design.  But it’s about more than that.  You should find out why council highway engineers have spent five decades building absurd race tracks through our neighbourhoods and city centres.

It’s on Tues 14th June — make a note, set a reminder (or join the mailing list for one) — at the usual time and place, upstairs in The Yorkshire Grey on Theobalds Road / Grays Inn Road.  Bar open from 6 for good beer and good food, talk around 7ish.

If you missed the previous ones, the audio and slides are available here.

Street Talk 3: Moving towards a healthier city

Guys, just another reminder before you cut off all communications and jump on a train to the wilderness for the weekend: time has flown and there’s just a week to go before the next Street Talk.

Harry Rutter, public health physician and director of the National Obesity Observatory, is talking about the health consequences of sedentary lifestyles, and how transport and development policies affect those lifestyle choices.  The unique combination of academic fields in his CV will tell you how much this talk will appeal to AWWTM readers.

It’s at the usual time and place, The Yorkshire Grey, on Wednesday 4th May.  Talk at 7, doors open at 6 for drinks, food and chat.  Full details on the Movement blog.

Street Talk 2: cycling revolutions

This is just another reminder that tomorrow, April 12, Jim Davis from The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club and the nascent Cycling Embassy of Great Britain will join us upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey on the corner of Theobald’s Road and Grays Inn Road for the second in the series of Street Talks.  He’ll be talking about mass cycling and the “revolutions” that are designed to achieve it — those that are working and those that are not.

More importantly, the pub does good food and real ales and ciders.  Bar opens at 6, with a talk around 7.

Now, do I do a Dave Warnock and spend the day cycling the 220km back to London?

The Boris Cable Car

This evening, Tom from BorisWatch will review London’s transport policies over the years since the city got its elected leadership back in 2000.  It’s at The Yorkshire Grey on Theobalds Road / Grays Inn Road (doors open 6pm, talk sometime around 7ish).  Hopefully I’ll see some of you there.

So I thought this afternoon I would mention what is probably my own favourite example of transport policy from our current mayor is the Boris Cable Car (as I want it to forever be known and remembered).

The idea for The Mayor’s Cable Car originally came from a report highlighted by Green AM Darren Johnson in 2008.  The report was making a variety of suggestions for potential solutions to the perceived need for additional crossing points — especially for road vehicles — in the east of the city.  (I haven’t examined how real that need is, but the area is in the middle of extensive redevelopment with massive residential and commercial construction, and there has long been problems with the way the north and south circular routes feed traffic into the area.)

Boris clearly loved the idea: unlike a boring road bridge or another hidden tunnel, it was big and flamboyant; it was a Boris project.  And he had good reason to like the idea: a cable car is a relatively uncomplicated, reliable, and energy efficient option, given the constraints of that section of the river.

The first reason that the Boris Cable Car is such a perfect example of the mayor’s approach to transport, though, is that it is not a solution to the transport problems or needs of the area.  The cable car could take 2,500 people per hour — equivalent to a well served bus route — between the Dome and ExCel.  While those attractions are going to get more development around them, it’s not obvious that the demand is or ever will be great for this very specific journey, and the journey does not even really make sense as a stage integrated into any obvious longer journey.  Most importantly, it doesn’t solve the supposed lack of river crossing supply here: the demand is from road vehicles that are fed into the area on the north and south circular routes, and which then have to wait at the Woolwich Ferry bottleneck, or navigate their way to the Blackwall Tunnels.  Either more road crossing supply is needed — and a bridge near Woolwich has long been on highways department wishlists — or demand on these roads needs to be cut.  And the under-served demand here is for longer distance movement of people and goods — things that the Boris Cable Car can’t help with (but which the new DLR, East London Line, and Crossrail crossings might, a little bit).

The second reason that the cable car so perfectly represents the mayor’s transport policy is that when he first adopted the idea, he promised that it would be entirely privately funded, cost the taxpayer nothing, and be open in time for the Olympics.  A private developer would build and operate it, making their investment back with fares, etc.  But of course the estimate for construction soon jumped from £25 million to £40 million, and, given the capacity and average level of demand for the crossing, it had no chance of ever making a worthwhile investment opportunity.  Then people started talking about more realistic timeframes.  Even before the idea was dropped, the mayor had started spending taxpayers’ money.  The mayor has now promised several times that transport projects would be privately funded — the best he could do was Barclays’ fraction (less than a fifth, if I remember correctly) of the bike hire cost.

Like the bike hire scheme, the Boris Cable Car is a delightful idea but it’s not a significant transport solution.  These projects give the impression of making brilliant revolutionary changes without actually having to do so, and without actually solving the everyday transport problems that make millions of people miserable.  It’s a conspicuous and media-friendly big engineering distraction while London’s existing transport infrastructure — like the East London river crossings at Woolwich, Blackwall, Greenwich, Rotherhithe, and on the Jubilee Line — are left closed for days.

It’s only a shame that it was dropped (and surely it will be quietly forgotten now that it can’t be cited in the re-election campaign) for such a ludicrous reason — the campaign against City Airport expansion (which is a good cause) pointed out that the cable car intruded into the airport’s “crash zone” and could therefore be hit by a crashing plane.  Like the mayor himself, his cable car would have been flamboyant, albeit, not widely useful.

Street Talk

I was watching Newsnight the other day, and the leader of the UK Uncut movement came on to describe how the protests came about: “a bunch of us were down the pub, and we thought, ‘why not?'”

That’s what happens when you get people together in pubs.  Nothing happens just by watching Newsnight — nobody leaps out of their armchair and takes action.

So I leaped out of my armchair and did something about it: I decided that we need a forum, a forum where we could drink and argue, and have those “why not?” moments.

Probably my favourite thing about London is the great variety of drink tanks that have appeared in recent years.  One of my favourites is Skeptics In The Pub — the monthly pub event that, in addition to being interesting and entertaining, has helped inspire countless blogs and podcasts and even several “mainstream media” books and columns, and which spawned campaigns including libel reform and 10:23.  Put a bunch of passionate and intelligent people together in a pub and stuff happens.

Sorry, pathos over.  It’s just an excuse to go to the pub with some interesting people, plus a short talk from an expert speaker to give you something to talk about.

So ours is called Street Talks.  Basically, it’s about transport and the built environment — the places we live and the policies which affect them — with a heavy and unavoidable London bias.  Tom Barry, editor of the brilliant Boriswatch, is our first speaker, on Tuesday 8th March at The Yorkshire Grey.  A hardcore transport nerd, Tom not only “reads through TfL Board minutes so you don’t have to,” he even keeps an eye on the TfL traffic cams to document the traffic jams created by Philip Hammond’s removal of the M4 bus lane — I’m very happy he agreed to give us a “State of The City Address” to kick things off.  Later in the year we have Jim Davis from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, Andrew Cameron, author of the new government guidance for street design Manual For Streets, and, soon to be confirmed, several other experts from across much the same spectrum of topics as are covered on this blog.

The Yorkshire Grey is on Grays Inn Road/Clerkenwell Road, a short walk from King’s Cross, Farringdon, or Chancery Lane.  There’s a hire bike station on Nothington Street, the next side street up GIR.  You don’t need to book, and we ask only for a quid to help cover the speaker’s costs.

There’s a blog and/or a mailing list that you can subscribe to for updates on events, and a facebook page where you can tell us that you’re coming, if you like.

Massive thanks to Mark, ndru, Dawn, the speakers, and people who don’t even exist on the internet for helping make it happen.