Wednesday, 2 December 2009

OVERCROWDED COVENT GARDEN - DLR TO THE RESCUE?

Covent Garden tube station, on the Piccadilly Line, is amongst the last of central London's stations with lift/stairs access only. ie. escalators have not been installed. To do so would be very difficult due to building limitations in the area.  Lifts offer much reduced station access compared to escalators which move larger numbers of people more quickly between etrance and platform. The old station finds itself inadequate to cope with the demand it faces from tourists visiting the Covent Garden Piazza and Market, especially at weekends and in summertime. Until recently the station became exit only at weekends to cope with this demand spike. New lifts have eased this. Leicester Square is not too far away, so returning passengers were directed to walk the 260m to the next station. Incidentally this is the shortest interstation distance on the London Underground network. TfL hope to install a new exit to the station which will help even more.




Passenger journeys (entries and exits) at Covent garden tube station in recent years.

This may be enough to increase the station's capacity. There is another possibility, from an unlikely direction. The DLR, Docklands Light Railway has been expanding apace in recent years. New links to Stratford iand Dagenham Dock are due to open soon and one of the next projects in the pipeline is an extension from Bank to Charing Cross in the heart of the West End. It has even been suggested it might continue on to Victoria! Well, it could be said the DLR stopped being a light railway with the introduction of three car trains. Perhaps it's not a Docklands railway any more either.

The extension would make use of the old Jubilee Line tunnels which overran from Charing Cross along the Strand as far as Fleet Street, part of the planned 'Fleet Line' which did not transpire. In the end the line terminated at Charing Cross. The tunnels, if used, would require enlargement to DLR guage. Passing along the Strand as it would, the line presents us with an interesting opportunity.

How the DLR extension to Charing Cross might look on the Tube Map. In this form it would do nothing to help Covent Garden.

It has been mooted that the line provide interchange at City Thameslink (sensibly) and also a station at the site of Aldwych station (terminus of a Piccadilly Line branch line from Holborn, now closed).

However, it would be possible to provide a station in addition to, or instead of Aldwych, further down the Strand opposite Southampton Row. This would be very close to Covent Garden Piazza (about 200m) and be almost as useful to the area as the current Covent Garden station. The map below indicates 300m radius catchments of the stations in the vicinity, existing and potential.



Station catchments around Covent Garden. Strand DLR station (at centre) would provide an excellent alternative to Covent Garden.
 
Naming the station "Strand (Covent Garden)" or somesuch would encourage the tourist, unfamiliar with London, to use the station as a Convent Garden alternative. In effect it fulfills the function of a Covent Garden station expansion.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

THE LIVERPOOL GAPS MAP

Following an idea from here:

Here is a map displaying catchment circles and gaps in Merseyside's Merseyrail system. The catchment circles are of 600m and 1000m radius.


Note the close spacing of stations in Liverpool and Birkenhead city centres and large areas around Liverpool city centre which have no station. Is this where planners perceive the distance into town is too short to warrant a train journey? Note also the various agglomerations of closely located stations with overlapping catchments.

Merseyrail is a perplexing beast. Neither true metro, nor true suburban network, somewhere in between. In the centre it displays characteristics of any classical metro system, with frequent train spacings; further out it is a suburban/provincial commuter railway like any other. Its stock is electric, but of a regular type 508 found all over Britain's provincial and suburban railways.

Particularly, the neglect of inner city Liverpool in its catchment rather rules out its usefulness as a metro to a large extent. Particularly this bias toward the outer extremities means it might best be compared to the RER routes in France or the S-bahn systems in Germany and elsewhere.

What could make Merseyrail a true metro?

1. Lighter rolling stock. I don't mean lower capacity but a 'light rail' rolling stock, say like DLR, with faster acceleration and braking. would give a different image to the network and define it as separate.

2. More lines. There is potential to reopen sections of tunnel and surface line in Liverpool. Around the inner city this could provide a more metro-type service.

3. More stations. As the gaps map shows, there are plenty of spots that might benefit from a station.

4. Segregation. Various sections of Merseyrail currently use shared track and overlap with mainline services.  The distinction needs to be made.

5. Autonomy. Complete autonomy of operation and ticketing, under the control of Merseyside Council.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

GREEN BELTS UNDER THREAT - WHAT TO DO?


'Green belts' seemed to be a good idea, to prevent the inexorable outward sprawl of our cities, particularly the so-called 'ribbon' developments that began in the '30s. In the UK, with our propensity for low-density, low-rise housing, our already very sprawling cities would have been even more flacid. We may have the greenbelt policy to thank that we still have countryside within easy reach of our cities.

However the very idea of the greenbelt is not seen as all that expedient any more, since we have a need for many thousands of new homes, according to government figures. Many areas of greenbelt are being designated as essentially 'up for grabs', around London, Nottingham, West Midlands and northern cities.

Read about it here:
http://www.cpre.org.uk/campaigns/pla...-cpre-is-doing

This is not good news. We cherish our green and pleasant land, or what is left of it. General concensus is that vast sprawling suburbs do not make such wonderful places to live anyway. So couldn't our cities absorb the extra housing need and grow 'from within'? Well the government is saying that even if we do use all the 'brownfield' sites in our cities we would still not have enough room for the needed housing.

New long distance transport schemes are not going to help the situation either. London's Crossrail, for instance will make Maidenhead and Shenfield relatively more attractive to live in than Wandsworth or Homerton. Ironically outlying suburbs and domitories will have better transport than many parts of inner city London, a stone's throw from the commercial centres, especially south London as we all know. Should our transport policy not be contributing to encouraging the 're-habitation' of our inner cities and discouraging the 'flight to the suburbs' as started in the early decades of the 20th century?



Suburban Leeds: this is what city-living currently means for most English. An unsustainable dream?


Schemes such as extending the tube lines south of the river (but not too far out), reopening some of the closed inner city stations, such as have been discussed on other threads (York Road, South Kentish Town among them); or capitalising on some of the existing lines that have low station densities (the JLE for example) could all make the inner city more accessible and attractive to residents. Why live in Camberwell when you can get to work quicker from Maidenhead? Maidenhead is currently experiencing a building boom in anticipation of this. Camberwell, to my knowledge, is not. Something our new subterranean stations need not do is take up surface space. New stations at Shepherd's Bush, Canada Water, Bermondsey and Wood Lane wantonly waste their 'air-rights' on fairly unnecessary station buildings. Land that could be used for residential dwellings.

Another aspect of the problem is that England has never had much of a civic culture. I say England, not the UK, because it can be argued that Scotland has. With some exceptions our cities have been founded on rapid industrialisation, with an ungainly mass urbanisation of a predominantly rural people who were fond of their privacy. The English are best at relating to the village, not so much the city. The village is somewhere to live, the city somewhere to work. And our settlements reflect that. Extensive village-like residential suburbs surround compact, self-conscious city centres. We have some truly wonderful villages in England, and some truly appalling cities. The 'we don't do cities' problem is a paradox. The more reluctant we are to engage in the urban, the more unpleasant our cities become, which fuels an exodus, which feeds back to greater neglect. Large villages do not great cities make. If we take the example of Paris, the RER (Crossrail equivalent) was intended precisely to allow Paris to grow. It achieved this, but it never led to a depopulation of Paris, because it's just a nice place to live. Such a scenario in London is harder to imagine.

Many recent attempts at urban residential spaces have been ungainly, crippled by the privacy expedient, retiring just before becoming truly part of the urban fabric, behind some 'semi-private space', a hedge, wall, a cul-de-sac or some pastiche pastoral architecture that just doesn't wash, conscious of the unpleasant side of 1960s high-density development and keen to avoid any association. Our suburbs were the attempt to reconstruct the village in the town, and our inner city developments have attempted to reconstruct the suburb in the city centre. 


Nottingham terrace houses: high-density housing (compared to a country lane)

Our aristocracy is one of the sectors of our class-ridden (yes, it is) society that is different. Perhaps spoiled by magnificent country retreats, perhaps just wealthy enough to obtain any comfort, their approach to city life is rather different, and some of the more salubrious areas of west London reflect this. Here, London meets Paris, Vienna and St. Petersburg on their own terms. But the elegant Victorian pied-a-terre is the legacy of the bourgeois flanneur, not the mainstay of the proletariat. To the aristocracy, as with most things, the normal rules do not apply. At the other extreme is the low-income council tenant. Shoved onto cheap, avant-garde or just downright experimental estates after slum clearances and nazi bombs, theirs have become amongst the most detested housing schemes in all our history. The two experiences are utterly different, the one too often used to discredit the other.


Things have been changing. Richard Rogers coined the term 'densification' way back, as the new expedient for urban planning. New schemes tend to be more mature, oftentimes contributing contextually to the urban space. Principles such as building up to the pavement, continuing frontages, shared gardens, underground parking and decent heights (4, 5, 6 storey) make for a truly urban residential environment, as has been commonplace on the continent for a long time, where the idea of the city is much more naturally accepted. Even our provincial towns are following suit, with Manchester leading the way in mill and warehouse conversions. Such schemes remain popular with 30-somethings, singles and childless couples. They have yet to wholly win over the core unit of society, the middle-income family.


Modern mid-rise apartment building in Manchester: it meets the pavement, continues the street frontage, is on a human scale and has fairly attractive design. It contributes to the urban space and houses lots of people...


Compare some approximate population densities of cities abroad and in England:

Manhattan 27,500/km2
L.A. (city) 3,200/km2
Paris 25,000/km2 (including bois de boulogne and bois de vincennes)
Barcelona 16,500/km2
Stockholm 4,400/km2
Brussels 6,700/km2
Athens 7,600/km2
Naples 8,200/km2
Berlin 3,850/km2
Moscow 9,700/km2
Melbourne 1,600/km2 

Greater London 4,800/km2
Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea 13,000/km2 (highest in UK)
Borough of Brent 6,300/km2
City of Westminster 11,000/km2
City of Nottingham 3,700/km2
City Borough of Salford 2,200/km2
Metropolitan Borough of Manchester 3,800/km2
Bristol 3,600/km2
Newcastle on Tyne 2,400/km2
Liverpool (Borough & City) 4,200/km2

What is clear is that many of our cities have densities that hover a little over that of L.A. - i.e. not dense at all. The most densely inhabited piece of Gt. Britain is Kensington and Chelsea which is approaching comparison with some of the denser world cities, such as Paris and Manhattan, although these in turn will have neighbourhoods of even greater density. The 11th arrondissement of Paris, for example, achieves a staggering 41,600/km2. Melbourne seems downright negligent by comparison but the Australians do enjoy the one luxury we can't afford - space!




A typical Parisian street: high density and high desirability

What is the point of all this? Well, that we do have legroom. Our cities are not overcrowded. Anyone who tells you otherwise needs to spend less time in Chipping Sodbury and more time in Chicago. But how can we roll up acres of old low-rise and start again at higher densities? It doesn't seem that simple, especially since mostly these properties are privately-owned and the owners are quite happy. What is worth keeping and what isn't will have us divided. The horror estates can disappear and not be missed but some streets, no matter how derelict, will accrue sentimental value amongst their residents and they will be kicking and screaming to keep them. Such is the case in Salford, where decaying terraces are the subject of a rescue-or-raze debate, even though the type is extremely common, and was never wonderful in its prime. Add to this an element of suspicion. Quite understandably really, since the last time someone came along promising a bright new future all they got were monstrous windswept tower blocks. With the lessons of the 60s learned, however, we are hopefully ready to come up with decent solutions. Let us not swing the pendulum back the other way and replace these mistakes with suburbanised versions of the same thing. We can avoid the mistakes of the past, build on the successes and not have to produce schemes that pretend to be what they are not.



Amsterdam's Scheepstimmermanstraat: mid-rise, quasi-organic, probably more appealing to the English palate...

It needs to be organic. The conditions have to be right. i.e. for your roses to grow big and tall you need to water them regularly, leave them against a sunny south facing wall, in fertile compost, sheltered from breeze, give them a dose of horse manure every winter, and trim off the dead heads.


...and a similar idea in Copenhagen.


The equivalent in building terms is going to be: service provision (schools, hospitals, roads, play space for the kids, integrated off-street parking etc.); transport - it has to be feasible to get to work quickly; economic incentives (we can't cripple people with council tax and water rates), and some sort of tax exemption for improving/making best use of a site; great architecture (makes great places to live - let's throw open competitions); law (a last resort - but to make sure opportunities are not wasted, eg. in Salford (population density lower than Los Angeles!), derelict terraces should be bulldozed, not restored; place a moratorium on 'suburban' style development in inner cities. Simply, we have to make our cities so darn appealing to live in that people will literally be climbing over themselves to live in them.

And how to avoid that perennial bugbear in urban design, bland uniformity? In Amsterdam, the architect Adriaan Geuze demonstrated a promising principle with Scheepstimmermanstraat. He divided the street into 60 plots and then allowed (admittedly well-heeled) residents to design their own homes. The only constraints were the dimensions. If you can allow complete freedom within certain rigid boundaries the overall effect - harmony with diversity creates an engaging, pleasant urban space. How to extrapolate that principle over a large scale and with a lower budget? Well, you just have to set the parameters, and give various portions of a brief to different contractors to interpret, and insist on an architect being involved - the same one who submitted the brief for approval in the first place! A modicum of good taste in the planning departments would be no bad thing either.

The final, and perhaps greatest hurdle is the British people themselves, and particularly the middle-income family who traditionally inhabit the semis and terraces of suburbia and dormitory towns and whose aspiration is nothing more (nothing less) than a two-floor house with a private garden. Currently they are badly let down. Our new housing stock is the pokiest in Europe and prices are overinflated by the shortage of available land, itself partly a product of greenbelt policy. In these conditions construction quality is poor and builders are only employing architects as a last resort. Anything sells! The same applies to new city centre apartments.


Until this changes convincing them that an urban lifestyle can fulfill their aspirations will be hard. Ironically, it may be tearing up the green belt rules and ending the 'land shortage' which will do it, leading to lower house prices, greater competition among builders, and an increase in both size and quality, in both city and suburb. But balancing that with the pressure to sprawl outwards is going to be a challenge. The suburban aspiration is pretty much hard-wired.

Approximately 1.7m new Londoners are expected to arrive in the coming years, many from abroad. It may be these immigrants who lead the way in our urban renaissance, with a greater cultural appreciation of the city life. They may even teach us that  final goal - civic pride - for people to love their city as much as the Parisians do, and want to live there, rather than continue the inexorable chain of exodus, new development and exodus again. We will know we have achieved this when the Maidenheads stagnate and the Camberwells boom.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

CITY HALL FINALLY CALLS IN THE SPANIARDS

Well, someone did hear my prayers. The London Assembly has finally eaten humble pie and admitted it needs help. They also followed some of my advice and went to the Managing Director of Madrid Metro. Just the man. Read about it here.

The problem is the Jubilee line closures which have been plaguing weekend services for months. Need new glasses - go to Specsavers; chipped windscreen - ask Autoglass Subway not working - ask a Spaniard. They really do know.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

NEW "CITY LINE" PROPOSAL

The City Line would be a new line created by joining two existing ones: the Waterloo & City line and the Northern City Line; and one closed line - the Great Northern section between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace.


The idea is not new. In 1913, the Metropolitan Railway (MR) purchased the GN&CR (Great Northern and City Railway) and revived a plan to extend the Northern City Line southward to a terminus at Lothbury in the City as part of a number of plans to connect the GN&CR to the Waterloo & City Railway (W&CR) and the Metropolitan Railway itself. When the Metropolitan Railway Act, 1913 was passed neither of the proposals for connections were permitted, but Lothbury station was allowed, as the terminus station. In 1914, The MR introduced revised proposals for its connections between the GN&CR and the MR and W&CR which removed the need for a station at Lothbury. Although these connections were never made, the Lothbury station idea was not revived again.

In the 1930s London Underground unveiled an ambitious scheme of new projects called the New Works Programme. Amongst several new routes was an extension to the Northern City Line from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace. The track already existed and operated a steam driven service. The existing line from Moorgate  to Finsbury Park was integrated into the Northern Line and preliminary work began but post-war austerity eventually led to the scheme being scrapped in the 1950s. The track was torn up and the service dropped altogether.

More recently the Green Party has proposed that the Northern City Line be connected to the Waterloo & City line to create a new cross-London heavy rail route, something akin to the Crossrail scheme. The core section of the route would be from Finsbury Park to Clapham Junction via Moorgate, Bank and Waterloo, with a new connection at Blackfriars. Through services could then run from Welwyn Garden City and Hertford North to destinations like Hounslow, Richmond, Shepperton, Kingston and Weybridge. It would retain the aspect of a mainline railway.

 Existing infrastructure for this proposal was clearly evident on 1946 tube maps.

This proposal is to, similarly, link up the two lines as proposed by the Metropolitan Railway, Lothbury station notwithstanding,  and in addition connect to the Great Northern stretch from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace. However, in this instance it would be a  "tube" line, operated by London Underground.  It would certainly be preferrable to expand the bore of the tunnels  to allow larger  than standard profile trains, however the cost of such an undertaking might well rule it out. It is worth mentioning also that the platform alignments on the Waterloo & City line at both Waterloo and Bank are unsuitable for this scheme and the line would require new spurs and platforms at either end for a suitable alignment.

Extensions northward and southward are envisaged. In the north, to run from the original terminator tunnels at Finsbury Park (not the surface platforms currently being used) via the old 'Northern Heights' route (which is mostly in cutting and unobstructed), through rebuilt station sites at Stroud Green and Crouch End, interchange at Highgate, before plunging into tunnel under Queens Wood to a new underground station at Muswell Hill and on to Alexandra Palace for interchange with National Rail. The line could then terminate at Wood Green where it would meet the Piccadilly Line. 

The southward section from  Waterloo would require a substantial new tunnel via Battersea, Clapham Junction, Wandsworth and Roehampton, all areas never reached by the Underground before. New stations could be incorporated on the existing stretches, at the South bank/Tate Modern and at New North Road.


The scheme does of course require alternative routing for mainline services from Hertfordshire currently terminating at Moorgate. The surface platforms at Finsbury Park would still be usable and Kings Cross or St. Pancras would seem to be the logical alternative.


What this proposal would give would be a very useful link through the City of London, connecting many 'new' neighbourhoods screaming for tube services, such as  Muswell Hill, Crouch End, Battersea, Wandsworth, Roehampton University, with the added bonus of serving entertainment venues on the South Bank, Battersea Power Station and the new Arsenal football stadium.


Of the 26 envisaged stations, interchange would be achieved at:


- Wood Green (Piccadilly Line)
- Alexandra Palace (National Rail)
- Highgate (Northern Line)
- Finsbury Park (Piccadilly, Victoria, National Rail)
- Highbury & Islington (Victoria, Overground)
- Old Street (Northern)
- Moorgate (Circle, H&C, Metropolitan, Northern)
- Bank (Central, DLR, Northern)
- Waterloo (Jubilee, Northern, Bakerloo, National Rail)
- Vauxhall (Victoria, National Rail)
- Battersea Park (National Rail)
- Clapham Junction (Overground, National Rail)
- East Putney (District)




Development phases are envisaged thus:
  1. Tunneling of new link between Moorgate and Bank, incorporating new N-S aligned Bank platforms.
  2. Tunnel widening, Waterloo-Bank.
  3. Platform lengthening, Waterloo.
  4. Exit tunnel from Finsbury Park northbound onto the disused Northern Heights route.
  5. Construction of stations: Stroud Green, Crouch End, New North road, South Bank/Tate Modern
  6. Rerouting mainline trains from NCL to Kings Cross/St. Pancras.
  7. City Line opens, Highgate high level - Waterloo.
  8. Northbound tunnel to Muswell Hill and Alexandra Palace.
  9. South west extension to Roehampton via Battersea.
And if it all looks too expensive, I would ask this guy how to do it...

ADDENDUM: as of late 2010, this scheme to extend the Northern Line to Battersea would potentially conflict with this plan. Appetite for another line through this part of Battersea is likely to be very low if the Northern Line extension is carried out. The Nothern Line plan does miss an opportunity however, in stopping the line at Nine Elms. A relatively simple extension of the line a couple of stops west would carry it to Clapham Junction. Experience shows that short and simple extensions of this type are rarely carried out afterwards and of course, cost far more to do in two phases.