Friday 12 November 2010

Vauxhall and its gyratory

There was an impressive turnout at last night's meeting for a prospective Vauxhall BID (Business Improvement District).

The evening was introduced by Val Shawcross, member of the London Assembly for Lambeth and Southwark (and Labour London Assembly Spokesperson for Transport and Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee)  

The first speakers gave what I found to be a waffly and unfocused presentation on the new campus style American Embassy. I was pleased to see a couple of the new sketches of the Embassy and local streets featured people on bikes, while the first images published of the Embassy and its location showed none.

Key points were that the budget doesn't currently extend to the pedestrian and cyclist bridge over the Thames by the Embassy, and that they expect to break ground in 2013 and move in during 2017.

A better presentation was given by John McNulty, Head of Interchange at TfL. His role is to sort out all those places where tube station meets bus station etc. Nearly everything meets at Vauxhall Gyratory so this is certainly his domain!

He emphasised the need for an emphasis on walking and cycling, noting the poor quality of the environment for both pedestrians and cyclists, the fragmented nature of the area for these groups and the very low pedestrian counts.

Unfortunately for these groups the gyratory is felt to function very well in vehicular traffic terms, so he said that it's unlikely to go.

In addition to some railway station changes, he anticipated changes including

in the short term:
- the offside bus lane to be removed from Vauxhall Bridge and replaced with a nearside bus lane;
- a contra-cycle flow on Harleyford Road (though he forgot to mention that Cycling Superhighway 5 will go via the Oval, through/round the gyratory and over Vauxhall Bridge next year, also no mention of quality cycle parking or Boris Bike extension).

He noted the first stage of work on improving the bus interchange had been done in 2004 and that due to the current financial situation the next stage should not be expected to happen for quite a while.

in the medium term:
- 2 way for buses and cyclists only in Parry Street.

The impact of doing some of the changes is modelled to be a 17 - 35% motor traffic reduction in AM and PM peaks. Given that the gyratory is currently felt to be a success in moving loads of motor traffic around, I doubt that they'll be much enthusiasm by the present Mayor and Government to view that kind of impact as a positive thing to go for.

TfL will start creating a public realm strategy in relation to the Vauxhall, Nine Elms, Battersea Opportunity Area Planning Framework. Aspects include:
a) Improved River Walk
b) Road Enhancements
c) Creating a Linear Park from Lambeth Palace Gardens to Battersea Park  (ongoing to 2026!!)
d) Improved links to the river
e) Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge.

He's looking for a better balance between motor transport and pedestrians, however it's up to the Mayor as to how whether and how much he'll accept the impact of reducing motorised transport.

It seems to me that we appear to be stuck with trying to make Vauxhall really pleasant while it remains a mega traffic gyratory. At least I got a chance to push for the area to become the new Amsterdam and also that there is a local desire to see significant urban realm improvements made.

It's worth noting that the company managing the BID process surveyed 90 local businesses and Congestion/Traffic was felt to be a serious or significant issue for 35%, while the largest single issue was Overall Image - 43%.

Asking what the BID could do for the area, 32% felt measures to support cyclists were important, while the largest single issue was having Street Wardens - 43%.

Local thoughts from the ensuing discussions subsequently included:
- Artistic lighting of arches under railway
- Recognise the river is an asset and make the river road a new Soho (Voho!), moving the A road back from the river;
- connect the station with the rest of the area through building modern elevated walkways (citing the architect Jean Nouvel).