What Makes Communities go BOOM?

wine in the park


Wine Rides is a means by which people can enjoy a journey to British Vineyards by bike. They get to not only sample wine but also soak up the stunning atmosphere of an ancient landscape. So I am very interested in what different modes of transport offer their users and the communities they pass by.

Last week Elon Musk the founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors gave us a new transport idea: Hyperloop. It is a type of train in a vacuum tube. He estimated it would travel over three times as fast and cost less than a tenth of high speed rail. What a legend.

The fact of the matter is that Musk has taken a look at transport and offered us a way to travel faster than the speed of sound over 400 miles and do it in a journey time of 38 minutes, at a ticket cost of $20.

That is really exciting but I suspect that in London we have already seen a transport system that will do more to change our lives: Exhibition Road in South Kensington is a road with no pavement. Cars and pedestrians mingle together. When that plan was proposed I was hugely skeptical. 22 thousand students study at Imperial, the adjacent university and there are 3 major museums on that road, it seemed crazy.


exhibition road

A couple of years on, Exhibition Road is clearly working and the word is that Oxford Street could be due the same treatment. Personally having seen it work, I would love to see it done near me.

Crystal Palace is the up and coming part of London that I live in. The “triangle” is a concept that describes a one way system; the local estate agents coined the phrase to make the homes at the top of the hill seem more desirable. To be fair to them it has worked. In the three years we have lived here the pubs on all three corners of the triangle have transformed from being quite “film noir” to swanky (mum & child friendly) gastro pubs.

If the triangle became a pedestrianised shopping and dining cluster, that traffic had to creep through at less than 10mph, I am sure the value of my property would shoot up. The pubs and restaurants here are great. The landlord at my local has been on at the Council to see if he can get a zebra crossing from his front door to the other side of the road. He sees people on the inside of the triangle looking over at his establishment and knows he would get many more customers if crossing the chicane of traffic was easier.

This is my community; I don’t see any reason why people passing through in cars should have priority of movement over me. Pedestrianising the triangle but giving cars access like they have successfully done on Exhibition Road would make Crystal Palace the most desirable shopping and dining location in South East London.

We don’t have the Hyperloop here but we are blessed in Palace to have three amazing transport connections: Gipsy Hill station, Crystal Palace train station and the Bus terminus. You don’t need a car to get here at all.

I haven’t seen any numbers but I suspect that the vast majority of the car traffic is passing through. As a result they are creating noise and making the narrow streets of the triangle more hostile and less pleasant without contributing to this community.

Tescos has announced that they are going to start putting restaurant concessions into their larger stores. They are also going to allow community groups, and yoga classes in. That sounds to me like that is re-creating the high street, inside their store.

We are always hearing that these out of town shopping malls are killing the high street. People normally assume that it is because the out of town shopping centres have lots of parking. And they do. But they also have a car free environment once you are in them shopping. I hate a trip to Westfield but I am sure I would hate it even more if people drove their cars through them. What out of town shopping centres do is cleverly get people to drive to them and then demand they leave the car at the other end of a vast car park.

People can get here without their car. If we made Palace a pedestrianised zone it would become a real destination. Footfall is what we want. The idea that lots of parking means people will drive here park and spend money is a nonsense. When you are in the car your attention is on the road. When you are on foot you can discover wonderful little shops. The trick of a profitable shopping district is to get people out of their cars as soon as possible. It’s pretty hard to spend money if there is a car door between your wallet and the till.

If you supply parking you get somewhere like Hammersmith, which let’s face it is a horrible hole. People drive there and go into a huge chain shop with money for advertising. They aren’t looking for local shops. If you focus on public transport and lots of pedestrianised space you get Covent Garden.

Everyone wants to live at the “destination” not on the route. If Hyperloop gets built then I am sure the people who live at the point where the capsules go supersonic and “BOOM” as they break the sound barrier will not be happy. But near the stations at each end, the locals will be delighted.

Personally I think it is time that people in Crystal Palace decided to make the leap and ask that our streets become pedestrianised and we get to be the “destination”.

Wherever you live, I would encourage you to think about the total effect traffic is having on you. We really have to ask, is the noise, and the pollution really benefiting me or are these people off somewhere nicer? You have a right to walk in your community. The act of going from your property to buy a pint of milk shouldn’t require you to risk your life. It is odd that right across middle England the NIMBY’s are protesting HS2. They are entitled to of course. But we city dwellers are just as entitled to say, actually, if you are going to drive past my house, I want you to do it slowly, quietly and safely. If it is good enough for the people of South Ken, then it is good enough for me.

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