Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘London

Place Without Cars

with 2 comments

24th August 2017

This picture was submitted to a Flickr group I created called Places Without Cars. It is without doubt the picture that I have been most pleased to see in the submissions. Fortunately the user (who goes by the sobriquet “Cheesyfeet” but still requires attribution) has a Creative Commons license on this picture.

He says:

“Bank Junction, right in the middle of the City of London.

This is on my long cycle home and you’ll notice no cars. Bank Junction is buses and cycles only, mon-fri, 7am to 7pm and it’s ace!”

He also uses Strava and provides a link which identifies him and the route he uses. Like me he is an Essex lad!

This picture was taken by Dave A Flett in the 1970’s in roughly the same spot – actually the street to the left in the original picture

London in the 1970's

(I am just posting a link, not taking a copy of the image)

City of London

Of this image the poster, Leonard Bentley, says

An early 1920s scene at the Bank in the City of London, a seemingly bemused elderly lady in a place she should not have been. The Bank junction is still one of the busiest in central London, traffic comes at you from all directions.

The Royal Exchange, City of London

By Paul Murray in 2014

Heart of the City of London

By Swire Chin in 2007

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 2.58.51 PM From The Telegraph in the 1950s – and how I remember it.

By the way in searching for these images I have learned that the closure is an 18 month experiment. I hope it is made permanent!

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 3.07.56 PM

Threadneedle Street – in front of the Bank of England – is not labeled on this screencap from Google maps. The top picture was taken from in front of Mansion House looking east.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2017 at 3:12 pm

Cities in motion: transport is as key to urban character as buildings or accents

with 7 comments

I have been very pleased to see the Guardian add a section on Cities, and I am finding the articles posted there very informative. For instance Alex Steffen writing about affordability  and his prescription – build lots of houses. This morning there is a wide reaching review of how transportation defines cities which is written by Colin Marshall who hails from Seattle and thinks London is defined by The Tube. It is an easy mistake for an American to make, and is about as misguided as a Londoner thinking that New York is defined by its subway. He does have a very interesting overview and a wide range of samples, and makes some good points. But both London (and New York) rely very heavily on a much wider network than their inner urban mass transit systems.

The tube, in London, serves mostly the northwestern quadrant – as is apparent from Harry Beck’s geographically distorted diagram. This is the original from the 1930’s. Bank Station – at the centre of the City is over to the right. Note the position of the Thames relative to most of the network.  The District Line through East London is not shown as a line, merely a list of stations.

The historical reason for this is that the mainline railway that served this quadrant was initially not very interested in operating suburban services as it made much more money from long distance trains. Including boat trains to Liverpool that connected to liners to New York, as well as the premium Scottish expresses. The tube was originally built by entrepreneurs looking to make money, and what they found was that the short lines under the central area were not long enough to be profitable and cost a great deal to construct. The companies became profitable when they extended out into the fields which could then be built over with houses for commuters. The first underground line (The Metropolitan Railway) was extended in tunnels to Wembley and then out to Amersham and beyond on the surface. Many of the connections into Central London were made by tacking existing branch lines onto the tube. In Beck’s map above the Central Line stops at Liverpool Street. The service now goes out far into Essex on former GE branch lines – and a new tube under Wanstead built just before the war and uncompleted in 1939 which became a factory until hostilities ceased.

There is only one tube line through South London (the Northern Line). That is because the Southern Railway and its antecedents had much less long distance traffic but were early adopters of electrification for the dense network of lines that radiate out from the series of terminals built to serve both the City (to the East) and the West End. The even built their own tube to connect Waterloo to the City (known as the drain and only relatively recently incorporated into the Underground network).

The main line railways were not allowed to build into the City itself, and were kept in a ring along City Road (under which the Met was built). For the Great Eastern (the same company that built what became to be BC Rail) the need for a larger terminal nearer the City meant they wanted to redevelop a notorious slum called the Jago. As a condition of being allowed to demolish that warren of extremely dense – and very unhealthy – housing, they had to provide workmen’s fares at low cost to allow the displaced to relocate to new suburbs in places like Walthamstow and Leytonstone.

London began to sprawl long before there were motorcars. Development stretched out into the country along the railway lines, railway stations became the centre of towns that grew up around them. In the interwar period with the construction of new faster roads for cars and as unemployment relief – the Great West Road, Eastern Avenue – this development started filling in. Instead of the “beads on a string” pattern of the railway towns, there was “ribbon development’. In the period when people were tasked with thinking out what would happen to London after the Luftwaffe were stopped from flattening so much of it, the idea was to prevent this continuous urban area by specifying a Green Belt. The current boundary of Greater London lies within that Green Belt, which marks the limits of how far the ribbons of sprawl had reached by 1939. Post war there were to have been New Towns, that would be both free standing and self sufficient – providing employment to reduce the need for commuting. That did not work out. Basically the suburbs leapt over the Green Belt and kept on going. Boxmoor (see below) is in Hemel Hempstead – near the station – and has a very fast service into Euston that I used to commute on just before I left for Toronto.

underground111.jpg

One of the stupidest decisions made by the self serving Governor of New Jersey was cancelling the railway tunnel that would have relieved congestion between New Jersey and midtown Manhattan. Penn Station (now hidden beneath Madison Square Garden) is not just the busiest in New York – it is one of busiest passenger terminals in North America. Grand Central is not far behind. Manhattan lies at the heart of a huge megalopolis and depends on railway services to the surrounding region. It would be impossible for the downtown towers to work as employment centres if those people all tried to drive to work. Though Robert Moses did his best to try and accomplish that.

FDR Drive

FDR Drive midtown Manhattan
my picture on flickr

In both Central London and Manhattan most of the people there during the day got there on trains. In the case of London those trains come from an ever widening ring of urban areas – as train speeds have been increased and services improved. I used to think that getting a seat for a 25minute ride into Waterloo so that I could read on my commute was about optimal. Many others travel further and longer. Lord Olivier famously commuted from Brighton (about an hour – and at one time you could get kippers for breakfast on a Pullman train).  Those commuters might need to add a short tube ride from a terminal like Paddington (as you will need to if you decide to use Heathrow Express to get into town from the airport) or Liverpool Street. The current construction of CrossRail is designed to reduce the congestion on that route.

For many people the tube is something to avoid. You do not have to suffer from claustrophobia to find the crowding and depth of the station platforms a deterrent. Fortunately there are always alternatives. In fact in Central London it is nearly always quicker to walk than travel between adjacent stations – or even three or four stops. Especially if a change of lines is needed. The need for a rapid increase in transit capacity created by the congestion charge lead to a huge improvement in bus services. For visitors, I would recommend that using a combination of Boris Bikes, buses and walking is going to be a much nicer experience than the tube – especially at Rush Hour (actually several hours).

When I wrote this I had not seen this article in The Independent ” twice as many people ride the bus each day as the Tube” by the Labour spokesperson on infrastructure.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 17, 2014 at 10:32 am

Underground tourism

with 2 comments

Globe and Mail

A not very serious story from the travel section that claims “There’s no better way for travellers to tap into a city’s real centre than hopping on a subway.”

Actually I disagree. And I am a train enthusiast, and I always use subways – or rapid transit – when I can. But they are not “the real centre” – and they are remarkably similar in most respects. Though, of course, like all train geeks we obsess about the detail differences that I am sure the rest of the world is unaware of. For instance the Hollywood film industry regularly tries to pass off the TTC as NYCTA.

In London, the dank tiled stations resemble defunct psychiatric institutions, cruel mazes of narrow tunnels and long flammable escalators. (Martin Amis’s novel Success depicts someone afflicted with a fully rational fear of entering this troglodytic pit.)

No, this is only applicable to a few older stations. The “flammable escalators” were all taken out and replaced after the Kings Cross fire. Yes there are labyrinthine passages but mostly for changing trains (“transfers” in Amerispeak) but Paris exceeds London in these. The stations have been mostly modernised and some (like Baker Street on the original Metropolitan Railway which gave its name to all the imitators in other cities) have been very nicely restored. What is really striking (in comparison to, say, Edmonton) is the amount of advertising on the Undergound – and the posters have always been the major way to while away the time on a platform or escalator. Though I noticed on my last trip that the number of bra adverts on the escalators seems to have fallen foul of the feministas.

The new Jubilee Line through the docklands has some very impressive stations

Southwark Station Jubilee Line 2002_0804

Harry Beck’s iconic diagram of the Underground, a classic of 20th-century graphic design, indicates the scope of this challenge [to visit every station]. This map is not the territory; it is not even a map. Beck’s diagram does not pretend to correspond accurately to the city’s geography.

And is one reason why I advise tourists not to be guided by it. If you follow that diagram you can be making long journeys on several trains when it would be quicker to walk or take a bus. Even the famous pop song based on the underground (“Finchley Central is two and sixpence, from Golders Green change at Camden Town”) looks sensible on Beck’s diagram but is stupid as there is a much more direct route on the surface.

The tube from Heathrow to Central London is the cheapest way to travel – but the route is deliberately indirect. It was built by a property developer intent on maximising the number of semidetached houses he could get near to. Heathrow Express and the cheaper (and not much slower) Heathrow Connect only get you as far as Paddington, whereas the Piccadilly Line crosses the centre from south west to north east serving most major destinations and has interchanges with more of the other underground lines. But if you get to choose an airport, Gatwick may be further out but is quicker to get through than Heathrow and has direct non stop surface train service to Victoria. Of course, a lot of the suburban bits of the Underground are on the surface too: the original tube lines could not make enough money, so they either built – or more often took over – existing branch lines on the surface into the newly developing suburbs. Usually the trains arrived long before most of the people.

For tourists wanting to see the sights, walking, cycling or using the regular bus is usually the best option. In Paris velib would be my first choice now. Buses are not well integrated with the Metro, but in any event buy a ticket that gives you freedom to travel for however many days you plan to stay. You can still get a carnet of tickets but they are poor value by comparison. In London get an Oyster card. In either city the river boats are also essential – but in London they are better integrated with the rest of the system. Paris is also better connected to its airports by RER (a regional system of  fast electric trains) – but baggage can be a problem if you are not young and fit thanks to the barriers at stations.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 22, 2008 at 9:38 am

Posted in transit

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