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Traffic Calming Postcards from London

Judging by recent comments from some local pols, you'd think the addition of pedestrian spaces and bikeways in New York City has somehow thrown our streets out of whack. But what would our streets look like if we really did balance everyone's needs and made them safe and functional for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists?

In this Streetfilm, you'll see some of the new street designs in London shopping districts and residential neighborhoods. In many cases, these traffic calming treatments -- including raised crosswalks, traffic diverters, and chicanes -- go further than what we've seen in New York City so far. The attention to detail has created a truly balanced street environment, enhancing safety for pedestrians and cyclists while maintaining access for the trucks and cars that need to use the road.

<br> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[intro music]</font> <br> </p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Speaker:</i> [00:05] London’s historic layout of narrow street means that limited road space is a major issue, putting pressure on pedestrians, cyclists, parking and deliveries and driving. Increasingly new street design techniques are being used to maximise the use of the available space while balancing the needs of all users. In Seven Dials, a bustling shopping district, there are various competing demands for the limited space, tourist and shoppers on foot, market traders who need space for their stalls, small businesses needing to receive deliveries, and taxis serving the Cambridge Theatre. Shared space was considered the most flexible way of balancing these demands. Some streets have been pedestrianised completely, others remain open to traffic. But the use of chicanes and the cobbling of the roadway are used to slow speeds. By using intuitive interventions rather than signals to regulate traffic, the historic character of the area is maintained. Another example of intelligent street design is The Cut where transport for London trials many of its new street improvements. The wide pavements, blooming flowers, slow car speeds and bustling café culture make The Cut a nice place to spend time or just to walk through. The whole street has been reorientated to prioritise the pedestrian. Car speeds have been slowed by imposing 20 mile an hour speed limits on surrounding roads, different road materials have been used at intersections to make junctions more visible, and raised crosswalks decisively change the relationship between pedestrians and other road users. Clever management of the available pavement space has decreased clutter. Previously every piece of street furniture, from the bins to the lamp posts, would have it’s own fixture. Now, these have been combined, creating a cleaner environment with fewer obstacles for pedestrians to navigate. These improvements for the pedestrian experience have been delivered without compromising other road users. There is parking for the local residents and dedicated freight ways to enable business deliveries without causing congestion. A different approach which is suitable for more residential neighbourhoods. In De Beavoir and Hackney, the road layout has been changed to filter out cars that shouldn’t be there. Thin bollards which are cheap and quick to install have been used to prevent car commuters from taking shortcuts and racing through residential streets. Importantly, residents can still access their home by car, but the maze like effect of the bollards dissuades other drivers to take alternative routes. Thanks to the use of the thin bollards, cyclists can still travel unimpeded. The result is a more pleasant community orientated space where children can play safely, people can walk their dogs and it’s a joy to cycle. These approaches show how the imaginative use of limited space can enable all road users to be met, while creating beautiful public spaces and more liveable, prosperous and sustainable cities. </font> <br> </p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <a href="http://transcriptdivas.ca/transcription-canada/">Transcript Divas Transcription Canada </a>
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  • caroline

    really hits home how lucky NYC is to have such wide streets---they are pretty much blank canvasses for better designs like the ones shown in this video. awesome.

  • lee

    these are good examples that I would like to see utilized in many areas of NYC but based on the video it seems that traffic volumes are drastically lower on the other side of the pond.

    would these solutions scale to New York?

  • Chris L

    London's solution: find creative ways to share space.

    Los Angeles' solution: widen the streets.

    Le sigh.

  • ChrisC

    Traffic volumes are lower in London BECAUSE capacity is lower. The greater the capacity, the greater the traffic volumes will be. That's why New York has so many cars on the road - all these wide avenues. Traffic volume is not independent of traffic capacity. There is a strong positive correlation.

    Increase road capacity and you will have more cars on the road. Decrease capacity and you will have fewer cars on the road.

  • Chris L


    That's the problem. People like you and I that are likely to check out a website like streetfilms understand the theory of induced demand. But try explaining it to your average joe schmo. Most people think of traffic like water in a balloon. If you squeeze it in one spot, it will necessarily expand in another spot. Its counter-intuitive that the whole balloon will get smaller, but as you know, this is exactly what happens with traffic.

  • ChrisC

    Exactly. If Central London had 6-land one-way Avenues like Manhattan, they too would have heavy traffic with tons of cars. You CANNOT have that many cars on the road in Central London. It is physically impossible.

  • http://ibikelondon.blogspot.com MarkA

    Some of the comments above are somewhat naive.  Of course London has some HUGE car dominated roads (Park Lane comes to mind, which is essentially a motorway running through Central London) and there are many many vehicles and enormous capacity for them.  However, where we are having success is with schemes like the ones highlighted in the video, from the introduction of the Congestion Charge (best thing London ever did!) and re-prioritising pedestrians in shared space.  The trick is not to get rid of cars - you will never be able to do that - but to make life more difficult for them.  In a city of 8million it's ridiculous to let traffic dominate every single road.  IN fairness, on most London streets it is still pretty awful, but there are places which have been chosen (like in the video) where it is not acceptable for the car to come first anymore, and rightly so.  There is no reason why these ideas (which we mostly stole from Holland and Denmark) can't work in New York, or anywhere else.  You've just got to have the politicians with the guts to do it (look at the new Times Square)

  • Wanderer

    The thing that strikes me about this video is the almost total absence of buses, in a city with a massive and expanding bus system. Perhaps London is wise enough to keep traffic calming projects away from bus routes. Or perhaps the film makers, like so many advocates, don't see buses as having any importance on complete streets. Fortunately for London, it's got a massive, grade-separate "tube" system, which a passenger who's actually trying to get somewhere in reasonable time can use. But in most American communities outside Manhattan, buses have to be reasonably fast mainline transit. Advocates of complete streets need to recognize and incorporate this.

  • http://Trafikklogistikk.com Knut Bøe

    I am searching for a few people to join me in developing TrafficLogistics, the priority system for the future. THE SOLUTION. See: http://trafikklogistikk.com

    see you ?

  • Greg

    "The trick is not to get rid of cars - you will never be able to do that - but to make life more difficult for them."

    Attrition of automobiles by the city, as Jane Jacobs would say. It only took the world 60 years to figure out that she was right.

    Chinatown and Soho, with their huge pedestrian flows, are ripe for London-style traffic calming. Thanks for the informative video!

  • http://Trafikklogistikk.com Knut Bøe

    to Greg,
    Trafficlogistics results in getting rid of a few traffic groups during the rush hours, that's all---. We will not as you say never be able to get rid of cars. Of course. TL: Priority during rush hours, in the rest of 24 hours; free flow .

  • TS

    Like in Canada, it seems England has fallen for the "war on cars" mentality. How is making it harder and slower to get anywhere going to have a positive effect on traffic, unless alternate major roadways are present to take up all the slack. Then it ultimately becomes a chpoice of reducing throughput on some streets that are already capable of holding more traffic, while spending billions widening freeways and extending subways or trains. It makes no sense.
    Is it perhaps less to do with controlling traffic, and more to do with controlling people, getting them dependent on the system of public transit, which in turn gives more jobs to unionized transit workers, which in turn creates more dependence on the government...and on the wheel turns.
    The reason people like cars is they represent freedom and personal responsibility. The individual buys, maintains, and controls his car, while the government buys, maintains and controls public transit. I see this as a war between the freedom of individualism and capitalism, and the herd mentality of socialist collectivism.

    I have seen this happen in Toronto, with successive socialist-leaning mayors furthering this war on cars with ridiculous schemes such as huge concrete medians that take up 2 of 4 lanes on busy roadways, speed bumps on streets that shouldnt have them, and obscene monthly parking fees that equal rent in many areas.

  • http://www.cyclehoop.com Tony

    Great video, nice shot of our Cyclehoop bike racks on the signposts outside Southwark Tube Station 😉

  • Jonny

    I live exactly where this video was shot. Cut in Waterloo and I love living here.

    No this road has next to no buses travelling along it as it is not going in to or out of town.

    and this area is inside the London Congestion Zone. to drive inside the zone costs £8 ($12usd) a day. So yes traffic is lighter than NYC.

  • JB


    I understand your concerns, and these need to be implemented well, but let's think about it like this.  In Paris, we would have cars that move through with a speed limit of 30km/h. At this rate, we can move 1 car 0.5km/min.  Add in traffic lights and traffic, and this gets reduced to our average: ~ 10km/h, or 0.16km/min.  So we can do a few things:

    1. We can reduce the stop/start time from traffic lights and traffic.  If a car could continually move through at 10km/h, it would get to the end point just as quickly as a car that moves at 30km/h with the stop/go of traffic lights.  10km/h seems slow, but the end throughput is just as a high as before, and the rate of accidents drops over 50%, with the rate of accident mortality dropping over 95%.  This is a HUGE win: massively decreasing road accidents, while maintaining average time from start to finish for driving.

    2. Decreasing overall speed of traffic encourages alternative forms of transportation because it makes them safer.  One of the biggest reasons cited from non-bikers is a fear of getting hit by cars.  You can either add more bike lanes, or make the routes they already take slower (and thereby safer).  This can have a net positive impact on a zone, with zero traffic flow impact.

    3. We have seen net movement flow actually INCREASE by reducing traffic speed, and here's how.  First, imagine 100 cars moving at 10km/h, or taking about 6.5 minutes to go 1km. An average car length at 4 meters + space between, you end up with ~ 10 meters per car including gaps. 100 cars = 1,000 meters, or 1km. If you take 2 lanes, that means you get 200 cars per km.  In Europe the average number of persons per car is 1.5 (in the us, this is closer to 1.1).  Let's take our higher number, and we see that we move 300 people in the 6 minutes for a 2 lane road.  We also see an average of 3 bikes / minute in Paris (not high for Europe), or 18 people on bikes. Now let's take out one lane, so we are moving 150 people in cars per 6 minutes.  Since we consistently see biking multiply by 10x when we provide dedicated space for them, we immediately see ~ 30 bikes per minute, or 180 people on bikes per the 6 minutes.  Our net human flow has now gone from 300 people in cars to 150 people in cars + 180 people on bikes, or 330 people total.

    We see this time and time again.  If the goal is to increase the total number of *cars* moved, by all means, making bigger, faster roads is the way to do that.  But if the goal is to increase total number of *people* moved, we see slight increases in car congestion yields such incredible benefits in pedestrian and bike throughput that the ultimate gains far outweigh the increase in congestion.  As an added bonus, the slight increase in congestion creates stronger demand for alternatives over time, thus increasing our overall capacity and decreasing congestion.  When no alternatives are provided, congestion has nowhere to go.

  • JB

    @TS & @JB:

    Very interesting showcase from Paris.  TS, this is not a war on cars (although cars long ago declared war on humans).  This is a realistic look at how we can improve space for humans while maximizing human movement.  Cars aren't always the fastest way to move people, despite your claims.

    "The reason people like cars is they represent freedom and personal responsibility"

    That's true if you're in the 1950's, but the reality today is very different. We're seeing traffic models predicting absolute gridlock in many of our congested corridors.  The average traffic speed has decreased 50% since the 1960s.  We spend a record number of hours sitting in traffic going nowhere. The car may _represent_ freedom, but that's just not the reality of today's urban environments. (Obviously driving in the country is liberating, and by all means, go for it!) In New York City, the average speed of cars is slower than in the 1800's with horse and buggy.  We can't keep putting our fingers in our ears and saying lalalala while stuck in traffic, bemoaning a so-called "war on cars", which is somehow a "down with capitalism and freedom."

    Unless you have another solution to counter the increasing congestion, decreasing traffic speed, and increasing pollution health risks, I think these are some pretty interesting models for how we can handle a rapidly increasing problem.  

    I'm a biker, and I move around San Francisco much faster than any car can at rush hour. That's a liberating (and freedom-filling) feeling to zoom past cars stuck in traffic.  I have no idea how the model of buying, maintaining, and riding a bike is more socialist than a car to you... because I paid less?

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  • Robert

    Congestion will stay until you charge it away with a congestion charge. This has been shown through experience and through various traffic engineering principles.

  • Robert

    If you a for a moment, and thought about it, most of those measures make sense. Overly wide medians seem ridiculous, and likely would be better used for cycling infrastructure. I would say that in my experience, freeways offer congestion, roads designed for cars offer congestion, building more car infrastructure does nothing to alleviate this congestion, and there's never any parking, unless you charge the aforementioned parking rates. A car is my chains; I become its slave; I suffer its negative effects (less exercise, more pollution, accidents, etc). Cars are more like prison to me than freedom.
    By contrast, freedom of cycling, walking, and a wonderful transit system (eg. ~5 min or better throughout the day and competitive speeds, operation 24hrs- NYC Subway level service) truly do represent freedom to me. I can go anywhere I want whenever I want throughout the city and even beyond without fighting the awful, inevitiable congestion and inevitable expense that follows cars wherever they are prevalent in a city.
    As for your accusations of socialism, Swiss cities of about ~175,000+ have stunning tram, commuter rail, and bus systems, and, in many cases, shun the car. In many cases, cars account for only 1/4 of trips or less (In Basel it's about 1 in 6). The Swiss also have the highest per capita usage of passenger rail in the world. I would hardly call the Swiss socialist- in fact, they were supposedly the 5th freest economy in the world. I would actually call them laissez faire capitalists.
    I rest my case.

  • Robert

    Also, come to think of it, I should also have the proper choice to choose which mode of transportation I use- driving, cycling, walking, transit, or any mixture of the above. Besides, a truly unbiased streets is one where cars have only 1/4 of the road space, as another 1/4 goes to transit, another 1/4 to pedestrians, and another 1/4 to cyclists. So, unless this is your current mixture, it is not really a war on cars.

  • Robert

    London is already very traffic infested from what I can tell. They have some car dominated roads. They may have success with traffic calming and the congestion charge. They also have their wonderful transit system, even if it is straining due to under investment and at full capacity. However, they don't seem to be having too much success with anything else from what I can tell (from afar). Maybe someone who lives there would be able to elaborate further on this.

  • Robert

    But what you say is true. If you increase the alternatives a smaller percentage of people will drive.
    But once car congestion sets in, there will be congestion until you ban cars completely or charge it away.

  • Robert

    Of course supplying alternatives allow other people to stop driving. This can help the residents of an area tremendously.