Monday, June 2, 2014

The London Plan: of vehicle zones and pedestrian zones

Many courts and cul-de-sacs in London act as hometown versions of Dutch woonerfs.

I am amazed at the claims made by the London planning department when it comes to their recent London Plan, the newest blueprint to guide urban planning in the city. I downloaded the plan and gave it a read. I showed it to an architect and sought his thoughts. He thought it was pretty thin on new thinking but filled with feel-good urban planning clich├ęs and lots of wordy ways of expressing the obvious.

For instance, The London Free Press reports that in the future minor neighbourhood streets will have sidewalks on both sides of street. There is no mention in the article about courts, crescents and cul-de-sacs.

I assume the minor neighbourhood streets being discussed are those like Griffith Street. I was working at The London Free Press when the Edie and Wilcox designed subdivision in which I now live was created. Main thoroughfares like Griffith were intended right from the start to have a sidewalk on each side. Why? Because these routes would be the busiest streets in the subdivision. Bus service would use these streets.

Streets funneling traffic and pedestrians to the main thoroughfares would have a sidewalk only on one side. Why? Since these feeder streets carry mostly local traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, the demand for sidewalks is much less.

And small, short streets like courts, cul-de-sacs and crescents, carrying traffic generated only by the homes bordering the street, often have no sidewalks at all. I like to think of these streets as almost homegrown examples of the Dutch woonerf - a residential street on which vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians all share the pavement. Traffic naturally slows on such streets.

Sidewalks are expensive to build and to maintain. The sidewalks in my neighbourhood are not three decades old and yet whole sections have had to be replaced. As important as detailing where sidewalks will be installed is to telling us where sidewalks will not be installed. Detailing how to repair older sidewalks in a seamless fashion would also be a good idea. The repaired sidewalks in my area are a bit of a visual mess. We need a sidewalk standard. All pedestrian zones are not created alike.

After two years of work and supposedly lots of consulting with London residents, the city planning department has decided roadways are "Vehicle Zones" and sidewalks are "Pedestrian Zones." Brilliant? I don't think so.

The above graphic is from The London Plan.

After writing the above, I read a letter to the local paper posted to their website. The author bemoans all the confusing terms in the plans asking, "pedestrian zones" (aren't these called sidewalks), bike routes (aren't these bike lanes), connected with public transit routes (bus stops?), "layby" areas where cars can park (street parking?) . . . " I don't feel so alone.

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