Getting around Bloomsbury, Kings Cross and Holborn
Getting around South Camden by any mode of transport isn't easy. There are endless roadworks, utility repairs, large construction projects, as well as changes to the highway network. The aspiration to reduce through traffic by closing roads can reduce pollution in some streets, only to increase it in others.
The cycle lanes are now having to cope with people on electric bikes, electric skateboards and electric scooters - zooming past ordinary pedal bikes at speeds that may be legal (15mph) but could be intimidating to the less experienced cyclist. Pedestrians often find themselves overtaken by scooter-riders, whose swift and unexpected passage along the pavement can be startling. There is are however occasions of poor behaviour by all road users: car drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. We all need to keep our wits about us as we move around the streets. Google's phone navigation App is useful but focusing too much on the way to a destination can be dangerous!
Update on Tavistock-Torrington Corridor
IEast end of thee Tavistock-Torrington corridor - junction with
Judd Street & Hunter Street
Dropping off and picking up passengers is permitted - though not easy!
The November 2019 Cabinet decision
On 13th November 2019, Camden Council’s Cabinet members agreed with their transport officers’ recommendations and confirmed that the Tavistock-Torrington corridor should remain one-way east-bound permanently for motor traffic.
The improved cycling provision, with protected wider lanes going in both directions, was never part of this recent debate.
The decision on direction of traffic flow was however in direct contravention of the Public Inquiry held in November 2017. This month-long Inquiry, at which detailed evidence was presented and scrutinised by experts, concluded that the disadvantages of the east-bound direction outweighed the advantages, and that the Council should consider making the traffic route west-bound, rather than east-bound. The independent Inspector accordingly recommended that the east-bound route should NOT be made permanent.
The formal Public Inquiry, which was triggered by a Council administrative error, cost Camden council tax payers £298,577 – not including the cost of officer time, which could be in the region of another £100,000. And yet the Council has treated it as a pointless cosmetic exercise. This was a shocking waste of public funds; and demonstrates a worrying lack of respect for independent evidence.
The Council’s own evidence proved, according to the analysis referred to in Cabinet, that a west-bound route would offer a reduced risk of collisions and casualties, fewer vehicle miles driven and shorter traffic queues.
And yet the Council has chosen the opposite.
The Cabinet papers claim that those closest to the Corridor would prefer to retain the east-bound scheme. However, a careful look at the Council’s own data, shows that people living around the Corridor east of Byng Place, who were severely affected by the congestion and pollution caused by displaced traffic, were more in favour of west-bound than east-bound; but the data was aggregated, in the report to Cabinet, to disguise this.
The Cabinet papers recognised that the east-bound route has disadvantages for disabled people – but is dismissive of concerns for wheelchair users as ‘relatively minor’.
At the meeting on 13th November, BRAG representative Nicky Coates asked the Cabinet, why they would choose an option which has a higher risk of accidents; which would cause more queueing traffic and therefore pollution; which would make life more difficult for wheelchair users; which is not preferred by affected residents and voters; and which flouts the conclusions of a formal and costly Public Inquiry?
The Cabinet had no answers for this - and appeared unconcerned. They simply agreed to the officer’s recommendation (apparently unanimously in the Chair’s eyes, although there was no opportunity for a for- and against- vote) for a permanent east-bound route.
The webcast is available HERE.
Background – why BRAG was formed
In 2016, a group of residents from Judd Street and nearby streets formed BRAG, when faced with sudden unprecedented congestion and pollution in local residential streets. This was caused by the loss of a traffic lane along Tavistock Place which had been imposed by Camden without any consultation, dialogue or collaboration with the many people who live, work and have small businesses at the eastern end of this important east-west corridor.
A glance at Camden’s website alerted us to the fact that the Council had been working since 2014 to develop the “trial” which was developed with input from Transport for London, Camden Cycling Campaign, London Cycling Campaign, Living Streets, University College London, and the University of London. But NO residents were asked or even informed.
Further investigation led us to the West End Project, and the admission by Camden that “as part of the approval for the West End Project, we agreed to proposals for a trial to reduce the impact of through traffic on local residents in Torrington Place between Gower Street and Tottenham Court Road.”
Gordon Mansions Residents’ Association stated this clearly in their response to the latest 2019 consultation: “We made detailed objections, including submitting a petition, on various aspects of the West End Project, and particularly on the predicted doubling of daytime traffic etc (from an already high volume) in our stretch of Torrington Place. We made a Deputation to Camden's Cabinet/January 2015, on these objections. As a result, Camden proposed the Traffic Trial of what is now known as the Eastbound option.”
But what about the impact of this Trial on the residents who lived at the eastern end of the corridor, who had been left out of this consultation, who had no knowledge of the decision made by Camden’s Cabinet in 2015 - even though two Kings Cross ward councillors and one Bloomsbury councillor were members of the very same Cabinet?
The consultation area for the West End Project had a designated boundary that included most of the University buildings but ended in a line west of Gordon Square and Russell Square. Anyone who lived in streets to the east was unaware of the changes that were about to take place and impact negatively on their ordinary day to day lives.
Since 2016 BRAG has consistently reiterated the fact that this lack of inclusion of other affected residents was simply unfair.
Background – the Public Inquiry and aftermath
As explained above, the independent Public Inquiry recommended that the east-bound route should not be made permanent.
Nevertheless, in September 2018 the Cabinet approved a permanent Traffic Order allowing motor traffic to travel only in an eastbound direction, stating that a further report would be brought back to Cabinet assessing a westbound direction, including responses to a second formal public consultation. Having undertaken a variety of technical assessments, council officers concluded in November 2019 that overall there was little or no significant benefit to be derived from a westbound scheme over the eastbound scheme, either for motor traffic travelling along the corridor or in the neighbourhood.
To quote Councillor Harrison’s statement at the Cabinet meeting on 19 November, “That is not to say that the westbound scheme does not offer some advantages, but they are marginal.”
Whether they are marginal or not is a matter of opinion, and disabled respondents complaining about longer and more expensive journeys to UCLH from sheltered housing in the Brunswick Centre might not agree. Nor taxi drivers having to unload mystified wheelchair passengers in Bedford Way, some distance away from the entrance to their specified destination - the Tavistock Hotel.
The residents of flats in Gordon Mansions and Ridgmount Mansions, which are located on Torrington Place, have consistently argued for the eastbound route, fearing an increase in traffic in their section of the Corridor due to the West End Project.
And this brings us back to the issue of consultation, and whether all residents are equal or some residents are more equal than others (to misquote George Orwell).
A lot of things went wrong with the way the Tavistock-Torrington scheme was dealt with. The residents most affected were left out of the initial West End Project consultation. The Public Inquiry was only held because of flaws in Council processes which put the Council at risk of judicial review. There were gross statistical errors in the Council’s evidence to the Public Inquiry which the Inspector criticised. A lot of public money was wasted.
But we are where we are, and a decision has been made. BRAG’s concern is to move on and make a sincere plea that this sort of mess never happens again. Consultation is a statutory requirement. Our council barely pays lip service to it!
Moving forward – better consultation is needed!
Four years on, although our support for a westbound route has once again been quashed, there was a belated acknowledgement that lessons should be learned. As Councillor Beales said at the Cabinet meeting on the 13 November, “Hopefully we can learn the lessons of the process of this (scheme).”
Councillor Simpson acknowledged the need for better collaboration with residents. “I think that an awful lot of change is happening and it’s not necessarily done in collaboration with people who live with this on a day to day basis. So, what I would really like to see come from tonight is a genuine regular update meeting with groups like BRAG.”
“I really want to see some type of collaboration with residents south of the Euston Road, working together, on a senior level, just to contribute, to bring their opinion in, because I don’t think it’s happening sufficiently at the moment. And I think that a lot of the potential conflict could be averted if people are working more closely together.”
Louise McBride is head of Transport Strategy at Camden. This was her response. “In relation to collaboration, definitely, we note your request Cllr Simpson, and we can take that forward…. We recognise that in this location we have a number of schemes happening, and as Councillor Beales says, (we need to) learn the lessons of how we’ve got to where we’ve got to….”
So, watch this space!