Loeb Lab 5: London is transforming the transport experience

Frequent LOEBlog contributor Camilla Ween (LF ’08) worked for Transport for London for 11 years and was responsible for the planning policy for many of London’s key growth areas. She writes about how the city’s project to transform disused railway infrastructure into a new metro rail/underground is leveraging resources to deliver urban realm renewal. There are lessons for urban infrastructure planners everywhere.

Delivering city renewal and transport infrastructure comes at a cost, but London has two projects that demonstrate how to achieve more for less.  The new "Overground” orbital railway has already been delivered and the Crossrail metro rail/underground project is underway and will catalyze exemplary urban realm projects around most of its stations.

The Overground is the first orbital railway that links up the mid to outer regions of London sideways (all the existing rail services are radial into central London).  By restoring some disused railway lines and linking up bits of line where necessary a complete circle has been created.  Transport for London, which is responsible for the project, recognized that the key to success was to give this service a strong brand.  All the old stations that were on the old lines were modernized, the ticketing system has been integrated with the London Oyster system and modern rolling stock was introduced, designed for maximum capacity, by having more standing space than is usual.  A new orange line appeared on the Tube maps, known now to the new users who flock to it as the "Ginger” line.

London overground images This new orbital railway was delivered for relatively low cost by making the most of disused and underused infrastructure, but has transformed the travel options for a significant number of Londoners.

The new Crossrail underground and rail service is not a cheap project (£16 billion), but it will bring urban realm enhancements that were not even part of the core project.  The specification for the project naturally allowed for reinstatement - basic asphalt replacement and street furniture - once the construction is complete, but both Transport for London and Crossrail recognized that this was not sufficient. Through collaboration and partnership with outside stakeholders such as local authorities, landowners and local bodies, they have undertaken in-depth reviews to identify opportunities at most of the stations.

All rail journeys start and end with the experience of getting into and out of the station, and the quality of the space around stations impacts greatly our sense of well-being. Crowding, annoying detours, clutter and degraded environment versus comfortable logical access and good quality public space can make the difference between high levels of anxiety and stress or a pleasurable experience.

By manipulating the urban realm, detours are being removed, access for bicycles will be addressed and the overall impact of the neighborhood will be improved with high quality design that includes elegant lighting, signage, street furniture and planting. The partners at each location agreed to jointly fund designers to analyze the local problems and to come up with plans.  By having a vision and concrete proposals it has been possible to lever in funding from outside sources, and as a result, 3 times the amount of money that would have been spent on "making good” will be spent on exciting new public realms.

These enhancements will transform many grotty areas into delightful places and London will be an infinitely better place to negotiate by public transport once Crossrail is operational. It might have been just a transport infrastructure intervention into the city, but through common sense and collaboration, urban renewal will be delivered at many of London’s unattractive corners.

The images above show examples of what will be delivered:

The base of Centre Point at Tottenham Court Road used to be a heavily congested traffic island, blocking connection between Oxford Street and Covent Garden, key tourist attractions.   The new scheme will allow the vast numbers of visitors to flow through a new attractive piazza as well as providing an attractive entrance to the new Underground station.

Ilford town center is dominated by traffic, narrow pavements and lack of a sense of place. The new area outside the station, which will include tree planting and attractive lighting, will give priority to pedestrian and cycle access.

Paddington will have a new station adjacent to the old rail station, with a glass roof so that daylight can penetrate to the sub-surface levels.  The station will be permeable, as will the streets around. The area around Paddington station has for decades been dominated by buses and taxis. Now it will be an attractive area with high quality access and public realm that will give the high volumes of pedestrians easy access to the station and local area. 

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2 Responses to Loeb Lab 5: London is transforming the transport experience

  1. Bill Geary, LF '88 says:

    Thanks for a fascinating Loeb Lab Report on London transport enhancements via the Overground. There may be some lessons here for Boston if we can find some usable disused rail rights of way in and around the city.

    Bill Geary, LF ’88

  2. Kate says:

    It is wonderful to hear about all the attention being paid to the “sense of place” inherent in the transport experience, and the important role it plays in many people’s day-to-day lives. Instead of solely taking a utilitarian approach of getting x or y number of commuters from point A to point B, the project seems to be creating a memorable, valuable experience for residents and visitors. Any city or town with similar projects on any scale could gain from learning to implement such creative designs within the existing infrastructure.

    I look forward to visiting and riding someday!

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