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Rethinking How People Move in Cities November 14, 2014

Urban Design at Transport for London

Transport for London is the local government body responsible for most aspects of the transport system in greater London. Its role is to implement the transport strategy and to manage transport services across London. Every day around 24 million journeys are made across TfL’s network, and is not only responsible for the day-to-day to operations of the Capital’s public transport network, but is also actively involved in many urban design and masterplanning projects across the capital.

Robin Buckle is the head of the Urban Design team at Transport for London, an interdisciplinary team, with wide-ranging professional backgrounds and a portfolio of current projects. In this presentation Robin talks about the Urban Design team’s role in one of the largest and most complex transport systems in the world.

I was heartened to see how many people came by walked, public transport or cycled. I don’t know, I cycled this morning, I don’t know, how many people did that this morning? Just as a show of hands. Have you dried out yet? I mean, I just got soaked, absolutely soaked.

What I am going to do, I am just going to canter through this very quickly. As Angela [Brady] said I actually head up the Urban Design team in Transport for London and this is what we are about, we’re trying to sort of embed good design thinking into all of the projects and initiatives that Transport for London are involved with, both within the organisation, across it, and the different businesses of that organisation and outside as well. So, that’s just a bit of background. This is an interesting document, it’s the context for me talking to you today. “Bigger and Better” is basically the first – you’re always worried when you say the “first” – but it is the first sort of comprehensive infrastructure plan running up to 2050. So, it’s got a number of aims which are based, I`m going to refer to this very, very quickly: ensuring a global success, housing a growing London, which is about, obviously London is growing economic, growth and it’s population growth, better not bigger, is about the quality of life and really innovating for transport, about how are we going to keep up with technology.
And that’s quite important document, of course, for the Major and for Transport for London. London is, according to this document, and this is “Site Selection” magazine so it must be good, London is the most competitive world city at the moment, above those others that you see listed there. And, this part of this competitiveness is about this sort of distribution of this sort of massive density in distribution of employment there. You can see huge spike around, of course, the city and the centre of London, generally, so, that’s all sort of fed by radial transport routes, bringing people into and out of the city. So, it’s competitive, it’s sort of, in terms of the global economies, it ranks alongside Paris, New York and Tokyo there, and of course, the emerging sort of powerhouse of global
economies, Shanghai and China.

Population growth, which is what is pretty fundamental and Angela [Brady] mentioned this is pretty key, and we know the forecast at the moment, we are looking at 8.6 million in London rising to 10 million by 2030, which is a phenomenal amount, about 100,000 a year, if you work out the figures. That’s significantly more growth than New York, for example, which is about 8 million at the moment, but only rising to about 9 million by 2050. So that’s pretty significant, really. That population growth isn’t going to be even, by any means, but of course, in terms of the numbers of trips per day, 1.7 trips on average, that’s being calculated over the last 40 years, that’s going to lead to another 2.5 million trips in London by 2030 which is fairly significant and needs to be planned for. So, Transport for London, not surprisingly, is going to invest, and that document that I showed you earlier, sort of sets out the areas where you need to plan that investment. In terms of supporting the economy, with things like the Silvertown Tunnel, which is linking Greenwich peninsula and Newham. We’re looking at significant growth there. There’s also growth around the expanding housing, accommodating that and linking it, Crossrail to South London metro, a range of things there, the black line , is about innovating transport, the sort of technology which I’ll come to talk to you about in a bit, and also improving the environment.

Rail has always been significant, as you can see, going back to the 50s there, it was a fairly significant proportion of people travelling by rail and that’s still the case. You can see buses had a pretty big share but that’s sort of shrunk significantly in the 90s, but now that’s sort of increasing again. And cars, and this straw poll in here sort of bears witness to that… Journey’s by car are reducing which is sort of good news, really. That rail transport, that ability for people to travel into and out of London on those radial routes has created a sort of development pattern, which you can see there. And in terms of improving that, what TFL is doing is looking at Crossrail being built at the moment, Crossrail 2 is being planned, TFL is actually setting up a team as we speak, about that, so a huge amount of improvements in terms of rail coming into and out of London and connecting different, connecting that sort of areas of growth in terms of population.But of course, one of the big problems with London is the orbital issue and London is very, as we saw from that map of agglomeration, London is incredibly dense in the centre, less dense as you move out, on the outer suburbs are even less dense still.

What the orbital rail can do is start to link those centres, which is always been an issue, especially when you got a transport system which was based on a radial plan. What this can do is actually link those centres on the outskirts where they are less dense and try encourage some intensification there, it’s sort of linking town centres. And that’s something fairly high level at the moment, but it is being explored by TFL. This is just a graph showing how, basically, in the denser areas, there is more people walking, car use, although there is car use, and it’s falling in central London, there’s more car use in outer London where public transport can be uneconomic unless it’s in a sort of connected, well-connected area.

Densification, of course, can be, which is going to be increasingly happening in central London, that is where investors want to invest, that can take a form of mixed-use buildings and we are increasingly seeing those. The Shard, of course, is a very good example of that and pops up. If you sort of Google that in terms of the… it’s almost like sort of a small city there. In those outer London areas, the road networks, of course, are incredibly important, and what TFL has been doing, in conjunction with the Roads Task Force, is looking at how those roads can be improved, what’s the look of those roads, depending on their function. An interesting statistic there: roads and streets take 80% of public space in London, which is pretty incredible. But that sort of looking at movement and place, which of course, is incredibly important. And in terms of trying to move traffic around central London, where it’s increasingly difficult, what TFL has also been looking at is a tolled tunnel for the inner ring.

Now this might sound like fantasy but it has been done, it’s been done certainly in other cities and one that I was lucky enough to go and have a look at a couple weeks ago was Boston, this is the Big Dig which you probably heard about… I should of had a “before” and “after” really, shouldn’t I, to impress… this went almost like a sort of a west way, crashing through Boston and separating the central Boston from the key side there. That has been put on the ground, creating this linear park, very attractive setting which is well used in summer, and is sort
of maturing and developing, obviously allows more space for public realm and for cycling. Of course, no presentation will be complete without Boris [Johnson]. And there he is cycling, multitasking really while he is cycling, which maybe he shouldn’t be doing.

Just moving on to technologies which I briefly mentioned earlier. That’s really important to TFL but the important thing, of course, is to invest in the right technologies. This, that’s not a sinking car, it’s an amphibious car and this, 20 years ago, was going to be the way that car movement in London was going to be resolved, by cars going up and down docks and down the river, but, obviously that’s really not taken off. But one of the areas which TFL is looking at, and which is really interested in, is autonomous vehicle, self-driving cars. The benefits of those are pretty obvious and extensive, certainly terms of roads, which are sort of suffering congestion and that is early days, but that’s certainly being looked at with some degree of seriousness.

Drones, well we’ve heard about drones, these are the ways that you are going to get your Amazon parcels in the future so we are led to believe, but of course, drones could have that complete, sort of unwanted effects from drones and how you regulate those. Drones, and stop bombs or chemical attacks from happening or being facilitated by these here is another question.

Moving on very quickly, TFL of course, in terms of what it’s doing, has a huge amount of data, real time data which allows it to monitor and look at the way it’s operating, but this data in the future is something that we are particularly happy to share with people and think it can be used in a number of, sort of, innovative ways, in terms of apps and you might be surprised to know that there are over 200 third party apps, which are about helping people, sort of move around and get the best out of this data which is produced by TFL. But of course, that’s what smartphones are. Are smartphones new technology? Are they going to be around in 10 years time? Or are we going to be looking at watches? Or there going to be chips planted in our brains or in our glasses? Nobody knows at the moment. But one of the things that is useful and is very relevant is, by 2041 25%, and I’ll probably won’t be around by then, but 25% of London population will be over 65 so, personalising those apps for the elder generation, to get around efficiently and effectively, no good saying “get on your bike” or “go walking”, or if you are walking steps might be a challenge so, it’s sort of thinking about those sort of issues and considerations.

Lastly, just to say, of course, I mean this is Old Street, for those of you who don’t know it, part of a big network of better junctions which TFL is looking at in terms of making improvements, not only to the Tube station there, but to the public realm above it which supports transportation and cycling, and walking and all those things that we’re promoting and are increasing, in terms of their use, at the moment. That’s it. Thank you!

Robin Buckle

Robin Buckle

Robin Buckle is head of the Urban Design team at Transport for London, and has extensive experience in in design, planning, and regeneration projects in London. Some major projects he has be involved in include Wembley’s masterplan and development framework, Crystal Palace Park masterplan and design manager for Emirates Air Line.