Archives for posts with tag: public realm

Charles Martin

With the elections for the Mayor and Assembly Members only days away, perhaps now is not the best time to start thinking about the next time that we will cast our vote. But the local council elections in May 2014 are not actually that far away, and given how cycling is very much in the spotlight at the moment, with The Times’ ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign, the inspiring London Cycling Campaign ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ project and the excellent Sustrans Free Range Kids initiative all adding to the debate, now really is the time to give the cycling momentum a local perspective.

That is why I have written to all the elected councillors in the London Borough of Sutton to ask them to start thinking specifically about what could be done in their ward, in the streets where their constituents live, and in the neighbourhoods where their constituents go about their day-to-day lives, to enable people more readily to consider travel by foot or by bike for some of their journeys for some of the time. I would like the councillors to ensure that their constituents are aware of the current campaigns on safety issues for all road users, on why smarter travel can be better travel, and why putting independent and active travel back at the heart of childhood would be a good thing.

So whether our first choice is to drive, take the bus, whether we run, hop or saunter to catch the train, ride the bike or simply make time for walking, let’s hope that the journey towards the 2014 local elections will be an opportunity for everyone to engage in all the issues that could help Sutton become an even better place. And who knows, in the process, we may take some inspiration from The Netherlands as well. After all, when it comes to cycling, the Dutch certainly seem to know a thing or two!

The “Cycling towards 2014″ letter can be viewed by clicking here.

In this blog post Charles Martin suggests that new thinking is required, in terms of how to provide and manage parking provision, if robust proposals for regeneration in our outer London district centres are to be fully realised. The potential for these centres to be even more appealing places to visit would be further enhanced, he adds, if we all considered making occasional changes to the way we travelled locally too.

During September and October 2011 Sutton Council held a consultation asking people who live, work, shop or go to school in Worcester Park or North Cheam to let them know their issues and ideas for improvements in and around these district centres. It was an opportunity for people to express their views on the improvements that had already been completed earlier in the year in Worcester Park (close to the station in Central Road and Green Lane as part of the TfL funded ‘Streets for People’ project), and also to suggest and prioritise ideas for further enhancements elsewhere in Worcester Park and in North Cheam.

This preliminary consultation took place in order to identify the key issues, and the level of public support, for possible infrastructure improvements that could be implemented as part of the Worcester Park Integrated Transport Package. This integrated transport package is similar in many ways to the Wallington Integrated Transport Package (completed in June 2011), where the emphasis was on improving public space (e.g. paving, street lighting and seating), providing support for businesses, redeveloping vacant properties, and improving conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

North Cheam: Cheam Common Road, south side, looking east.

North Cheam: Cheam Common Road, south side, looking east. Pavement designed with emphasis on motorised-traffic. Access for vehicles is perhaps over-engineered suggesting that a low level of vehicular access is more important than is absolutely necessary.

In view of the consultation, I revisited North Cheam in mid-October (2011) to endeavour to make an assessment of the main shopping street, London Road, largely from a pedestrians’ perspective. Around the same time I also headed over to New Malden High Street, in neighbouring Kingston, just ten minutes from North Cheam by bus or twenty minutes by gentle cycle ride. I knew that New Malden High Street had been re-vamped in 2005, in order to reinforce the impression that the High Street was not simply a thoroughfare. Many of the resultant improvements to the streetscape had been acclaimed by those who lived and worked there, and by transport and urban design professionals. I decided not to visit Worcester Park, largely because the utility works that were taking place at the time may have made any comparative assessment with other locations a little unfair. I was also more familiar with Worcester Park than I was with North Cheam or New Malden anyway.

North Cheam: London Road, east side, looking north.

North Cheam: London Road, east side, looking north. Although there has been a good intention to provide wide pavements in places, the space preserved for inanimate vehicles ultimately wins over.

One of my initial conclusions from the visits was that a major challenge for any outer London district centre is likely to be around how best to manage the existing requirement for parking (customer, residential and delivery) whilst maintaining the economic viability and prosperity of the businesses operating in these district centres. I couldn’t help thinking that both Worcester Park and North Cheam are, to a greater or lesser extent, blighted by the prominence given to parking for private vehicles. If the local economy of a shopping district is boosted by free and easy access by car, how much is it deflated by the poor urban realm that can result? I believe that a key requirement for the enhancement of any centre is to get this balance right.

North Cheam: London Road, east side, looking south.

North Cheam: London Road, east side, looking south. Some may say the pavement width is adequate, but, relative to the total space available, I tend to think there is room for improvement.

In parts of North Cheam, particularly along the west side of London Road (to the north of the intersection with Cheam Common Road), vehicles are permitted to park head-on to the shop fronts. This may enable great accessibility for those driving and may be a requirement for residents, but is likely to be quite a turn-off for anyone contemplating to visit and shop there. It certainly discourages anything like café culture, and does little to promote a feeling of well-being in terms of just wanting to spend time in the area.

North Cheam: London Road, west side, looking north.

North Cheam: London Road, west side, looking north. Pavement, or car-park? Not entirely sure that I fancy spending too much time shopping here.

North Cheam: London Road, east-side, looking north

This location is to the south of the intersection with Cheam Common Road/Malden Road. In many ways the streetscape here looks much more appealing than it does to the north of the intersection, and this could be in part because space is more equitably shared. As the inset photo tries to show, there could be a better approach in how signs are mounted. In this case, for example, there appears to be a perfectly adequate lamppost to attach the "Red Route" sign to. Does it really need its own post?

Meanwhile, in both centres, car-parks are provided close to the general shopping areas which, for most of the time, have ample capacity. In this respect, however, it is a pity that when Sainsbury’s in North Cheam was developed, and the site in Worcester Park now occupied by Waitrose was redeveloped, their associated car-parks were not designed perhaps with more of an emphasis on serving the whole community rather than just their own stores (i.e. linked to their neighbouring main shopping streets in a more pedestrian-friendly way). Providing some car-parking spaces associated with, but not on, the main shopping streets could facilitate the removal of some on-road/on-footway parking, and enable this space to be used for more constructive purposes (in a similar way to the recent enhancements in Wallington).

North Cheam: London Road, east-side looking north.

New Malden: High Street, various locations. Car-park location signs. Sometimes spelling things out might help. Look guys, its only a 1-minute walk from the car-park to the shops!

Charging for parking is inevitably unpopular, initially at least. But, in many ways, not to charge does have a cost. A small proportionate parking fee, in recognition of some of the cost of providing that parking space, could help motorists consider other transport options as well – with the associated benefits this would bring (to both them and to the public realm). Technology can help with this by making the car-park payment mechanism much easier through the use of smartcards, like Oyster, or contactless bankcard. Charging for parking would also work with the behavioural change programme, Smarter Travel Sutton (2007-2009), rather than against it. A reduction in the total percentage of all trips made by car to access these district centres would be a good aspiration to have for the medium term too. And rather than call the payment a parking charge, how about branding it as a community fund?

North Cheam: London Road, east-side looking north.

New Malden parking payment displays. Clockwise from top-left: Blagdon Road multi-storey (90p per hour); High Street parking (60p per hour (maximum one-hour); Waitrose car-park (rear of High Street) free for customers spending £10 or more (otherwise £1 first hour); Malden centre car-park (£1.20 per hour). You pay your money (if applicable) and take your choice!

To give the public realm increased value, and to further enhance the sense of place, the maximum traffic speeds on roads traversing the centres would ideally be set at no higher than 20 mph. Benefits of this would include a safer environment for everyone, a boost for business (as it could reduce the chance of someone not bothering to cross the road to access other shops), and it would moderate traffic noise too.

My trip to New Malden reminded me that it is not necessary to go too far from either North Cheam or Worcester Park to see a relatively good example of what can be done. Along the length of New Malden High Street, for example, the addition of an informal central reservation means that it is easier for people to cross the road. There is a bit more “give and take” between all the users of the street. De-cluttered pavements (of sufficient width relative to the carriageway) give a feeling that space is equitably apportioned between everyone, and this must help give the place a buzz and well-being factor during the day and into the evening.

New Malden: High Street, looking north

New Malden: High Street, looking north. Space for people: An informal central reservation helps improve the street for people on foot with no detriment to other road users.

New Malden: High Street, west-side, looking north

New Malden: High Street, west-side, looking north. Space for people: the continental look, almost a mini boulevard.

New Malden: High Street, west-side, looking north

New Malden: High Street, west-side, looking north. Space for people: Everything here runs at a slower, more comfortable, pace. So with plenty of high-profile cycle parking, why not bike it?

The district centres at the heart of New Malden, Worcester Park and North Cheam are evidentially different in many ways. They will have different demographics, and they have evolved over time to reflect the needs of the immediate area and the roads that pass through them. Traffic volumes are probably greater in North Cheam than they are in Worcester Park, while New Malden probably has fewer vehicles passing through then either of them. Nevertheless, I would like to pose the question – could some of the award-winning principles applied to the make-over of the High Street in New Malden work in Worcester Park and in North Cheam? I am sure the answer depends in part on whether there is the necessary aspiration and determination by politicians and decision makers to recognise what is required, and then to make the case to retailers, businesses and existing users.

Also, to a degree, it will depend on all of us who use these centres to ask ourselves what are we able to do to bring it about. In particular, it may depend on whether those who drive are prepared to consider the benefits that could result from just a little bit of change in their behaviour – so accept a 20 mph speed limit, and accept some changes to both parking location and cost (consider it as a community fund). Maybe instead of taking the car to town for every trip, consider taking the bus or just walk instead on occasion. Town centres will always benefit from the occasional make-over, of course. But they can also be enhanced by how we use them.

Clearly there are a lot of uncertainties in the equation of how Worcester Park and North Cheam can best be enhanced. But I certainly believe that both of these suburban shopping centres have great potential to become “destination places” in their own right. If we let them, that is.

Notes:

(1) All photos taken by the author. The North Cheam photos on Sunday 23 October 2011 (between about 3.30 and 5.30pm), and New Malden photos on Tuesday 25 October 2011 (between about 12.30 and 2pm). It is acknowledged that street vitality will look different on different days of the week (especially between Sunday and Monday) and at different times of day (afternoon and lunchtime).

(2) On 17 January 2012 the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced the winners in the Second Round of his Outer London Fund. This included confirmation that the LB of Sutton had been successful in their bid for North Cheam and Worcester Park.

A six week consultation period, during which Sutton Council requested views on their plans to protect and enhance heritage buildings and structures at the southern end of Sutton town centre through the creation of a new Conservation Area, ended in mid-February 2011. The accompanying consultation leaflet, Celebrating Sutton’s Heritage, noted that “Treasuring and enhancing the unique aspects of the area would help create a stronger local identity, support the regeneration and promotion of Sutton town centre, encourage visitors and shoppers, and support retailers and a vibrant town centre”.

A comprehensive draft Heritage Character Appraisal document, outlining the background and historical context, along with spatial and character analysis, was published at the same time. The character analysis included many points that Sutton Living Streets were happy to endorse, including “…the area around the Station should be upgraded to improve the arrival experience to the town centre”, “the pedestrian footways along this stretch are narrow and can become congested”, and “..a reduction in street clutter is desirable…”.

Consequently, Sutton Living Streets produced a short response to the consultation, endorsing the character analysis and supporting the recommendation to designate the southern part of the High Street as a Conservation Area. The response is available from this link: SuttonHighStreetConservationArea_SuttonLivingStreetsResponse_v1_Feb2011.

Sutton Living Streets has submitted a response on the proposals for the development of Wallington Town Centre. The plans for the town, which were put together after Sutton Council questioned 1,000 residents, traders and school pupils earlier in the year, were presented at an exhibition staged at Wallington Library between 10 July and 30 September. During this time, residents were invited to have their say on the plans formulated as a result of the initial consultation.

The objectives of the scheme, which is to be funded by Transport for London and through developer contributions, include boosting the town’s attractiveness and improving pedestrian, cycle and bus access in and around the centre whilst improving traffic flow. Ultimately, the scheme’s success will be judged on how effectively it manages to lock-in the benefits secured through the Smarter Travel Sutton travel and behaviour change programme which, between 2007 and 2010, tested whether it would be possible to encourage residents and people who work in Sutton to choose to walk, cycle and use public transport more often, and their cars a little less. A six percentage point reduction in the mode share of car trips, and an encouraging 75 per cent increase in levels of cycling (albeit from a relatively low base), were reported

Sutton Living Streets fully support the schemes objectives. The plans should certainly transform Wallington, and make it more attractive for residents, visitors and shoppers. However, for all the objectives to be met the improvements do not appear to go far enough. For example, upgrades to a pedestrian route which links the main shopping street (Woodcote Road) with a nearby residential street (Shotfield) focus on the section between the car park and Woodcote Road. Little thought appears to have been given to enhancements to the remaining section that would be used by people arriving on foot or by bus rather than by car.

The full report is available to download from here: Improving Travel in Wallington: a response from Sutton Living Streets.

Response to an informal public consultation on a local safety scheme for Sutton High Street

Sutton Living Streets supports all of the proposed streetscape improvements for High Street, Sutton (Crown Road to Angel Hill) as outlined in the London Borough of Sutton’s informal public consultation leaflet (Local Safety Scheme reference T3074). If implemented, the proposals should help achieve the primary objectives of reducing accidents in the area, making the road environment safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and reducing the speed of traffic accessing residential streets.

There are, nevertheless, certain reservations with some of the proposals as presented in the consultation. These generally relate to a concern that there could be an element of lost opportunity in the overall scheme, and that an even greater enhancement to the public realm could be achieved if the proposals were a little more robust. Additionally, it has been noted that several of the ideas put forward at the Community Street Audit in June 2009, and detailed in the London Borough of Sutton Community Safety Audit Report of the event, have not been adopted for the consultation stage. These include consultation options for a zebra crossing in Oakfield Road, an extension of the paved pavement across access points to car-parks and service roads, and a 20 mph speed limit.

Read the full response here:

ResponseToLocalSafetySchemePublicConsultation_September2009.

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