Ruth Brandon: Pedestrians now facing the wheels of misfortune
Tuesday 30 November 2004
In her book
The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs describes a traffic experiment conducted in Greenwich Village, New York. During the late 1950s, the roads of Lower Manhattan were becoming increasingly congested, particularly those bordering Washington Square Park. So the city authorities proposed driving a road through the park itself.
In her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs describes a traffic experiment conducted in Greenwich Village, New York. During the late 1950s, the roads of Lower Manhattan were becoming increasingly congested, particularly those bordering Washington Square Park. So the city authorities proposed driving a road through the park itself.
This horrified residents, for whom the park was a focus of life. They said the city should close off the congested roads instead. New York's traffic planners threw up their hands: were the residents mad?
They were not. The roads were closed off, the residents were delighted, and traffic congestion did not worsen. Washington Square Park survived intact.
But what had happened to all the people who used to drive nose-to-tail along the now-closed roads? Nobody knew. Perhaps they had left their cars at home. Perhaps they had adopted new routes in and out of the city.
Everyone knows traffic expands to fill the space available. Jane Jacobs and her fellow-activists seemed to have proved that the converse is also true. If you remove the space, the traffic contracts.
Several central London councils have followed the Jacobs technique. In Trafalgar Square, Tottenham Court Road and other arteries, the past couple of years have seen roads contract, or even (in the case of Trafalgar Square) vanish. And sure enough, London has not ground to a halt.
Of course, the congestion charge has helped. But it has not cut car use by 50 per cent; and even where road space has been cut by half, the traffic still flows.
Now the authorities have apparently decided to take the idea further, closing or narrowing more roads in the hope (presumably) that the traffic will melt away. High Holborn had all but two lanes removed and the closures then moved to Shaftesbury Avenue.
Barriers went up and a few chaps occasionally waved a spade, while everybody sat back to see what would happen.
Well, now we know. The trick works only up to a certain point. Anything beyond that, and what you get is chaos.
Since the latest experiment began, central London has been one big traffic jam. It's reminded us all of what things used to be like BK (Before Ken). Nothing moves.
Naturally, motorists are becoming frustrated. So those people who must move on wheels have hit on a cunning solution. The middle of the road may be full, but how about those car-free strips down both sides?
Yes, the pavements, dummy. Theoretically they are for pedestrians, but pedestrians cannot expect to keep all that space to themselves. Just a couple of wheels; who's to notice?
It began with motorbikes. Cyclists on the pavement are by now so routine that only the most obsessive old bat (me) could possibly still object to them. But beside the motorcyclists they seem almost benign. There you are walking along, and suddenly, roaring down the pavement towards you: a motorbike. What are you to do? Interpose your body?
Now cars are doing it too. It began in Gower Street, near where I live in London, where traffic jams are almost permanent and the pavements temptingly wide. The first one I noticed was, of course, a white van. I shouted at the driver, but he drove on regardless, as drivers of white vans do.
Then it was a private car. I bashed his door, and the driver went pink, but there he was, on the pavement, and since there was no way back on to the road, there he remained. And now everyone's doing it. In Drury Lane, where the pavements are extremely narrow and the road is constantly blocked, either with parked cars or roadworks, they do it every rush hour.
The next closure is scheduled for Oxford Street. Look out for your toes, if you're in London shopping. The cars are coming to get you.
Life & Style blogs
What is Lyme disease, what are the symptoms and is treatment readily available?
iPhone 7 (or iPhone 6S) leaked pictures show similarities to older model — but Apple is fixing the biggest issue of all
The face of fertility: why do men find women who are near ovulation more attractive?
'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
Google has set its terrifying, dreaming image robots on the public
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
- 1 David Cameron refers to 83-year-old Labour MP Dennis Skinner as 'Jurassic Park'
- 2 iPhone 7 (or iPhone 6S) leaked pictures show similarities to older model — but Apple is fixing the biggest issue of all
- 3 Russell Brand condemns moment of silence for Tunisia attack victims as 'minute of bulls**t'
- 4 'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
- 5 Alwaleed bin Talal: Saudi Prince to donate entire $32bn fortune to charity
£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...
£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...
£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...