Streets make up more than 80 percent of all public space in London. But how will they adapt and evolve to take in the changes likely to come from technological advances in transport? A half-day conference held at NLA sought to find out.
Streets are the ‘foundation of our urban life’, and lifeblood of the city for goods to be transported and social life to occur, said NLA director Lara Kinneir, introducing the conference and the Future Streets
report. But the way we are moving around is changing, with some 26.8 million trips made per day in London set to grow.
‘We want to talk about connected and autonomous mobility around people and shared ownership enabled by autonomous and connected vehicles, rather than the ‘whizz bang’ of delivering self-driving cars alone’, said Nada Svilar, Regional Director, AECOM.
Removing human error will aid safety, and congestion could be reduced through shared vehicles, with productivity potentially helped too by your vehicle waiting for you, Svilar went on. But the key win lies in creating a better environment for everybody, said Svilar, if we can get it right, despite challenges including regulation, transition, data, and road user charging. AECOM trialled deployment of ‘last-mile’ autonomous vehicles with LLDC in the Queen Elizabeth Park with Capri – and early applications are likely to be in well-defined constrained use cases such as airports, hospitals, campus universities and business parks.
So, is micro-mobility innovation – e-bikes, e-scooters and other devices like electric skateboards – a disruptor or an enabler, asked Matthew Clark, Associate at Steer. In essence there is a bit of both; innovation, and disruption. The Department for Transport set out principles for new methods of transport in a document: Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy. But while benefits might include a reduction in private car trips, they might also mean a reduction in public transport use. The way forward may require continued engagement between cities and operators, regulation reform, dedicated road space and London-wide standards managing street space.
Fatema Karim-Khaku, Senior Planner - Transport Consulting, Arup, said that our streets are evolving, with the rise of Play Streets and School Streets, plus, more radically, streets being closed for pop-up events. Arup is working on creating more dynamic ‘flexible streets’ across different parts of the day and night, modelling one example around Smithfield Market. In masterplans, though, said Karim-Khaku, the point was to design infrastructure that can evolve and be flexible, rather than have to resort to repurposing car parks and other facilities. Could we also think of street furniture such as bollards to make them more multifunctional, with seating or planting? And could cycling infrastructure be improved by using more ‘light touch’ segregation through planters or ‘Armadillos’?
‘We should be designing not to predict what is going to happen but to allow our streets to evolve’, Fatema Karim-Khaku, Senior Planner - Transport Consulting, Arup.
For Mike Axon, Managing Director, Vectos, London is a ‘stage three city’, in that we are creating liveable streets in a healthy environment. But that relies on attitudes, and the technology that is coming forward that enables it. Younger generations have grown up with the internet and expect the technology and sharing economy – mobility hubs will be a big part of the capital, in outer London just as much as in the inner city. ‘That’s the place where you can perpetuate this idea of the sharing economy’, said Axon. ‘It’s a case of being bold in reallocation of space.’ But key to this was getting mobility through local living, Axon added.
The conference also heard about the policy framework and ‘the future of our city’ from the GLA’s Claire Eagle, with challenges including an ‘inactivity crisis’, ‘deep inequality’, an air quality and climate emergency, and a growing population that equates to a car-full of people every 26 minutes. ‘We think the way people move around the city is critical to meeting those four challenges’, she said. The mayor’s aim, expressed in his transport strategy, is that by 2041, 80% of all Londoner’s trips will be made on foot, bike or public transport. ‘We know this is a big ask and will require a significant shift in people’s mentalities and in our infrastructure’.
MICA’s Gavin Miller looked at designing streets for future scenarios via a ‘Baton Rouge’ case study and ‘holistic approach’ on AVs and environmental resilience in the deep south of the US, a ‘forgotten area’ where two football fields of land are lost every day. Bruce McVean, Acting Assistant Director, City Transportation, City of London Corporation said policy and regulation perhaps needs to change to catch up with technological advances on our streets and Lucette Demets, meanwhile, Head of Urban, London & Partners, said using immersive gamification technologies with local communities was another great example of street design reaching new audiences.
Finally, LDA’s Sophie Thompson presented her views on ‘reconceiving streets as public spaces’, facilitated by actively listening and collaborating, and including a 2026 and 2041 vision of Euston Road and Kennington Lane with more space for people and cycles, less for cars and clutter.
‘Think like a gardener, not an architect, design beginnings, not endings’, Sophie Thompson, LDA Design