Why London is taking strides to prioritise pedestrians

The developer behind the tallest office tower in the City of London has joined calls to make the capital’s streets cleaner, safer and less congested.

“We’re behind making the city a better place for pedestrians,” Harry Badham, head of UK development at AXA Real Estate, told the audience at the World Car Free Day Summit in London. “Ultimately, cities have to be for people who live and work in them, not for the cars or the taxi drivers. We’ve spent a lot of time here thinking about how we deal with that.”

The summit saw speakers discussing how property developers, local authorities, transport planners and other stakeholders can work together to lessen traffic on city streets and the benefits of doing so. It was held at the under-construction 22 Bishopsgate, EC2, the consortium behind which is led by AXA.

Karen Cook, founding partner of PLP Architecture, said the building had been designed with pedestrians and cyclists in mind – other than spaces for disabled drivers there are no car parking spaces in the building, but the basement has room for 1,700 bicycles.

Badham also said that 22 will have an off-site consolidation centre for deliveries, which he said would address the “travesty” of large buildings having upwards of 600 deliveries a day, many in half-empty lorries.

“We’ll move from having 600 deliveries to the building to around 60 deliveries to the building, and all of those deliveries will be done outside of pedestrian times and a lot of them at night.”

The AXA boss, who said he runs or cycles through the Square Mile daily, went so far as to back calls for an entirely pedestrianised City of London.

“If it were me, and there weren’t any taxi drivers, we’d just shut cars out, nine till five, every day,” he said, adding: “But I know that it is more difficult than that.”

Healthy streets for healthy people

The summit was held ahead of World Car Free Day on 22 September, which in London will see public events held on more than 20km of closed roads around the capital, including a sunrise yoga session on Tower Bridge, a gospel choir performing at Bank junction and dance performances on Fenchurch Street.

“The fundamental motivation for this event is to give Londoners the opportunity to see their city and their streets from a different perspective,” said Will Norman, the mayor of London’s first walking and cycling commissioner. “Eighty per cent of London’s public space is streets. We want people to imagine what that space would look like and how it could be used with fewer or no cars.”

Norman said the mayor’s focus is on “healthy streets for healthy people”, describing air pollution as “one of the biggest health emergencies of our generation” and noting that sedentary lifestyles with little walking contributed to “chronic disease, diabetes, dementia, depression and the two biggest killers in London – heart disease and cancer”.

“We’re clear that in London we have to reduce the dominance of the car on our roads, and this is how we’re going to tackle some of the biggest challenges that we face,” Norman added.

Hamish Stewart, co-founder of London Car Free Day, outlined some of his personal reasons for launching the initiative: his wife was injured when she was hit by a lorry close to London Bridge. Although she made a full recovery, Stewart argued that it was “totally inappropriate” that London is “exceptionally dangerous for people who are walking and cycling”.

He said there were also strong economic reasons for encouraging fewer cars on city streets, highlighting research from JLL that shows the value of land occupied by parked cars across 10 European cities is more than £1tn.

“Globally, around 30-50% of all cities are taken up by roads and parking,” he said. “Here in London, there’s over 8,000ha of land devoted to parking alone. That’s 6.8m parking spaces, and many of them are empty. What else could you do with that land? There could be housing, public parks, commercial space. There’s a lot of things that could be more productive.”

In a panel debate, representatives from Edinburgh, Paris and Oslo joined Norman to discuss attempts to prioritise pedestrians over vehicles in their cities.

Daisy Narayanan, a director at Sustrans, the charity that acts as custodian to the National Cycle Network, has been on secondment to Edinburgh Council for the past 18 months, helping to oversee its City Centre Transformation project, which has involved car-free days.

“With the climate emergency, status quo is not an option for any of us, anywhere,” Narayanan said.

As well as the environmental benefits, she added that the centre of Edinburgh had felt refreshed on the occasions that pedestrians had it to themselves.

“When you walk around the city centre and you switch off that safety switch you have [because of the lack of vehicles], you have such a different relationship with the built environment around you,” she said. “As an architect I appreciate the buildings a lot more, and as a parent I appreciate the fact that my five-year-old was pushing a football down the street. She was so happy.”

To send feedback, e-mail tim.burke@egi.co.uk or tweet @_tim_burke or @estatesgazette

Read more about how real estate is committing to the climate change challenge >>

Photo: Global Warming Images/Shutterstock