The exceedingly opaque Transport for London

King's Cross gyratory systemPromises, promises. Promises to deliver safe roads, to remove the infamous King’s Cross gyratory system, to consult, to be transparent in decision making and improve external communication, that’s what we’ve had from Transport for London (TfL).

Yet design of a preferred option to remove the gyratory and improve our public realm has taken place behind opaque closed doors.

Getting information out of TfL = pulling teeth

During a series of public workshops looking at removing the gyratory system held in 2011, TfL were clear they would present a preferred option for public consultation in summer 2013. But this date has been pushed back and back with no reason given. The TfL webmaster just changes the consultation date on their website. On 17 June this year Greater London Assembly member for Camden, Andrew Dismore, put a written question to the Mayor to ask why. The Mayor replied:

“TfL has established a working group comprising officers from the London Boroughs of Camden and Islington who are meeting every 6 weeks to develop a collaborative solution for the King’s Cross area. As a result, the feasibility stage has been extended to ensure the right solution is reached which meets the requirements of residents, businesses and users at this very complex area of London’s road network.

TfL expect to agree a preferred scheme design with the Boroughs by mid-2016, with a public consultation to follow later that year.”

So when pressed for a reason TfL has said the delays are because they’ve had to work with Islington and Camden councils. But this holds no water as they’d stated at the outset they’d be working with both councils so it can’t possibly have been a reason for delay – unless of course political games are being played with us, or maybe they are that clueless that it takes them an inordinate amount of time to work collaboratively and they didn’t realise that back in 2011.

News that the most recent deadline to consult on the preferred option for road and public realm design may take place in early 2016 not winter 2016 as stated on TfL’s website comes not from them, but from an Islington councillor.

Plus ca change…

In October 2012, the Deputy Mayor for Transport, Isabel Dedring, said:

“TfL needs to improve how they do business and become more transparent”

“The website is going to be improved so information can be found easily”

Yet it takes a written question to the Mayor, or snippets of information given to a local councillor, for TfL to keep the public updated. Need we say more?

Gyratory removal, improved public realm design and development – where’s the transparently iterative process?

“The [King’s Cross road system] study will be all encompassing and strategic – it is fair to say that we are looking at returning the gyratory to two-way working but that alone is not enough.” Isabel Dedring, Deputy Mayor for Transport, October 2012

“See the yellow raised bit at the front of the photo. Me and a friend saw a woman cyclist career headlong into this last night, falling right in front of a car (which luckily stopped in time so only scrapes).
In daylight I’m sure that paint helps people see the raised area, but at night it makes it invisible looking like a a yellow line on the road.” Quote from Facebook 17 July 2015

TfL has a problem, in the public eye its design choices are often felt to be rather odd. For example, interim changes to the junction at Gray’s Inn/Euston/Pentonville roads and York Way completed earlier this year were specifically supposed to improve safety for cyclists. Yet cyclists say the ‘improvements’ have made the junction worse. Even simple things like designing a cycling lane that doesn’t immediately spew you out into two narrowing lanes of heavy traffic, or painting raised cycle separation barriers in a colour that doesn’t make them look like flat yellow lines on the road at night, or using a traffic light system that actually does what it should (the SCOOT detection system on the Wharfdale Road/Caledonian Road junction still isn’t working) seem difficult for the experts at TfL.

Complex design processes are notoriously problematic, yet there have long been means of avoiding the pitfalls. Inductive design involves consulting end users at the start of the process on what the problems are and how to solve them. TfL is to be praised here, they did that by running a series of public workshops in 2011. Iterative design is a means of regularly testing both partial and entire design proposals with end users right from the start and throughout their development. It is used in architecture, engineering, computer programming and even management consultancy. This is the opposite of what TfL has done. The experts at TfL are busy designing away without letting us know what their thinking is and asking us why it wouldn’t work in order to improve it before they formally consult on their preferred solution.

So we are left waiting, waiting, waiting. Every now and then the date for consultation changes on the TfL website. And then we wait. And wait. And wait. I don’t know about you but I just don’t want to feel that powerless and excluded.

DIY anyone?

So, with TfL’s design options not being communicated as they are developed and hopefully improved what could we do? Design it ourselves that’s what. TfL may, or may not participate, but by designing parts of the new system or even the whole thing, each of us can prepare for the long promised TfL consultation on their preferred option which may happen early next year. Anyone up for this? I know we have readers who are experts in this and related fields and it would be great if they could kick us off. Let’s all start having our say on what we’d actually like to see.

King's Cross road systemI’ve tried to find some easy to use design software to help the process, but so far no joy. If anyone knows of some software we could use to collaboratively design the road system and public realm here that would be really helpful. Meantime, below are versions of the diagram on the left, to download your preferred format just click on the link:

Powerpoint version

PDF version

JPG version

Have a go at making your design proposals – whether for a small part of the area or even the whole thing – and email us your results and any details, images or text you’d like included – kingscrossenvironment@gmail.com. We’ll publish everything we receive.

Posted in Bad Gyrations KX Campaign, New, Road Safety in Kings Cross | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Kings Cross dashboard – can we bring to life the Knowledge Quarter’s knowledge?

city dashboard for kxe

A couple of years ago the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at the UCL Bartlett School, based on Tottenham Court Road produced this great City Dashboard that puts flesh on the bones of all the ‘smart city’ and ‘big data’ guff.  Can we do one of these for Kings Cross and bring the ‘Knowledge Quarter‘s knowledge’ out of its institutions and onto the pavements?

I firmly believe that the more we know about it, the better Kings Cross will be.  There are huge amounts of knowledge about Kings Cross locked away where we can’t see, our:

past – basement of the British Library,  in Camden and Islington’s local studies centres, the local papers’ archives

present – information about live train  times, hire bike availability, taxi queues, pollution, weather, locked away in data stores and scattered across different apps  but also what people are Tweeting, Instagramming and Facebooking about the area – are performances, bars, restaurants good, where are the offers?

future – what arts and culture, civic events etc are coming up, planning applications, alcohol and entertainment licences, strategies etc Camden (but not yet Islington) has finally got its act together on local open data etc etc

Let’s get all this out and very literally into the public realm. Kings Cross is full of places to display information publicly– almost every cafe has a TV, the huge boards at the station, massive ad hoardings, builders hoardings, blank slab sides of buildings.  And practically everyone carries in their pocket a phone that can retrieve and display huge quantities of info.

We could do several dashboards – one that focuses on transport (live times of trains and buses) and immediate environment (weather pollution etc), one on culture and enjoying yourself one on economic and civic activity.  And with each overlapping the other – providing some cultural info on the transport dashboard etc.  There are all sorts of dashboards and infographics out there – over in Birmingham, up in Trafford, Scotland etc etc.

Transport companies have for ages used information to keep people within shopping range of their expensive concessions.  But we could help people wait more easily in local cafes and cultural institutions if they had live train information there too. Whilst this information has been available for ages for the technically literate it relies on you having some charge in your battery, knowledge of the apps and not playing Candy Crush at the same time.  I have never seen an indie cafe displaying train departure times.

So as well as making dashboards it would mean working with:

local cafes to show them how to connect their TVs to the internet and display a dashboard.

Building and hoard owners to project on their property or display the dashboard in their reception

local information owners who don’t share it in ways that it can easily be re-used.

But it all needs time, money and skills.  However the Knowledge Quarter businesses surely have these – the KQ reflects that we have some extraordinary web and data talent in the area.  Not least CASA that did the original City Dashboard.  It would be great to get the Knowledge Quarter out of its institutions onto the streets, cafes and pockets of Kings Cross. Perhaps they should give it a go?

Posted in Big developments, Current Affairs, Kings Cross local history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Local Kings Cross memories from 7 July 2005

If local people would like to share their memories of the events ten years ago please do so in the comments below (or mail me and I’ll post them for you).  It seems to be popular online as an act of collective remembrance – see also the #walktogether on Twitter. Here’s mine:

Back in 2005 I was working in a government office near Victoria Station.  Like others we started to get reports of big unusual problems on the tube, then suggestions of a security incident, then vague, imprecise news of the terrible bombs.  The office we were in formed a bridge over the road where buses turn in the one way system.  Staff were very nervous and the decision was made to evacuate the building and send everyone home.  There hadn’t been time to get my bike when we baled out of the building so I started to walk.

I was living on Rufford Street at the top of Kings Cross and would walk quite often on a diagonal route via St James Park, Trafalgar Square, Russell Square, past the tube then up Judd Street to Kings Cross then up York Way.  It’s odd how trivial details stick with you against the terrible backdrop – I remember being in a woolen suit and heavy brogues making the walk on a hot day uncomfortable.  Just after leaving the office, the mobile network crashed under the load of people calling so I couldn’t ring my mum (who is the worrying type) I remember buying a phone card and using a public phone box – probably the last time I ever did so.  I was an early phone internet user and couldn’t check online either for my route.  Police I asked knew nothing.

At Montague Street, alongside the British Museum there was a road block at the junction with Russell Square.  Quite a few people were just standing there quiet and still, apparently stunned.  The square was clogged with emergency vehicles at its NE corner.  I knew I wouldn’t get past Russell Square tube (I had hoped to head up through SOAS) so went on a long diversion I think via Theobalds Road and Lambs Conduit Street and Grays Inn Road.  At Kings Cross there was a media pen being set up for the press near Incredible Edibles and huge numbers of emergency service vehicles.  The bus lane on the Cally was being used as a parking bay for ambulances.  I remember feeling very sad and useless and made my way home.

 

Posted in Kings Cross local history, Transport | 3 Comments

Collingham Gardens Nursery fete 4th July 2015

Collingham Gardens Nursery fete 2015The wonderful Collingham Gardens Nursery, which some people may remember from the Open Garden Square Weekend in June, is holding it’s annual fete this Saturday from 1pm to 4.30pm. 

It promises to be tons of fun with delicious food, a drinks bar, drumming circle, petting zoo, bouncy castle and local musicians. Entry £1 for adults, free for children.

You can find the nursery at the junction of Wakefield and Handel Streets, click here for the full Google map.

Posted in Arts and Entertainment, Community stuff, Green spaces, New, Noticeboard, Things to do, Wildlife and Nature, Young People | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

King’s Cross N1C Designs for the Coal Drops

Paddington Basin rolling bridge

Paddington Basin rolling bridge

Robert Milne of King’s Cross Development Forum writes:

At its next meeting, on 8 July, the Forum will hear from Heatherwick Studio and Argent about the (possibly controversial) intentions for the Coal Drops.

Heatherwick Studio is also designing the Google headquarters in Mountain View (which is extraordinary in a much larger space than Paddington Basin) and, of course, the Garden Bridge.

The meeting is at 7:00 on Wednesday 8 July in Committee Room 1 of Camden Town Hall. All are welcome to this (and every other) meeting of the Forum.

Posted in Architecture, Big developments, Kings Cross N1C, Kings Cross N1C, railwayslands, New, Noticeboard, railwayslands | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

CORRECTION: St Pancras Old Church Thomas Hardy event date

So many apologies, I gave the date for the SOS St Pancras Old Church Thomas Hardy music and readings event as the 7th July, it is actually the 1st of July. I have now corrected the original post. Thankyou to Capital Walks for letting me know.

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St Pancras Old Church Thomas Hardy and Quire Music event

St Pancras Old ChurchThomas Hardy, sometime warden of St Pancras Old Church, described West Gallery Quire music in his novels and poetry. This programme will include readings from Hardy and associated music. Audience participation will be invited.

London Gallery Quire specialise in the music of town and country churches during the period 1700-1850. It is very different from the more familiar cathedral repertoire, being rhythmic and influenced by folk music.

Wednesday 1st July
7.30pm (bar opens from 6.30pm)
Part of the St Pancras Appeal Lecture Series
St Pancras Old Church

Pancras Road NW1 1UL
Tickets £10

Posted in Architecture, Arts and Entertainment, Community stuff | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Support St Andrews School

2015-06-25 16.13.05Summer fete Saturday 4th July from midday at St Andrews on Matilda Street behind Barnard Park.

Posted in Arts and Entertainment, Community stuff, New, Noticeboard, Things to do, Young People | Tagged , | Leave a comment