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 – We’ll publish everything we receive.

About Sophie Talbot

Sophie runs a small business designing websites for small businesses and community groups. She also manages King's Cross Community Projects
This entry was posted in Bad Gyrations KX Campaign, New, Road Safety in Kings Cross and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The exceedingly opaque Transport for London

  1. The chap at has software and has drawn a better cycletrack design; but this needs more than software. It needs some people from TfL and the local community and councils to start by actually getting some experience – walk and cycle on the site and understand the place properly!

  2. Sophie; apart from the water-filled barriers, more of my designs are here:

  3. Ivan says:

    TFL and Labour council would be better getting a 2 year old to design their Road systems.The Kings cross area is a living nightmare.The cycle lanes are plonked in ridiculous places.I would also say that they have made it more dangerous.They have increased pollution,noise traffic jams and annoyed residents.They have gone about this in the wrong way.Most cyclists are killed by HGVS turning left because off blindspot.All HGVS should be fitted with cameras mandatory.Does the 20mph count for bikes as-well because they fly past me.Why did Labour council go against Police who advised against it.Just too many silly ideas to list i would be here all year.Whardale Road is a lorry and bus carpark constant horns blowing all hours,vibrating buildings, accidents.Labour Paul Convery is Poisoning residents and has created a traffic management disaster area.How many more lies do we need to listen to.Accidents have increased this is a joke.Everyday for months we have had to put up with this nonsense.Everyday night and day.Typical Labour council not listening to people thats why they lost the election.My prediction is they will disappear as they did in Scotland.Moan over and out

  4. How about holding a workshop/meeting with a flip chart to come up with ideas and take them to TfL? Id be up for helping.

    • Sophie Talbot says:

      TfL have already done workshops, although I think it’s still a good idea as many people would feel more comfortable giving comments in a workshop setting. It’s not something I can do at the moment for health reasons – yet again! But do go ahead if you can, it’d be fabulous. We’ve a hint that a college may do it as a project for their students 🙂

  5. bikemapper says:

    I am conscious of the need for some positive things to come out of this process. Looking at TfL’s plans, and considering them purely from the perspective of a cyclist, I draw a complete blank.

    The highest priority for cyclists is a north-south route which connects Gray’s Inn Road with York Way and Caledonian Road (this would also connect to the new North-South Superhighway). I think maidstoneonbike’s ideas about King’s Cross Bridge / Caledonian Road are good (i.e. a two-way cycle track on the western side of the road). Alternatively, a northbound contraflow cycle lane here would also fit the bill. Either way, it should then be possible to join up with York Way (e.g. via Caledonia Street).

    Whether bi-directional cycle tracks are installed, or contraflow cycle lanes (northbound on King’s Cross Bridge / Caledonian Road, and southbound on Gray’s Inn Road) is a matter for further debate. However, there must be a way for cyclists to pass through the King’s Cross junction safely, north-south.

    What would you say is the highest priority for pedestrians?

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