Dreams of Kings Cross, a comment on proposed changes on the gyratory system

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There was once a green valley with a pretty stream, before they dumped without any consideration all their rubbish and poo in the waters, so it became poisonous and smelly and rather than stop their activities, they tunnelled the stream up, and built heavy bricked roads over it. Once the horse drawn carriages disappeared, the roads were enlarged with tarmac to only serve people sitting in streams of cars in traffic jams down Penton Rise and Kings Cross Road and the surrounding roads.

It is worth remembering, that what you see at Kings Cross is relative to time. The town and road planners of tomorrow would do no wrong to remember Kings Cross’s origins and the many mistakes of the past that transformed this place beyond recognition, if a medieval time traveller were to emerge here.

One of our demands was far from a restoration of those green valleys of once upon a time. We who live here simply wanted to see the ultimate madness of the gyratory system abolished, which had transformed this place into an urban motorway.

Now we have a new proposal suggested by TFL changing almost all the roads into two-way traffic streets. Can we believe it? After all, different local people campaigned on this issue alone for two or three generations, starting some 30 or 40 years back!

So the promise is, that we won’t any longer have speeding cars on various roads offering up to three uni-directional lanes anymore or illogical, non-direct traffic flows, forced through local communities, with residential blocks on both sides. Vehicles that frequently fail to stop even to a family with small children standing at some of the local zebra crossings, enforcing the right of the motor car owner or driver – who rarely lives locally – with an erect middle finger and four wheels.

If these plans are really implemented, perhaps even insecure cyclists will be able to navigate around these corners, let alone that family with kids, and go for a stroll down on Kings Cross Road, or cycle to shop on Caledonian Road, no longer needing to cycle on the pedestrian paths, or as traffic wardens like to remind us, dismount and push.

Cities need change and leadership, and it is important that TFL and the London Mayor along with the local boroughs of Islington and Camden had a good and proper think about this.

Whilst some must continue to be allowed to access the stations of Kings Cross and St. Pancras with cars, especially those with mobility issues (but the truth is, that this is the minority of car users), along with some delivery vehicles, there should no longer exist that message, that travelling by car – through an area, with more alternatives by bus, train, and tube connections, than anywhere else in London, with millions of people on their feet here each day, and thousands others on bikes – should be the only law and right that counts.

But alongside the also announced speed reduction at Kings Cross to 20 miles, a further toughening up of the congestion zone, the announced possible extensions of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (that all candidates for the London Mayoral Elections uphold), new electric and better hybrid taxis and buses, new regulations on HGVs, tougher guidelines on work based parking, as well as continued increases in cycling, including work-bikes serving businesses, Kings Cross may just become a place, where roads can be braved by anyone wishing to cycle or walk and hopefully, where air can also become much cleaner (well that is actually also a legal requirement and WHO / UN concern).

In spite of its property market and desirability in terms of cultural diversity, the roads and traffic of London have so far made it score quite low in ‘liveable cities’ assessments. Kings Cross roads are one of its worst examples. If the proposed plans get it right, the road designers should get knighted, if you asked me.
But we the people who live at Kings Cross have had many promises given already, and few delivered. Two-directional road lay outs had been on the menu a few times already, including several consultations. But in the end no planner or politician was brave enough to implement it. >>Car<< was held to be king, mighty and all powerful, perhaps even crucially  an election shifter for at least the last 50 years, and our arguments were held to be pitiful and regressive “in the wider spectre of things.”

Really? Lucky are those who outlive the despotism of yesteryear to only find out, you were right in the first place.

With Eurostar at its feet however, the dangerous traffic chaos of Kings Cross is currently the immediate introduction of the lack of policy and foresight to any London visitor straight after his or her arrival. So yes it is truly great, TFL are set to change that and make Kings Cross and London more progressive, safe and forward thinking in that regard.

The slogan for us remains though – and please excuse us, for we talk from experience – we believe it, when we see changes implemented!

When a water pipe had burst under the tarmac of Weston Rise and water in masses run down that steep road, pooling on the bottom of it, where it meets Kings Cross Road, this winter, one could almost remember a far gone moment, when Kings Cross was more than just a road planning problem. Urban road and pipe specialists were soon on site to rectify the leak. But if you asked most local people today, what version of Kings Cross they would like to see more of, you know it is not going to be road enlargements and cars they would choose. The plan we have in front of us now is not the removal of the roads as such, but their better management, so that it serves all road users. Considering all, this is probably the best Kings Cross can now hope for, given the circumstances and accumulated human (in)actions of several centuries.

 

In that sense hooray to forthcoming two-way traffic streams. Perhaps the roads will calm in some hours so much, you can just about hear the distant torrents of a bricked up and piped up continuously flowing river deep underneath, dreaming of another Kings Cross through its water – not engine – roaring echoes of the past.

About Daniel Zylbersztajn

Daniel Zylbersztajn, is since 2012 correspondent to the German independent left of centre daily newspaper taz, die Tageszeitung and Jüdische Allgemeine, and a Pilates Teacher. Born in Germany but also raised in Holland and Israel, he is a long term resident of London Kings Cross (first in 1991), involved parent, local and social activist, and positive lifestyle advocate. He also held posts in research, and conflict work, a.o. for the Palestinian - Israeli peace village Wahat al Salam ~ Neve Shalom. He holds a BA in history and politics from SOAS and two Master degrees, in Urban Sociology (Goldsmiths) and Sports Coaching (Brunel). He is founding and committee member of Coram's Fields User Group, the parent and community voice of Central London's biggest and oldest children playground and was its first spokesperson and chair. Daniel tweets under @zylbersztajn
This entry was posted in Bad Gyrations KX Campaign, Gyratory consultation 2016, New and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Dreams of Kings Cross, a comment on proposed changes on the gyratory system

  1. If you knew English literature you would know that this area was green fields only 100 years ago. It is vividly described in Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” where a procession of people walked through the fields to St. Pancras church (the old St. Pancras church of course) for a funeral.

  2. Bert says:

    What a load of absolute garbage. Garbage written by someone who clearly doesn’t live in the area or if they do, doesn’t live near any of the affected streets.

    It’s this kind of pie-in-the-sky utopian claptrap that has made the street I live on – Wharfdale Rd – a virtual parking lot and one of the most polluted streets in the city.

    In accordance with this ridiculous new scheme, in November of 2014 one of the south bound lanes of Cally Rd was turned into a northbound one and the intersection at Wharfdale Rd and Cally Rd adjusted accordingly.

    It’s been a nightmare ever since.

    The new northbound lane is completely unused, forcing what was 3 lanes of southbound traffic on Cally Rd down into two. Also, the traffic on Wharfdale – which previously could flow smoothly onto Cally Rd – is now forced to stop for light changes, creating an endless traffic jam on this very residential street. This traffic jam consists of 5 separate bus routes as well as numerous HGV’s, all idling all hours of the day and night.

    For a plan that’s supposed to promote a greener Kings Cross it’s astounding how much it’s increased green house gasses in the area.

    The neighbourhood’s been up in arms since this brilliant new plan’s inception but has been rebuffed at every turn by people who’d rather look at maps than come down and experience what their truly terrible decisions mean to the people who actually are affected by them.

    With new hotels and condos going up everyday in Kings Cross, to think that it could be turned into some kind of pedestrian/cycling paradise is pure folly. If the changes made to Wharfdale/Cally roads are any indication of what’s to come then we are all in for a lot more grief, pollution and noise – not less.

    Your dreams for this neighbourhood are turning its reality into an unlivable nightmare.

    • Just to get the record on your assumption straight with all due respect to your opinion, which I do not deny valid points, I am resident of Kings Cross – in spite of my foreign surname – for the sum of 18 years! I don’t think you got my comment or the cynicism entailed within, for what we want or don’t want, can vote on or not, is still voting on roads that will, for what one can imagine, never disappear. I clearly argued, some would rather vote for the stream 300 years ago (that includes myself), had I got a chance. That water management is no longer an issue, can be shown with Regents Canal. But I concede we are not to give opinions on sentimental utopias and impossibilities. We are where we are. I trust the issue you raise, will be better when the roads open, though you are quite right that the volume and pollution may remain, until it is, and I mention that too, the more stringent rules on what kind of cars can enter our areas and the Ultra Low Emission Zone sets in. Those of us who live alongside two or three lane long streets, are quite happy to see the ed of racing, and it will be good to see cars taking more direct routes and cyclists able to go both ways. These are some improvements. Some argue, and I do not deny their point, that two-directional streets are harder to negotiate for pedestrians when crossing. In my submission to the consultation I said that on the longer roads there should more crossings (zebra or otherwise) installed to make up for that. A real change are the extra cycle lanes though. D

    • Sophie Talbot says:

      Bert, this site is for calm and reasoned discussion. Please keep posts both polite and informed or they’ll be removed.

  3. What remains to be seen is whether the planned restriction (and enforced ‘calming’) of motor traffic will improve the qualities of King’s Cross as a place. Vehicle traffic arrangements alone will not improve the place. Motor vehicle pollution may worsen until behaviour changes and we return to walking more, and being more locally involved and personally responsible for the local streets.
    Gregory

    • I think you are right Gregory, though I am personally slightly more on the cycling side of things. The good thing is that emission guidelines are set to change and the Low Emission Zone will probably increase, and the car manufacturers who lied about their emissions, are increasingly exposed. One issue though I would add is that car induced air pollution is also affected by friction of gear changes, breaking action and rubber friction (which also applies to some degree to electric and hybrid vehicles). So in deed, there needs to be a shift London-wide, probably more outside of Kings Cross than by the people who live here, right?

    • alchemista says:

      I welcome the proposed changes – I think – mainly because I live in Wharfdale Road and the proposals will hopefully result in fewer vehicles travelling past my flat. I have to agree though, that the real problem is the volume of traffic. The proposals in themselves will do nothing to alleviate this. I expect York Way, Goods Way, Pentonville and Euston Roads will be even more congested – with the idling traffic causing even more air pollution. I am slightly bemused, however, by the argument that getting rid of private cars will solve everything. Even if private cars were banished from our roads, there would still be diesel-spewing buses and taxis plus HGVs and delivery vans. I currently own a car, and use it so infrequently that I have to (reluctantly) take it out once a month to charge the battery up. The reason I don’t use it? It’s more trouble than it’s worth. I visited my parents in Buckinghamshire today, and chose to take the Metropolitan line to Amersham and then a bus, rather than deal with the Euston/Marylebone Roads & A40. I cannot imagine why anybody would choose to drive anywhere near central London – possibly their starting points are inaccessible by public transport? What is required is ‘park and ride’ facilities around the outskirts of our city. We also need to rely less on internet shopping (guilty), and cheap private hire vehicles (not guilty).

      [DISCLAIMER: The reason I own a car is because my previous jobs have involved: travelling to various locations further out in north and east London, long hours, having to carry heavy piles of books, and a medical condition that can make physical activity very tiring at times. Currently looking for a job that’s accessible by public transport.]

  4. baoigheallain says:

    Any plan to curtail the dominance of the motor car is to be welcomed but be careful: changing from one-way to two-way does not magically cause traffic to evaporate.

    Changing from one-way to two-way won’t make motorists suddenly respect families trying to cross zebra crossings, won’t make Volkswagen diesel engines comply with Euro 5 standard, won’t stop Black Cabs emitting 50% of London’s pollution.

    For all that to happen the planners have to be brave, and actually close roads.

    Before replying to the consultation I’ll be paying careful attention to the discussion here as it develops. http://www.cyclescape.org/threads/2367 As the name suggests, it is a discussion mostly concerned with how the proposals will affect cyclists but the contributors to it, and moderators of it, are seasoned campaigners knowledgeable in their field and are fighting for liveable streets which will benefit all of us.

    Once I learn some more, I will reply to the consultation.

    • I totally agree. I think to summarize my comment in less poetic language, we fought all those years against the gyratory, many of us advocating two-way streets, like the creation of straight access into Pentonville Road into Euston Road and Kings Cross Road into Pentonville Road etc.

      Now that we got there with a serious long awaited proposal, it looks like not that much of progress (except the other changes on the Ultra Low Emission Zone (higher standards and an extension of it), cleaner buses and taxis, more cycle paths and more cycling will be enforced soon. As some that responded to my comment pointed out, there needs to be a mind change above all in the car solves all problems suburbs of London, aided by Park and Ride too. The old green valley that once stood at Kings Cross is always there as a reminder though. There is no reason why in some years ahead, planers could not open up small parts of the fleet and recreate as best as possible some of what was. An example thereof is the partial left over of New River in Islington, a beautiful stretch of urban nature. I therefore say, I cautiously accept this as a step ahead, but it is really an option atop the instituted opinion, that no roads can possibly be closed and greened up. Kings Cross will remain a cross of roads for sure with this. Perhaps the losses of in my case 20 years of lobbying have lowered my expectations? I dare not risk getting nothing out of this willingness of TFL to change something, for one on the road I live cars and motorbikes are racing day by day and lorries and taxis shatter the buildings as they pass by. Mind you some of these lorries are Royal Mail’s. Some 100 years ago they built them a tunnel to access the rail way network from Mount Pleasant. But made such a bad job of maintaining it (lacking government funding to repair it) that they closed it and we now have lorries doing what a tunnelled system was able to do years ago. That is regressive. Similarly a plan to bring back a central London tram by Ken Livingstone which would have reached Somers Town (close enough to Kings Cross) not so long ago, has been shelved yet again, as soon as Boris arrived, with multiple Pounds of tax payers money wasted in consultations and plans… only to be replaced by a fancy bus, that did not even meet the highest emission standards and cost more to operate…

  5. baoigheallain says:

    The conversation is also taking place on https://www.streetlife.com/conversation/uxsfnprmp1so/

    Please wade in and put your views across.

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