Two weeks ago I launched a campaign to improve not destroy the Elephant and Castle pedestrian subways and cuttings. Lots more info and a brand new subway map (because nothing good enough existed) is at www.saveoursubways.org including a petition and two campaign videos. If you're a subway hater please stop for one moment and have a read. Perhaps even visit the subways again if you haven't recently - we have a guided walk of the murals on December 20th at 7pm. Details here: www.saveoursubways.org/events.html
Closing the seven subways would destroy space that was created in 1958 100% for pedestrians. The plan to fill them in comes despite no planned reduction in traffic volumes at Elephant and Castle or road space.
The subways have been allowed to rot for years. Today they are dark because many light bulbs don't work, the signage and maps was poor when new and is now riddled with confusing errors. It's revoltingly dirty in places, the ceiling looks like it might collapse. Yet despite this squalor the subways remain busy (particularly the ones radiating from the bustling shopping centre and station). Unlike a tourist hot spot like Marble Arch (where some subways were removed recently) commuters, residents and students have learnt to tolerate their grime and know the reputation they earned in the 70s and 80s is history. Imagine how much more attractive the subways could be, especially to less frequent visitors, if given a bit of investment. It's not as if Londoners don't go underground with confidence.
We've discovered that many supporters of the destruction have been fooled into believing it's part of a plan to demolish the shopping centre, divert lots of traffic elsewhere and penisularise the roundabout so it becomes a new civic square. But regular readers of London-SE1.co.uk will know that's not happening. That hope is history. But Southwark Council and Lend Lease are desperate to keep that ambitious reputation alive. They see the roundabout as the shop window, so for marketing "The Elephant" the shop window needs a big makeover. Subway demolition is not about safety and efficiency, it's just about image.
Sadly supporters of the subway destruction include cycling campaigners even though we cannot see how removing subways will make cycling safer. We assume cyclists believe more pedestrian crossings will slow the traffic... but the traffic can't slow very much until TfL decide they want to find a way of reducing motor traffic volumes significantly. That is not their plan. Demolition is also supported by Southwark Living Streets who, like their one time leader Ben Plowden (now at TfL), increasingly come across as cult members worshiping the faultless vision of Shared Space and Hans Monderman. Even the recent death of 5 year old Hichame Bouadimi on a busy TfL road at the Elephant on a pedestrian crossing has been used by Southwark Living Streets as a trigger to advocate more pedestrian crossings of the same design. It's a logic I really don't understand, yet they insist "it's worked elsewhere so it will work here". They are sheep to the slaughter and want the rest of us to join them at the abattoir.
I fear the subways are doomed. The debate has not been encouraged. Those in opposition want to kill the story. E-mails have been forwarded to me from councillors and campaigners requesting I'm "nudged" back into line. Southwark Council want to be seen to do something, even if all TfL will let them do is reduce the space for pedestrians at one of London's most busy transport nodes.
Whilst I admire this earnest campaign and its professionalism, I must digress with its aim. The reality is that pedestrian subways -- anywhere -- send the message that cars should be prioritised over human beings.
Yes, it is horrible that the new pedestrian square will not be happening. But ground-level crossings would still do a tremendous amount of good to tame traffic at the roundabout. And by removing the subways, all pedestrians will be forced to use these ground-level crossings. As a result, traffic speeds will be reduced at the roundabout as vehicles are forced to jostle with hundreds more pedestrians. Eventually, this traffic will choose new routes -- or disappear completely -- in order to bypass the roundabout.
Again, I admire this campaign, but the truth is that pedestrian subways are a relic of bygone era when cars were prioritised over human beings, and that era is now over. Perhaps the murals and tiles could be saved and reintroduced elsewhere?
"The reality is that pedestrian subways -- anywhere -- send the message that cars should be prioritised over human beings."
- I agree that the street level is, in most cases, the premium location for any user in a city, rather than underground or an elevated space, many people like to be grounded, but where ever space exists it has a value. These proposals destroy space. This is tremendously wasteful when space is at such a premium in a congested city. Space is cheap to destroy, expensive to create. Ideally cars at The Elephant would be underground or elsewhere but this campaign seeks to be realistic.
"By removing the subways, all pedestrians will be forced to use these ground-level crossings. As a result, traffic speeds will be reduced at the roundabout as vehicles are forced to jostle with hundreds more pedestrians."
- That sounds like some kind of Roman form of entertainment, throw the people to the lions! "Forced" & "Jostle" are surely worse than going underground, especially as that underground are not long tunnels, are more direct routes than what I've seen proposed so far.
"Eventually, this traffic will choose new routes -- or disappear completely -- in order to bypass the roundabout."
This is wishful thinking, and while I admire optimism I think it's wildly optimistic here given TfL's stance for managing roads and Southwark's hope for extending traffic calming on the roads they control. The roundabout is a key node on the inner ring road, it's the edge of the congestion charge zone. Remember TfL will not let traffic volumes decrease at Elephant and Castle, the pedestrian crossings will not be very friendly ones for those on foot, the car remains king. To deter traffic other measures are called for: decreasing road capacity for example or extending the congestion charge zone as far south as the next major concentric road such as outwards west and east from Camberwell Green.
"pedestrian subways are a relic of bygone era when cars were prioritised over human beings, and that era is now over."
London is a city full of relics from bygone eras. Many go through a period of being deeply unfashionable before people get over fashion and see these assets for what they are. The magnificent railway terminus at St Pancras was due for demolition. Road building was prioritised over the anicent underground for many years, we still use antique bridges and enjoy great ancient architecture. The attitude of "it's a relic, destroy it" isn't what London has been for most of it's history (except in post war Elephant & Castle!) which is why is one reason it's such a tremendous city. The pedestrian subways from 1958 reflect the ambitious efforts city planners made to accommodate the heavy demand of road and pedestrian users at the Elephant and Castle. The proposals to destroy the subways have no ambition. They naively and crudely imitate a fashion for shared space and, as you imply, force pedestrians to fight it out with the car. You believe the pedestrians will win this battle and their jostling will send motorists elsewhere. I don't. That is not TfL's objective. TfL's objective is to pacify the bleats of Southwark Council and Lend Lease's regen marketing department and also pacify the very vocal cycling lobby who it seems, as you articulate, want to force pedestrians into becoming traffic calming measures for their own benefit.
Maybe we could have both. I find the tunnels the quickest way to cross but after 9pm, I prefer not using them on my own. We already have a crossing across the central fields, athough it takes much longer and is also quite scary at night. That needs improving too..
The design of the new crossing at the Southern roundabout is quite good with plenty of space for pedestrians to cross but it is very slow. I can't see how it would work on the Northern roundabout with the huge volume of pedestrians and the limited pavement space and the tiny entrance to the tube. Also most people want to have access to the market and lower level of the shopping centre so it make sense to get there through the tunnels.
I agree with Perronetonian the tunnels look grim. I love the African murals. If only they were cleaned. They could be very nice, used as a creative exhibition space or even to expand the market. The worst time is 7pm, when all traders have left as if a tornado of rubbish and plastic bags had just blown. If we were in a posher part of London, this would have been addressed long ago.
@connie True, subways near Hyde Park don't smell like piss and have rubbish throughout, as is often the case at E&C.
@Perronetonian I understand that it's important to be realistic about the practical pedestrian paths that the subways offer at present.
Having said that, I fear that keeping the subways will give TfL an excuse for never engaging in truly transformative planning at the E&C. The reality is that when the new high-rises and buildings on the Estate open in 5-10 years, footfall at E&C will be absolutely huge. If the subways are still present, TfL has an excuse to not improve the planned (minor) improvements. Without the subways, however, perhaps TfL would choose to more creatively manage the increased footfall.
Lastly, chances are that improvements to the Tube Station (i.e. escalators at the Northern Line) will probably require a major reworking of the underground space at E&C, which would probably require massive changes to the subways anyway. I don't see the point of rebuilding them if that comes to pass.
Thanks, though, for your exhaustive responses! Appreciate it.
Oooo, I feel a bit torn on this one. I can completely see that revamping would work and they could also introduce stalls, which would make it feel safer and provide commerce. However, E&C needs remodelling and I am not sure subways should be part of a modern road design. Would be keen to hear more views.
I can't agree with your comments about Southwark Living Streets though, they seem a pleasant and sensible bunch. I really like their plan for BHS for example.
The E&C end of London road has the choice.a road crossing and subway,more people choose the subway I would say and that's in their current state,but as the wife just said,"you'll always have that stench no matter how they spruce them up".
Like Zoe I am also somewhat torn, it's good to have the debate.
On the whole I prefer crossing at the remodeled southern roundabout since the subways were removed there. Obviously the northern roundabout is different and I'm not sure how motorists and others feel about the new design.
I'd lean towards getting rid of the subways at the northern roundabout but that's probably more of a gut feeling than anything else.
The subways would be lovely if they did not attract the social problems that they do. They can be intimidating places and have a poor reputation. Aside from the constant begging, I have seen people "jacking up" on a Saturday morning in the subway running from Newington Causeway to the shopping centre and find it hard to forget the huge, apparently human, faeces that was in that same subway for a month at least last year until it was trodden through the subway by some poor unfortunates. Where there is no shelter from the elements, there appears to be less of this behaviour. I also have it on good authority that the same subway (no. 16) is a hotbed of robberies and other violent crime in the E&C.
If this area is truly to become transformed (as it must - it's in Zone 1, for pity's sake) these issues have to be tackled. The murals should be shifted and preserved elsewhere. It would be lovely if the traffic could be directed underground instead - like the Limehouse Link or the Holborn tunnels, and the aboveground made solely for pedestrians and non-motorised transport.