Friday 31 October 2014

Deptford Broadway 'improvement' proposals

TFL has announced its proposed 'improvements' to the Deptford Broadway/Deptford Church St junction of the A2; full details and the consultation page are up on its website.

Campaigners have been trying to get this junction improved for several decades so TFL's consultation is well overdue.

The proposal to add signal-controlled pedestrian crossings across three of the four main arms of the junction is welcome, but why has the opportunity not been taken to relocate the existing toucan crossing next to Deptford Bridge station to a position where it might actually be useful, at the junction itself? TFL claims it rejected the idea 'because of junction capacity and low pedestrian flows'.

I wonder if it has low pedestrian flows because it is in a place where no-one wants to use it? People may find it more convenient to risk crossing at the junction itself because that's the route they want to take.

And the provisions for cyclists, which include 'advisory' cycle lanes and no measures to reduce vehicle speeds, have already been criticised by Lewisham Cyclists as  'seriously rubbish'.

It's not easy to re-imagine a junction layout when you have become accustomed to its perils over the decades, but I only have to ask myself why I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have used the junction on a bike to know it is not a layout that makes me feel safe. I regularly go out of my way to avoid it, and I would consider myself a confident and experienced cyclist. I rarely attempt to negotiate it on foot because I don't need to, but I'm sure I would find it seriously annoying if it was part of my regular route.

Just look at the layout on the plan - a cursory glance reveals the main problem with this junction.

Why does a junction connecting the vaguely dual-lane Blackheath Road to the definitely single-lane New Cross Road need so many traffic lanes? It balloons up into an enormous swollen racetrack - not just left and right turning lanes, but two lanes for the traffic going straight ahead, which then has to squeeze into a single lane within yards of the other side of the junction.

All this type of junction design does is encourage drivers to jostle for position as if they are at the start of a race, then roar away when the lights change in an attempt to jump ahead one or two vehicles. It creates the kind of space that encourages aggressive, competitive driving, a space in which cyclists are regarded as an inconvenience and expected to be safe in 'advisory' lines of paint in between the lanes.

Updated: Lewisham Cyclists have posted a full response to the plans on their website.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Silvertown Tunnel consultation

Transport for London has just launched consultation into its planned Silvertown Tunnel, which is intended to increase capacity for vehicles wanting to cross the Thames between east London and the Greenwich Peninsula.

There's plenty of talk about how the new tunnel would 'relieve congestion' and yet in the same breath, TFL also explains that it intends to impose charges on both the Blackwall Tunnel and the Silvertown Tunnel to 'manage demand' (as well as to pay for the new tunnel). Isn't this just an admission that building a new tunnel would generate so much additional traffic that the new tunnel would be congested as soon as it opened.

TFL has put together a fly-through film showing how the tunnel portals and the tunnel service buildings are intended to fit in the existing landscape and link into the existing roads.

What's missing from all the jazzy fly-throughs and optimistic predictions is any explanation of how the roads on either side of the river will cope with this extra traffic. With the 'bottleneck' at the tunnel supposedly removed, the congestion problem will simply move to other parts of the network, increasing congestion elsewhere - outside your front door, your child's school or your local park perhaps?

As we saw from local pollution monitoring earlier this year, levels of nitrogen dioxide are already well above recommended safe levels in many parts of Greenwich and Lewisham. With increased traffic from a new tunnel adding even more congestion, pollution levels will only get worse.

The fly-through produced by TFL offers visualisations of a tunnel with no traffic; campaigners at No to Silvertown Tunnel have created a more realistic version showing the current situation in the Blackwall Tunnel, which is likely to be recreated very rapidly in any new tunnel nearby.

You can find out more about their campaign on the website, including an analysis of the proposed scheme, and some suggested public transport alternatives.

Friday 10 October 2014

New shop fronts for Deptford High Street

The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed the new shopfronts that have appeared along Deptford High Street.

Six shops have had their signs and shutters replaced using the tail end of the Outer London Funding bid that paid for the repaving works and other projects.

I don't believe this work was actually part of the original bid, and I'm not clear where the funding was diverted from, but it is certainly being paid for out of the money that was awarded to Deptford.

One of the regular gripes by those who care about the visual appearance and public realm quality of the high street is the damage to shop fronts caused by cheap 'improvements' which usually involve ripping out the old shop front and bunging in a roller shutter. This is often done at the lowest possible cost and by contractors whose only concern is the speed with which they can get the work done.

There's also ongoing problems with planning applications for changes that are not appropriate to a conservation zone (yes! Deptford High Street is a conservation zone!) such as internally illuminated signs and plastic-framed replacement windows. Many of these have got through in the past but happily the planners at the council are now more aware of the problem and seem to be taking greater note of new applications.

The new shop fronts are intended to showcase 'good design' for the high street and demonstrate the type of solutions the council would like to see applied whenever renovations are carried out.

In my opinion the designs have all been successful to some extent - even those which I consider too gaudy or disappointingly underwhelming have a solid and unified quality. I assume the shop owners were consulted on the designs and colour schemes, which presumably explains why they vary so much.

At the south end of the high street (above) the replacement signage and awning are a huge improvement on the awful gaudy plastic thing that used to scar this lovely building. I like the colour choice and it seems the designer of the sign made the best of a bad job, considering how many words had to be accommodated.

I admit I find the light green squiggles adorning each end a little distracting though, they do put me in mind of a diagram of the female reproductive system.

Next up is Divine - the colour choice might be more reminiscent of a high-viz cycling jacket than anything else, but at least the shop front is in muted colours and the simple design works well.

AK Continental Foods looks good when it's open but the shutter design makes it look quite fun even when it's closed. Not much thought seems to have been given to how the design would fit on the shutters - to be honest it looks a bit like one of my attempts - but it's cheerful and colourful so the end result is a positive one.

Down at the more subtle end of the scale is Fu Quing Chao Shi Chinese supermarket - auspiciously red, no surprise there, and very clean design. The new awning looks great too.

There's always one who wants to stand right out, and in this case it's Family Halal Butchers & Grocers with their gaudy yellow and red sign and even a yellow edging to the bright red awning. Considering they are sandwiched between the non-too subtle shouty awning of Housewives and their other bright yellow neighbour, it's none too surprising.

My favourite of all the shopfront redesigns is Ralph's green grocery which has a strong Farrow & Ball feel to it - not just the colours of the shop front and contrasting awning, but the lower-case shop name and understated design. I'm sure the Guardian would have a field day suggesting that it's an unmistakeable sign of gentrification although you only have to step inside to note the absence of wicker baskets or eggs displayed in beds of straw.

When the previous shopfront was removed, the original sill of the window on the first floor was revealed, leading for calls to redesign the shop sign and reinstate the window to its original level. The building (formerly Caxton House) apparently used to be a ladies school in the 1800s and is one of the more significant historic buildings on the high street, although there are probably many more than you might think. 

As far as I know, extra funding is being sought to adjust the shopfront accordingly, let's wait and see.

And finally, here's the latest new shopfront. As far as the new occupier goes, shame to see another 'chain' on the high street (although in reality it's a franchise) but apparently there are lots of people out there who think buying sandwiches by the foot is a good wheeze.

I'm of the opinion that there are much better sandwich options available on the high street, and the only time I went into a Subway I got rather confused by the aggressive questioning about filling options. I like the old-school method where the customer tells the sandwich maker exactly what they want and the sandwich maker puts aforementioned ingredients in the bread. Mind you I seem to remember it was a branch in the US so I was confused as to why I might want cheese in a ham sandwich, particularly since I was then asked to choose between four types of cheese, none of which sounded real, and all of which had been processed to exactly the same extent except for subtle differences in colour.

I suspect the new Subway will probably impact most on Percy Ingle's and Greggs' sandwich and hot food sales. Other branches seem to open late and I hope this one will too - it would certainly be good to see more places on the high street that open into the evening.