On 1st July Camden Council closed Queens Crescent to vehicular traffic as part of an Experimental Traffic Order. They wanted to see what happens when you cut off the life support system of a neighbourhood shopping street which relies on connections with the areas around it. The results have been painful for local businesses, which are struggling. Most people are confused about the reasons for the disruption. Residents of the sheltered accommodation about the library and Queens Crescent Community Centre are cut off, and vulnerable people are unable to get back home via taxi and other means of transport that they previously used. The implications for residents and businesses alike have not been thought through.
UPDATE DECEMBER 2021: people are getting used to the changes, the reduced traffic is of course welcomed by some. Others still find that the disregard of the working life of Queen’s Crescent grates. Many puzzle over the meaning of the lines, and find it easier to ignore them. Local politicians, worried about negative headlines in the run up to the local elections, attempt to justify the scheme.
There is no explanation of who ‘We‘ is, or which department of the Council is responsible. It is a rather sinister, ‘Big Brother’- like, nameless organisation which will do things to local people.
“we’ve been listening to locals so that together we can transform this local neighbourhood centre”
This spirit of partnership is not one that rings true. The local population have been subjected to changes imposed upon them. ‘Transformation’ was not offered in the consultation, nor asked for.
“The majority of households within a 15 minute walk from Queens Crescent do not have access to a car or van”
Why is this relevant and what does it mean? What are Camden trying to achieve if there is so little local car-use anyway.
This timeline shows how 5 years has been spent without anything significant being achieved, other than pedestrianisation without consent.
Local people were asked about what they wanted and spent a year engaging with the Council’s consultants, The Decorators. The work was later put aside at the prospect of getting more money from the GLA.
The Hemingway Report looked at Inverness Street market specifically and only touched on Queen’s Crescent in passing. However, its contents are more interesting, and more interested in people, that Camden’s bald statements.
Temporary street paint: there is a call for spaces where people can participate in art activities and be creative themselves.
Seating: these outdoor eating ‘areas’ will not last long. Street furniture should be properly designed and made out of good quality, durable materials.
Road decoration: whatever is used to decorate the surface of the road should be hard-wearing and in colours that do not look dirty.
There is a lack of clarity about the meaning of the data used:
“Traffic volumes across the area have decreased”– is this due specifically to the closure of Queen’s Crescent, or this is a general trend across London? What is the area referred to?
“Air quality has increased at all our monitoring sites”– again there is no clarity regards the size of the area, and whether this is applies across Camden?
“We’ve given out £342k in grants to support businesses”– is this mostly Covid related payments directed from central government? If not, which department funded this?
“Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org”- is this any more than a traffic safety scheme, and if so, what?
FURTHER THOUGHTS: Pedestrianisation and the creation of no-go areas for cars does not change the “travel to work area” which London’s job market – the biggest in Europe – has long established. That travel area is accessed by many people who travel by car. One estimate is that 1.8m people come to work in London by car using about 1.3m vehicles.
London’s population is anticipated to be 1 million people higher than it was a decade ago. A figure that today exceeds almost 9 million people. Over a similar period, the economic powerhouse that is London added 1.2 million jobs to its name. Yet, despite all this emphatic growth, the capital has only been able to deliver 300,000 new homes. Rail investment hasn’t kept up with the growth of jobs in London either so people living in the suburbs and further out will go on driving into London.
Depriving Queen’s Crescent of passing trade from this huge volume of car movements is not necessarily a good plan. Malden Road is the main route through the neighbourhood. It cannot be closed. So, quite simply, Camden ought to facilitate passing trade from the flows it supports. That would mean a very careful parking strategy, which is not in evidence.
The pedestrianised part of the street takes away a large quantum of parking. It also breaks the street in two so drivers looking for parking can’t reach the other end of the street. Parking on side streets is not encouraged either. Visiting Queen’s Crescent by car has become much harder: car-use has become a lot more awkward because the street has been cut in two and has less parking.
A positive strategy that recognises Malden Road’s continued role as a through-route would be to develop its frontage with new commercial spaces. Camden has no commitment to do this. It is a well-established fact that office and work uses support shopping streets. The Association of Town Centre Managers make the case that an important way to sustain shopping frontages is to keep other work uses in the area. Camden has signally failed to do this in the neighbourhod, to the detriment of Queen’s Crescent.
Broadly speaking, a fairly simple minded approach to vehicles has been adopted. We are asked to accept the idea that cars should not be on Queen’s Crescent and that shops and businesses shouldn’t serve customers who arrive in cars. The implications are both coercive and dogmatically unresponsive to prevailing facts: shops should only serve people who arrive on foot, cycle or public-transport. No one asks why? when there are so many people passing through in cars. Car-borne traffic isn’t going to disappear unless modal change and investment in railway capacity is magically achieved by pedestrianisation.
Camden wants Queen’s Crescent to be an obedient little neighbourhood centre which it is not. Queen’s Crescent is somewhere between a small collection of shops and somewhere that has a wider profile in the rest of the city. Ethnic diasporas associated with the many ethnicities of the streets shopkeepers is a factor. The street market yet another. The historical fact the street was once far more significant and retains some kind of strange fame is still another.
The question of passing trade or trade arriving from further afield is not addressed by Camden and is central to keeping a lid on Queen’s Crescent as a mere “neighbourhood centre”: making sure business, henceforth, will not be done with people who come by car stops any economic adrenaline being introduced. If potential customers come by car, they will encounter difficulties which will be explained by the “frustration” theory of managing cars in London. The greater the frustration drivers feel the better as it will discourage car-journeys
The rest of the case for pedestrianisation is all to do with pollution and traffic injuries. The latter is a key part of the Mayor’s case for LTNs. The jury is out on whether pedestrianisation does that much. Research suggests that the Mayor’s favourite statistics leave out the London boroughs which had nothing to do with LTNs where significant injury reductions also occurred.