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Passer-by gives motorist chips during awful traffic jams during works to turn Shoreditch back to two-way, October 2002.

The long road back to a two-way Shoreditch

Anyone who travelled by bus, truck or car around the Shoreditch Triangle in 2002 will never forget the huge delays caused by the works to get rid of the notorious one-way system which has blighted the area ever since the bright sparks in 1960s highway engineering thought it was a good idea. For sure, the one-way system speeded up motor traffic and got more of it through, and those were the unashamed priorities of those days. But in the 21st century things are different, and even the most car-dependent in our society are realising that the valuable space in our city streets should be used for more than queue-sprint-queue motor traffic, to the exclusion of the convenience of walking, cycling and public transport.

Back in 1996 the London Cycling Campaign in Hackney joined local residents and businesses in the campaign to turn Shoreditch back to two-way. In 1997 Hackney Council commissioned research to show that it was indeed feasible, and we pitched in with a response to make sure that the needs of cycle traffic would not be ignored. Two-way reform would not come cheap, though, and it soon became clear that it was beyond the resources of the local authority to do the job. Our opportunity came with the transfer of responsibilty for the main roads to Transport for London, and in 2000 we helped to organise Look Both Ways, an event which showed the continued strength of the demand for reform.

Well, Look Both Ways helped to convince the planners and the politicians that getting rid of the one-way system was a good idea, and a budget came from a £100 million pot of money set aside for schemes to mitigate traffic displacement effects on the periphery of the new congestion charging scheme. However, the plans presented for consultation by TfL in early 2001 caused locals to scratch their heads somewhat with all private motor traffic taken out of Old Street, and eastbound motors on Old Street heading for Hackney Road and Kingsland Road diverted via Great Eastern Street and Curtain Road, which would have made the situation on the latter street worse than the status quo ante. TfL got that message, and a revised scheme was presented which is pretty much what is being nearing completion at the time of writing (November 2002). You can read a more detailed update written in September 2001.

The 2002 works are agreed by all parties to be just Phase I. Still to come, at a yet-to-be-determined time in the, we hope, near future, are the following improvements:

  • The reversion of Shoreditch High Street to two-way for all traffic, including private motor vehicles. In Phase I it is buses and bikes only northbound. This is due to some inconveniently located fibre optics at a pinch point at which a precious extra metre of space needs to be allocated to the carriageway so as to support a bus lane and a general traffic lane in each direction. Fibre optics are extremely expensive to move, we are told, hence the need to put this off until more budget is available.
  • The resolution of the awful remaining problem at the 'apex' site (junction of Great Eastern Street and Old Street), where TfL has insisted on preserving the rat run from Great Eastern Street northbound into Pitfield Street, because they don't want to risk Old Street roundabout becoming congested, thereby causing traffic to back up on Great Eastern Street. The result, though, is a real mess at the apex site and, in particular, a poor quality solution for north-south pedestrian and cycle links. Read more about the Pitfield Street ratrun.
We look forward an early resolution of these and the other remaining issues which we flagged up in 'Applying the Permeability Principle', our response to the plans for Phase I.

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