Goodbye Piccadilly


Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square or so the World War I song goes. Last week we could have been singing that verse all over again as a sector of the West End reverted back to a road layout not seen for over 40 years.

A generation ago the Road Traffic and Road Improvements Act 1960 opened the door to parking meters, traffic wardens and paved the way for the formation of the London Traffic Management Unit whose sole job was to speed up traffic, it was the predecessor of TfL‘s current objective in smoothing traffic flow – something they have proved singularly to be inept at achieving.

With five years of the Act being passed a series of Traffic Management Schemes were set up which in essence were just a series of one-way systems using parallel roads: Aldgate; Tottenham Court Road/Gower Street; Earls Court Road/Warwick Road and so on.

[O]n 15th July 1961 an experiment in traffic management was introduced as a temporary measure, a one-way system for St. James’s. Westbound traffic was to take Pall Mall and St. James’s Street while eastbound Piccadilly was the counterflow. This proved such a success that on 26th November 1961 the scheme was made permanent.

At first this did indeed speed up what little traffic there was, but as with the way of traffic management its success was short lived and just encouraged more traffic to enter London while all the time travelling at greater speeds.

To help alleviate this congestion a contra-flow for buses was introduced in the 1970s, then in the 1990’s in a bid to reduce the number of cars entering the newly pedestrianised area of Trafalgar Square and grid locking its only intersection – Charles I roundabout – the traffic lights were rephased which had the desired effect of holding more traffic back in Piccadilly before letting them enter Trafalgar Square.

Now after a £14 million scheme the roads are 2-way again, wider pavements, no railings and using high quality materials have made this a better place for pedestrians and motorists alike.

So far the signs are encouraging, St. James’s Street flows better and cabbies can take their passengers south using a much shorter route. The roads certainly look far less cluttered and an attractive area for shoppers. Piccadilly at night still looks like a parking lot as everybody travels towards Theatreland, can’t they just walk that last half mile? Or better still get a cab.

One serious omission to the scheme has been a lack of dedicated cycle lanes; if a parking ban had been enforced on these three streets the extra space could have provided provision for cyclists.

So far an improvement, but in the pipe line are other traffic schemes let us hope that they prove the success that St. James’s has proved thus far.

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