In a typically English way we all looked forward to the Olympics with gloom and foreboding. The logo was ugly, the sponsorship was overbearing, and turning half of London’s road into ZiL lanes was an insult to us locals trying to go about our business. But in the event, to borrow a weather forecaster’s phrase, it all turned out fine. Pessimism beforehand was translated into excitement during, to be followed, it seems, by lingering pride after.
Yet the price we had to pay to ensure that Olympians could travel about the capital was to discourage everyone else from ever going anywhere. The was no-one on the roads because people were either in the stadium or on holiday. Thousands of Londoners – me included – deliberately took their holiday during the Olympics because they thought the capital would be gridlocked. As a consequence, large parts of the city ended up looking more like a scene from Bladerunner. London had become a deserted landscape.
But you can’t solve the transport problems of one of the world’s great cities by sending everyone on holiday. Given the originality shown by Danny Boyle with that extraordinary opening ceremony or the flair shown by Andy Murray with that extraordinary final, why can’t we show those same virtues in the way we organise our transport? In terms of design and creativity, London is the world leader. You wouldn’t think so if you travelled on the Northern Line.
Part of the much debated legacy of the games should be a real determination to make London a great city to travel around, not just for a fortnight but forever.
Let’s start with the Thames. The river bus service is little more than a tourist token. It could be transformed into a major part of our transport network. It’s virtually unused now. Travelling on water is slower, but it’s therapeutic. And unlike roads you don’t need to build the river – it’s there already.
With a bit of imagination travelling on the tube could be more fun. Why not have one carriage where the Today programme is relayed through the rush hour, another where you can hear Chopin, and another where you could hear Coldplay?
Some people still need or choose to use a car. Their lives would be less painful if parking restrictions in main streets were enforced ruthlessly. How many times do you see a delivery truck outside a supermarket, holding up all the traffic in a big thoroughfare while a warden is zealously dishing out a ticket in a side street around the corner to someone who has overstayed their welcome by 5 minutes on a legitimate meter space? Couldn’t the mayor introduce some financial incentive on big delivery vehicles to deliver to supermarkets at night when the streets are quiet?
As for cycling, it’s such a healthy way to travel. Until you get killed that is. It is the most cost-efficient, physically invigorating, and environmentally intelligent means of transport yet invented – but neither motorist nor cyclist really know what the rules are. There is no educational advertising to teach each group about the dangers of confronting the other. And there is little or no thought about creating viable cycle routes through London. If Carnaby Street can be for pedestrians only, why can’t we have some intelligently selected routes for cyclists only?
At the moment Conran are working, amongst others, on a new bank card, a luxury block of apartments, a phone and a range of furniture for one of America’s largest department store chains. I am excited about all of these, and proud of them, but I wish someone would ask us to design a better way of getting around London.
– Roger Mavity, August 2012
Images are details from The Walthamstow Tapestry, by Grayson Perry, via this excellent transport blog