Tag Archives: London

Thoughts on the London Transit Strike

Image courtesy HuffingtonPost.com, which has a number of Tube Strike photos

Regular media and social media are abuzz with ‘Why you really don’t want to be a Londoner right now’ and ‘Top ten worst images from the London Tube strike.’ And its true its caused a little bit of hysteria: the London Underground is running a skeleton service Wednesday and Thursday (scheduled to end in a few hours) to protest staffing changes, including closing ticket offices (possibly to turn them into Amazon or grocery pick-up facilities, which I think sounds kind of awesome). The Tube workers say that the move will make the Tube less hospitable to elderly, disabled and female riders; I did see a Tweet from a disabled-advocacy group so there must be something that I’m missing.

Anyway. The strike is the first of 2 scheduled walk-outs in protest of the changes, and has resulted in a fair amount of chaos around the city, with bus queues stretching down streets and YouTube videos of arterial roads turned into parking lots.

That said, there was far less chaos than I was expecting. In my two days of commuting around London (one in heavy rain – awesome!), there were noticeably more people on foot. And larger were noticeably more aggressive – I saw a white van almost take out a woman my mother’s age on a left turn this morning.  It was so egregious I tried to note down the plate, only to be enraged at the next street when a Royal Mail van did almost exactly the same thing.   That said, motorized traffic through the city centre did not seem substantially worse than normal. And while there were loads of pedestrians around King’s Cross and around UCL, that’s pretty much standard, as well. In general, the most common comment I’ve seen on Facebook in response to ‘look at these crazy crowds!’ is ‘looks about normal to me.’

There have been noticeably more cyclists, though.  Use of the cycle hire scheme is up 50% (with staffing to match) and there was a noticeable uptick in novice cyclists, both on personal and cycle-hire bikes, tooling around the city.  Not only were they novices, they were jerks: lots more cycling on the sidewalk (or pavements, as they’re called here) and the wrong way down one-ways.  There were also a number of efforts to encourage safe cycling, the most notable being the #bikethestrike campaign on Twitter, where regular commuters publicised their routes and led ‘rusty riders’ home like ducklings.  Some of my coworkers have said they wish such a service existed all the time, so I’m hopeful that despite today’s awful weather, some of the cyclists will stick.

On the whole, I think efforts like #bikethestrike and seasoned cyclists’ desire to publicise the benefits have led to really lovely behavior.  I had a nice chat with a man yesterday where I showed him how to work the machines and wished him well in his new job (it was his first day. Poor bastard.)  Later, when I inadvertently cut off a lycra-clad, lithe young man in an expensive helmet, I turned around to apologise, and he said ‘no worries, I liked the look of you.’ While my initial reaction was ‘STILL GOT IT!” I realise now he was probably not flirting with me, after all.  Of course, moments later, as I was cycling down Tavistock Road reflecting on how lovely people can be, a pedestrian stepped in front of a cyclist, who snarled ‘get out of the fucking way!’

Not that it excuses his behavior, but he totally had the right-of-way and the walked was behaving really dangerously by stepping in front of about a dozen cyclists, all accelerating to make it through the light.

While I think the Tube strike was unwarranted, and that ticket offices probably are outdated and expensive to maintain, I also think that things more or less went okay, given my expectations.  If you were stuck in a car, I have no sympathy for you. And if some more people cycled…that’s great.  The Tube transports about 4 million people every day, so I don’t want to suggest that it isn’t an important means of transport. Clearly, it’s one of the world’s great urban transpo networks.  But the city didn’t grind to a halt without it – people walked, rode bikes, and found ways around it, and that’s what they (we) will do again in the event of another strike next week.

 

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Boris Bikes!

Courtesy agreenerfestival.com

Hello Internet.

It’s been a quiet month on Ink & Compass because its been a busy month in the actual lives of its editors.  Franny started a new job and Izzy spent two months touring Canada with her band, The Strumbellas.  As her sister, but also as a fan of indie country pop, I cannot pimp this band enough.  You can stream the album off their website.

I wrote about my old job, coordinating design review for the east of England, in a post a few months ago. My new job is at a small planning consultancy in London; the thing they do that I’m most excited about is university facilities planning. I have a small project in Cambridge to start with, which is super great news. I’m really eager to get going.

The commute to London is not fabulous, but the best discovery so far has been the London Cycle Hire scheme.  In the space of three weeks, I have become evangelical about cycle hire. I pick the bikes up from a station on Belgrove Street, hop on the separated cycle lane on Tavistock Place, and after one slightly nervous-making right-left turn combo, cruise down residential streets until I get to my new Office Neighbourhood.  I park the cycles around the corner from work.

I’ve been riding the bikes for two weeks, and for the most part have been blown away by how easy it is, and how pleasant the experience of riding through London has turned out to be.  The cycle lane on Tavistock is jam-packed; on Friday it took my several traffic light cycles to cross the street, because there were 15 people ahead of me.  In my last post, I complained about the cycle traffic in Amsterdam, and how stressful it was. There is an element of that in London, but for the most part the cycles are just short of overwhelming.  Instead, the hordes of cyclists make riding a bike safer and more pleasant, and if it occasionally takes me a little longer to cross the street, its a price I’m willing to pay.

On all but one occasion, picking up and returning a bike has been easy-peasy, and the one time it wasn’t, I just walked to the next docking station.

While I’ve used bike share before (in Chicago, Dublin, Valencia and Toronto), this is the first time I’ve used it in any sustained, regular way, and also the first experience I’ve had cycling in London.  I registered online, and received a plastic key in the post three days later. Only annual subscribers get the key, but it makes a huge difference in its functionality.  You stick the key into the docking station of the cycle you want, and a moment later a green light goes on, indicating that the cycle is released.  Then there’s an awkward moment where you have to pull the back wheel straight up (heave, really) and roll it out – and then you’re good to go.  Short-term users have to check in at a solar-powered tower and enter a code every time, which adds a couple minutes to the journey.

Here are some stats:

– cyclists on Boris Bikes (so called for Boris Johnson, the mayor of London) are 3x less likely to be in accidents, presumably due to the fact that these bikes signal to everyone that the cyclist is possibly a tourist and probably an idiot (that’s me!)
– on the busiest day in the scheme’s history (during the 2012 Olympics), the bikes were used for more than 47,000 discrete trips
– a yearlong subscription to the scheme costs £45, although this is set to increase to £90 in 2013
an article from last January gives some stats on the riders themselves, who are overwhelmingly male and wealthy

What are the cons? Well, there was that one day when I couldn’t get a bike at my usual station.  A crowd of sad commuters stood next to the docking station, gazing mournfully at the lack of bikes. In the scheme of things – even in the scheme of the last leg of my commute – it was a minor inconvenience, but in the moment it was briefly, intensely frustrating.  A common complaint of cycle hire schemes is The Helmet Issue.  I ride my bike from my house to the Cambridge train station, and just bring my helmet with me on the train, so I have yet to ride the streets of London with an unadorned head.  I see a number of people on Boris bikes wearing helmets, but it is an issue that has plagued all the cycle hire schemes in the world.  There has been talk in Boston of helmet vending machines, or some sort of complementary Helmet Hire Scheme.  Boston also ran  special uber-cheap helmet offer in conjunction with local bike shops when they unveiled Hubway last summer.  But in general, helmets are an unresolved issue.

The other major con is the design of the bikes themselves.  They are heavy – 28 kilos (51 lbs).  While I appreciate the heft of the bikes, which leaves me rosy-cheeked after my 16 min, 2 mile trip, it also means that they are hard to get going and heaven help you if you have to go up a hill. The other frustrating thing is the gearbox. There are only three gears, and they’re all low.  This was intentional, to keep speeds down (another reason, presumably, the Boris bikers have fewer accidents than other cyclists).  But they really keep speeds down.  These things are tanks.

Another obvious complaint is that the IT support for the bikes has not quite kept up.  Transport for London has a live map (with smartphone app) showing the locations of all the docking stations and indicating how much space is available, but I’ve found it to be inaccurate as often as not (fortunately, this hasn’t been an issue for me as of yet). And for whatever reason, the TfL map isn’t synced with Google Maps. Google lists Tube and bus stations, and cycle hire is, fundamentally, public transportation, so even if they don’t add the “how many bikes are available” feature, I hope that Google at least upgrades its maps to indicate where the stations are. It’s a pretty egregious oversight on the part of TfL and Google.

While I’ve been amazed at the popularity of the bikes (I see dozens on my way to work every day), its also clear that the system could support more intensive use.  To me, the bikes are a totally viable system of public transport, and everyone should start treating them as such.

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Hidden Spaces

Here’s something for those of you with a case of the Mondays: The Guardian’s slideshow of unknown spaces in London, from a book recently published by English Heritage.

There are 17 images of really beautiful spaces in London, none of which you’d know were there without some inside knowledge. Totally exciting, especially for someone looking to spend more time in the city.

It makes me want to do a best spaces tour of my life – the Andover dining hall, the Milwaukee Athletic Club restaurant, the top floor of Maggie Mo at Carnegie Mellon.

What are your favourite spaces (shameless participation plug!)?  Seriously, though, places (and pictures/links) would be appreciated.

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King’s Cross = Awesome

I was in London last week, and I got to see the new King’s Cross station just a few days after opening.  I’d seen renderings, and this was a rare occasion when the real thing was everything promise by the drawing and more.  While its not The Platonic Public Space, its an enormous improvement on what was there before, and I think it really makes a huge difference to the area.

King’s Cross and environs is currently undergoing a huge, decade-long revamp, and this development is on the vanguard of completed projects.  I was traveling through King’s Cross a lot in the fall, so I can say with authority that this new public space – including a new retail gallery, a ticket office, a huge covered corridor and Underground connection – is a fantastic addition to the area.

Furthermore, I was there just a few days after the official opening, and there was still a large-scale public information campaign to retrain the public how to use the station.  On the one hand, I think traffic patterns should be clear if the space is well-designed.  On the other hand, thousands of people have used the station the way it was for the past however many years, and I did actually profit from a woman wearing a sandwich board (in the same finger-pointing shape as above) directing me from the Tube to the station.  The public information campaign has been really well executed.

I should also say that, while I am certainly a nerd for stopping to take pictures, I was hardly the only one doing it.  The space isn’t perfect, but the effect is really impressive.  It actually stopped me in my tracks as I rounded the corner from platform 9.

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The Castle

The first time I went to Metro Rock Climbing Wall in Everett, Mass, the driver assured me (repeatedly!) that he wasn’t trying to kill me and dispose of my body.  Metro is sandwiched between a limousine and town car warehouse and  some sort of cement storage yard down – take a left at the peanut butter factory down a rutted gravel road, take another left past an overgrown wire gate, and you’re there!

Because of the physical requirements of rock gyms, they’re often located in unappealing places – in industrial estates on the edge of town or far outside the city center.  Or, alternatively, they’re located someplace wonderful but the facility is dinky, expensive, or both.

The Castle Rock Gym in London is expensive but hardly dinky; in fact, I think its the best climbing gym I’ve ever been to.  But what I love the most about the facility (versus any other climbing wall) is that its actually located in a castle – or, more specifically, a former pumping station built in 1860 to look like a castle.  Elsewhere in England, churches have been repurposed as climbing gyms, and of course Europe in general has been enthusiastically re-using buildings for hundreds of years (I got really excited about a grocery store in Ghent for that very reason).

The Castle also has a garden and solar panels, and has set a goal of becoming completely carbon-neutral by 2014 (or something…check their website for more info).  They’ve taken an out-of-date piece of infrastructure and turned it into a vibrant and profitable business.

Does anyone else have a favorite adaptive-reuse story? Or am I just a big ol’ nerd?

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I would live the crap out of this place

A friend sent me this link with the message “behold dreamhouse”

He is spot-on.  This house is perfect.  If I had 1.5 million pounds, I’d be snapping it up right now instead of blogging about it.  If YOU have the money and buy the house, can I be your friend & come hang out in it?

 

It’s worth clicking the link and looking at the ten photos they have displayed.  Happy Friday!

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Mid-week Procrastination (you’re welcome!)

There are so many great videos of cities – I’m particularly into tilt-shift videos, where everything looks miniature – so I thought I’d compile a few here.  I’m hardly the first to do so; The Urbanophile did a city video compilation post earlier this year that I spent the better portion of the morning watching…

But there are always more, and here are a few that he missed:

And finally, this isn’t a city video, but it makes incredible use of Google Street View and is also a good way to waste a couple minutes:

I’m always looking for good city videos, so please let me know what I missed.

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