The future of London’s streets revealed

Nick Myall
Monday 25 Jan 2016

Driverless cars, orbital tunnels and intelligent buses: a new NLA exhibition looks at the future of London’s roads and streets

An exhibition by New London Architecture (NLA) entitled Streets Ahead: The future of London’s roads, will be presented with Transport for London (TfL) and sponsored by BAM Nuttall, Ringway Jacobs and Trueform. The exhibition, which opens on 27 January, investigates how we travel across the capital and the ways in which this frames our civic spaces. Alongside a programme of public events, the exhibition will explore the past, present and future of our streetscapes through a series of images and videos. 

Streets and roads are the lifeblood of the city, used every day by millions of Londoners and tourists. More than 80% of all journeys in the capital take place on the road, and over 90% of all freight is transported in this way as well. As we progress into the 21st century, the capital is due to see an extra one million trips every five years, with an increase in the number of people walking and cycling as well as public transport movements, taxis, freight and deliveries.

At the same time roads and streets also make up 80% of London’s public spaces, providing vital places for green infrastructure, local markets, community events, and café culture. Balancing the needs of our roads to accommodate increased movement, while creating safe and distinctive places is a key challenge that the exhibition will explore.

London’s road network can be traced back to Roman Britain and the medieval expansion of the City of London. In the 20th century the motorcar began to dominate city planning and the capital saw the construction of a series of new arterial ring roads. Today we are more conscious than ever of the need to balance the impact of roads on the health and vitality of the city.

Through extensive footage and imagery, Streets Ahead will offer an in-depth exploration of a range of proposals, both short- and long-term, that will radically reshape the city. New technologies will enable us to rethink how we monitor, repair and manage London’s roads. Intelligent transport systems will use live data to assess the condition of London’s streets and manage the process of road works without impacting on traffic flow. Even buses could use ‘intelligent’ sensors to pinpoint congestion, indicating where repairs are needed, and learning more about passenger movements to help improve the service.

Longer-term plans envisage dramatic potential changes to city infrastructure and lifestyle with tunnels dissecting through London; driverless cars winding through the streets of the capital; drones replacing delivery services; and highways converted into parks and public spaces. Tunnels – including major orbital and cross-city routes – have great potential to reduce congestion, perhaps by even up to 20% in central London. They would also result in more reliable journeys, improved air quality and lower noise levels, and allow removal of infrastructure routes that blights some areas. Models, renders and videos will offer a glimpse into future London, not only demonstrating where these tunnels would be positioned but also how it will look and feel to use them. With traffic underground, the land above could be developed for social and economic uses, such as new housing, shops and high quality public spaces, with opportunities for public transport and cycling. Such projects have been successfully delivered in cities around the world, such in Hamburg where sections of the A7 national motorway west of the city are being decked over with parks, trees and allotments for adjacent neighbourhoods.

Part of our road revolution will involve increasingly autonomous vehicles, including potentially driverless cars, which are currently being trialled in London. Autonomous vehicles could have a significant impact on how London’s roads are operated and managed, with implications for road deaths and injuries and how traffic flows. Small drones are now a viable proposition for delivering packages and inspecting utilities, which could have an impact on the patterns of freight and service traffic. The commercial drone market is predicted by some to grow to up to £7bn in the next decade, though concerns remain about safety, security and privacy. Exclusive footage of drone and driverless car testing will be on display.

NLA Chairman Peter Murray said: “Streets define the character and quality of a city and are key to the health and wellbeing of its citizens. We must keep this in the forefront of our minds as we face a period of major change in the way we use our roads.”

Streets Ahead: The future of London’s roads will run alongside an extensive set of talks, site visits and seminars. It will cover the role that roads and streets play in people’s lives; the economic growth of the city; the effect on Central, Inner and Outer London; concerns about the environment and our health; as well as technological innovations.

The exhibition will provide members of the public with the opportunity to have their say. Visitors will be able to pose questions directly to TfL and vote on key topics and debates.

Streets Ahead: The future of London’s roads, 27 January – 24 February 2016

NLA Galleries at The Building Centre, London, UK

Nick Myall


News Editor

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