Parliament square urban landscape redesign LCC

London Cycling Campaign re-design of Parliament Square landscape

Congratulations to the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) for publishing a re-design of Parliament Square’s urban landscape, also discussed on this blog this last year (see The landscape architecture of Parliament Square, Westminster, London UK). My comments on the LCC design are:

  • it concentrates on traffic at the expense of other considerations
  • the urban design history of the space is crucial: it began as New Palace Yard. The Square was a nineteenth century addition
  • the future use of the space is also crucial: just creating a patch of grass is insufficiently ambitious
  • the LCC design proposals also lack ambition: the fountain is perfunctory and the roadworks are ugly

The LCC’s scheme opts for a ‘Trafalgar Square’ solution on the north and west sides of the square. It would be better to revert to the historic idea of a ‘palace yard’ in which paved space was shared between vehicles and pedestrians. This is now known as a ‘shared space’ and Exhibition Road is a good recent example. With regard to the future use of Parliament Square, it should be a place for the elected representatives of the people (MPs) to meet the people they represent and the people who are affected by their decisions (you, me, cyclists, drivers, visitors to London). The below maps show the evolution of New Palace Yard into the Parliament Square Traffic Gyratory

21 thoughts on “Parliament square urban landscape redesign LCC

  1. Adrian Clarke

    For an interesting perspective on this campaign and many other issues relating to the provision of infrastructure for cycling I would recommend this blog, written by a British expat in the Netherlands:

    I cycle to work almost every day and only feel really safe when cycling off-road, and this is in one of the UK’s provincial cities. I dread to think what cycling in London must be like. In relation to urban infrastructure in general my feeling is that in the UK there is a lack of ambition (or perhaps just a lack of funds..?) when dealing with difficult problems of conflicts between vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.

    Late last year, our local LI branch went on a study tour to Barcelona and there, I was very admiring of the way that they have integrated various types of infrastructure. For example, the Gran Via sector Llevant by architects Arriola and Fiol, which creates a multi-level infrastructure over the 19th century avenue with an arterial highway at lower level with local roads and inclined parks incorporating new playgrounds, fountains, open spaces, trees and street furniture, all located at higher level and bordered by carefully designed visual and acoustic screens.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Thank you for the link.
      Re cycling in London, which I have been doing for 4 decades, my semi-joke is that ‘Its no problem – because most of the vehicles are stationary most of the time’.
      Re segregated cycle paths, I agree that they are more pleasurable and feel better, But according to the statistics collected by John Forester they are less safe. The reason for this is that they tend to be plagued by dogs and children who get in the way of cyclists and cause accidents. See

  2. Christine

    It is enjoyable to see a project presentation where the statues and the people are relatively indistinguishable!

    What is good about the proposal is the sense of public scale to the public space and that it is a passive space [ ] and not an active made space [ ] crowded out with activities.

    It seems the idea of relaxation rather than recreation is rarely given priority.

    Tom can you demonstrate some example of good active and passive urban spaces?

    A 21st century urban problem which is replacing the 20th century smoker ] is the mobile phone and laptop user! [ ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The distinction between active and passive space is interesting – and I am unsure how to classify my idea that Parliament Square should be used for political gatherings. Which category are they in? Ditto smokers and laptop users – are they active or passive?

  3. Adrian Clarke

    Tom – that looks like an interesting read however I shall take heed of the admonition that “Bicycle Transportation is not bedtime reading. Brew a strong pot of tea before you sit down to study it.”! From my brief read of the website it seems that he is advocating that there shouldn’t be any separate facilities for cyclists at all, either on or off road, and that instead the roads should be altered (wider inside lanes, use of kerb drainage instead of gullies, etc.) and that the cyclists themselves should be altered, or at least their mindset, so that they think of themselves as “drivers” of vehicles and have appropriate training to instill or encourage this mindset.

    For me this seems to ignore the very fact that cycling (once you have learnt to balance the bike as a child) doesn’t need any special training and is something anyone can do with a minimum of expenditure and expertise. That is its beauty. In this country we seem to have the worst of all worlds – a highly underdeveloped off-road network and on-road facilities that are at best piecemeal and badly-designed (too narrow, sudden stops,abrupt segues from cycle lane to bus lane, and so on). Interesting and somewhat counterintuitively Japan seems to have both a large cycling population combined with a lack of cycling infrastructure. There people cycle anywhere, road or pavement, and the children seem to learn from an early age the skill of riding a bike with one hand whilst holding an umbrella in the other! I’m not sure what story their accident statistics tell.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Japanese cyclists seem to have very different habits to those of British cyclists. My impression is that in Japan the bicycle is used for neighbourhood journeys, to schools shops etc, and that they do not have long-distance boy-racer cyclists, like Grant.Also, I think Forester’s conclusions apply more to these high pressure cyclists than to gentle ambling cyclists, who expect to use umbrellas in conjunction with their bikes when it is raining. Despite what people think, and say, I find cycling in Central London a very pleasant activity. Nobody, however, would say that I am a strict adherant of traffic regulations.

  4. Grant

    Hi Tom and Adrian,

    Being a Pedestrian, Cyclist (ex-competitive), Motorcyclist (ex-comp) and White Van man (still competitive), the observation is about perception of the space.

    At present the general perception is that the hierarchy of owner ship starts with four wheeled motorised transport, then two wheeled, and finally cyclists and pedestrians in the same bracket. This is due to the mad system of road tax and thus the perception of ‘rights’ (the fact that its just another tax is lost on most people).

    So i agree that the road space should be shared and the continental idea that if you knock a cyclist off in a bigger vehicle you are assume to be in the wrong (cyclists are soft, cars are not).

    Cycle paths are ok for up to 12mph, but above that (and most cyclists who ride and train regularly can cruise at 20mph on the flat) I am sure the accident rate would be higher.

    So conclusion is re-education of the road hierarchy. We all pay tax, so its not a case of rights (more of responsibilities, but thats another story).

    Shared space, thus re-education the road engineers who look at flow rates over people (thus the Euston Road, considered a ‘trunk’ road as a classification so the design priority does not include pedestrians, locals community businesses etc, the 60’s road obsession is alive and well).

    As usual an opinion, born out of some experience.

    So i think the LCC, a good start, but its as much about re-education (rather than conflict).

    Plus more Multi Stemmed trees please for Robert.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I agree about the hierarchy and I find it much easier to forgive road users for its existence than I do to forgive politicians and traffic engineers. Despite the very welcome changes under Boris Johnson I think London’s cycle budget is paltry. A fair policy would be to allocate the budget in proportion to road users. If cyclists are 10% of users then we should have 10% of the budget. But in order to make up for years of injustice to cyclists, we should have a 10-year catch up period in which we get 50% of the budget.

  5. Christine

    The concept has the potential to be a point of origin and destination to the hi-line cycleway with facilities for cyclists such as showers, a cafe and a cycle shop which would make it accessible to both domestic and visiting cyclists. Perhaps it could also cater for disabled cyclists too? [ ] and [ ] and [ ]

    See also: interesting blog on the history of who the Dutch got their cycle paths.
    [ ]

    In Germany the idea that cycling is just not a functional experience but should also be enjoyable is embedded in this scheme for a linking cycle bridge. [ ]

  6. Grant

    I think it goes even further than percentage budgets, its about what do we want from this space we call roads, then we have a goal, a different perception as to what this space is and its priorities over (or not) other spaces within the city landscape.

    So the ‘Shared Space’ concept in Germany /Holland has a different perception from the viewers point of view, as the signals that are interrupted obviously show a different priority to the various users.

    Along the same line of Wild flowers on verges rather than mown grass, time and education. From our side though having faith and standing firm when the small world interested parties moan, big picture, that what we DO!!!!

  7. Adrian Clarke

    I like the idea of your air-assisted cycling tube but would it be like the famous escalator on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong, which – from memory – takes people down the hill in the morning and reverses direction in the afternoon!

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      It could resemble the Hong Kong elevator visually, but not mechanically, and in order for the air system to work there would have to be either two tubes or a reversible tube. The decision would depend on demand. I wish they had built a cycle tube above the DLR to take people to the 2012 Olympics. Instead of this they are going to close roads and make life more of a hell for Londoners.

  8. Grant

    Cycle tubes are the last stand, Cars should be stuffed in tubes while we enjoy the fresh air, don’t you think?

    Especially on a glorious day like today 🙂

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I would not want the cycle tubes to take up street space. The example I have had in mind is the railway from Greenwich to London Bridge, which is straight and is crossed by few bridges. The tubes could soar above it and I think the quality of the views and freshness of the air would be much better in the cycle tube than on the train. I used to cycle the trip on the A2 but the air was foul and the traffic dangerous so I now take my bike on the train. If there was a nice tube then (1) it would cost no money (2) the view would be much better (3) there would be no waiting for trains (4) it would work all night (5) I think the journey time would be reduced (6) the cost/trip would be vastly less than in a fossil-fuel powered system.
      So I would swoosh into Central London and THEN enjoy the air and sun.

  9. Christine

    It seems that the designer of Parliament Square did consider cyclists by providing them with a dedicated cycle path and a blue cycle station. But why not more comprehensively? Perhaps if Tom joined the first political event – a cycle-in similar to the event in Amsterdam – at the new Parliament Square cyclists might gain the required attention in the design of the public realm?

    Perhaps there are some statistics in the UK that would support increased expenditure on cycling to reduce the size of the health budget? [ ]

    The cycle tubes could be an example of crime prevention through environmental design (see attached glossary) for example Tom would be safe from snowball weilding teenagers in winter. [ ]

    Active space is used in architecture to describe the use of buildings at ground level for high use public activities such as cafes, restaurants etc. [ ] In landscape it usually describes design which formally or informally encourages a high level of interactive activity. See informal active landscape[ ] and formal active landscape [ ].

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Thank you for the links and for the explanation of active in relation to space. Greenwich Park is becoming more active by the day, but not quite in your sense. The big change in the past 5 years has been more and more organized activity. The most visible organizer, though there are many others, is militaristic outfit called British Military Fitness People pay lots of money to be treated really badly. Yobs in camouflage pants and hob nailed boots yell at pudgy office workers to ‘Get the xxxx on with it’. One begins to wonder about their bedroom habits!

  10. Christine

    Looks like a walk in the park compared to the real thing…[ ] and [ ].

    The idea of paying a lot of money to be treated really badly sounds like the scenerio in the restuarant from the Peter Greenaway film ‘the cook, the thief, his wife and her lover.’ So yes, it is a little bit disturbing.

    This film seemed to suggest you only get treated badly in the most fashionable of places…[ ]. Gordon Ramsay certainly seems to typify this phenomenon?

    Perhaps office workers are feeling a general lack of structure and discipline in their lives?

    So maybe there is a good side and a bad side to this trend?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I sometimes worry that the US enthusiasm for military adventures came from the ‘Ole Country. The British still go in for more of them than they should but I much prefer militarism in public parks to militarism in other people’s countries. So, yes, I agree, there is probably more good than bad to this trend. I am not keen on football crowds or cruise ships either but I would much rather people were on/in them than tramping on/in historic sites and occupying ugly hotels in beautiful places.

  11. Christine

    Jan Gehl in his 2003 study you posted said that condition for cyclists needed to be improved. He
    identified that there was a lack of cycling facilities in London. Is this still true?

  12. Tom Turner Post author

    A battle is taking shape on London’s streets. Cyclists are fighting for their rights. Transport planners are making reluctant concessions but trying to retain the old order. Cycling facilities are improving but remain a token response to rapidly increasing cycle usage. (Sorry about my slow response.)


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