First street experiments in London chosen for launch of Commonplace digital engagement platform

The EX-TRA team in London, including researchers at the University of Westminster and partners at Transport for London, are excited to have chosen the initial street experiments that will be studied within the project. Data collection will take place using the Commonplace platform for digital citizen surveys, which will go live in the next few weeks

Greater London is comprised of 33 local authorities, most of which are known as ‘Boroughs’. The Borough Council’s decide on how local streets are designed and used, in consultation with local communities. 95% of the road network in London are streets that are operated by the Boroughs in this way. The Mayor of London heads the metropolitan-wide Greater London Authority, linked to Transport for London, the authority that operates London’s iconic Underground, bus and bike-sharing services, and coordinates with the Boroughs about street changes.


In this post, we are happy to share some insights into two experiments with a mobility hub and a “school street”, which we will be studying, in collaboration with Redbridge and Lambeth Borough Council respectively.

 
The South Woodford Mobility Hub: place-making and new mobility options on the high street

George Lane is a local high street connecting to South Woodford Underground Station and with a range of shops and eateries. Redbridge is an ‘outer’ London Borough with more suburban housing densities and higher levels of car use. The COVID-19 pandemic has made local neighbourhood centres like South Woodford busier, with residents experiencing streets like George Lane as public spaces that are now central to their everyday life. Another big change is also on its way: on 25th October 2021, the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will be expanded outwards, meaning that people will need to pay to drive within the neighbourhood if their vehicle does not meet the stricter emission standards for air pollution.


Image © London Borough of Redbridge.

The South Woodford Mobility Hub is located in front of the Tipi Coffee café. It combines common elements of a parklet including seating, plants and cycle parking, with a reserved parking space for an electric vehicle car club vehicle, and a public EV charging point. This design transforms the parklet into a multi-modal ‘hub’ that is designed to provide residents, shoppers and visitors with multiple mobility options, and to change between cycling and the bus, Underground or a shared car, for example. Providing opportunities for low-car lifestyles is crucial, in light of the upcoming ULEZ expansion.


This is the first accredited Mobility Hub in the UK. Will it be scaled up in the future? EX-TRA will assess this Hub as a prototype combining benefits of access to sustainable mobility options on the street (project objective 3) with the benefits of new public space for people’s well-being, social connections, and meaningful attachment to places (project objective 1). If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that future mobility is not just about innovation – space to walk and socialise in the street continue to be fundamental for what it means to live in a ‘good city’ (see the Hub in action on Instagram). Whether users perceive they have equal access to such public space, no matter the gender identity, age, ethnicity, (dis)abilities and occupation/lifestyle, is a key question for the Commonplace online survey that will soon be launched within EX-TRA.

 
Experimenting with School Streets in Lambeth: from COVID-19 response to long-term change?

In 2021, Lambeth Council implemented 20 experiments with School Streets as an ‘emergency’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to allow for increased social distancing between families outside school gates. Sections of the streets are closed to traffic during time windows in the morning and afternoon, at the start and end of the school day. All of the School Streets have remained in place so far and are now approaching the end of their ‘experimental’ implementation phase, after which a decision will be made about making the interventions permanent or expanding them.


EX-TRA is studying the experiment implemented in front of Van Gogh Primary School, on the residential street of Hackford Road (Google Streetview). Parents and teachers have been strongly engaged with the experiment, however, because of COVID restrictions, the citizen engagement run by planners at Lambeth Council had to be done almost entirely digitally, as face-to-face events were not possible. Lambeth has used Commonplace to understand citizens’ views online, illustrating how digital engagement is increasingly relevant – indeed, in the UK, Commonplace has seen a large increase in the number of users during the pandemic.


As the worst emergency of the pandemic is over, the question on top of all our minds is whether the next year will see a return to the status quo of car-centric streets, or a shift to a ‘new normal’? The EX-TRA team is looking forward to using Commonplace to understand Lambeth residents’ perceptions, and whether School Streets provide a starting point for a broader process of communities being able to reimagine streets as places prioritising public life and local people, rather than traffic.


Image © Joseph Lindsay, London Borough of Lambeth.