Urban designers discuss a better future for Turnham Green Terrace

Image above: Turnham Green Terrace

Better streets for the future

Guest blog by Peter Murray

There has been a lot of anger in Chiswick in recent weeks about traffic changes in the area; an understandable response perhaps in the light of the lack of consultation. But with the speed at which the Government and the borough responded to the need for social distancing because of COVID19, there were bound to bits that didn’t work and need to change. As the council responds to the reactions of local motorists we must not lose sight of the idea that we should ‘build back better’ as we emerge from the pandemic.

Going back to what we had before is not good enough to solve the complex issues around movement and transport in a period when we have to meet London-wide and national targets to be Zero Carbon by 2050, improve the quality of our air, create healthier streets and move to more active travel.

I’ve lived in Bedford Park for 34 years and I am concerned about the effects of traffic in the area and about the survival of Turnham Green Terrace as our local shopping street and so I asked a number of local architects and planners to form a small steering group to see how we could contribute positively to the Councils’ consultation on the Streetspace installations.

In turn, we invited Chris Martin and Brian Deegan of Urban Movement, leading experts on street design and community consultation, to help come up with a brief.

Images above: Chris Martin and Brian Deegan of Urban Movement, urban design consultancy

Public design is about bringing often disparate views, desires and needs together to deliver solutions that make people’s lives better. It is about consulting and it’s about creating. It’s not about yelling at each other on social media. Chris and Brian suggested setting up a Zoom workshop with members of the local community to discuss the issues that would focus not so much on the current problems but more on the future.

We wanted to respond to the fact that retailers are facing huge pressures today – but take into account that at a time when there is likely to be more home working, there is the potential of bringing new life to suburban centres like Chiswick. Chris started the workshop with a look at the wider picture of cities, what makes them enjoyable places; how they became dominated by cars and how people were forgotten. Streets and public spaces should be designed as catalysts to improving our health, quality of life, and enjoyment, he said.

He showed statistics for TfL that suggested high street walking, cycling and public realm improvements can increase retail sales by up to 30 per cent and that people who walk to the high street spend up to 40 per cent more than people who drive. Similarly, research by Professor Matthew Carmona of UCL found that 45 per cent of visitors to London high streets visited them for social and community reasons.

Image above: Marylebone High Street

Brian Deegan took a more technical approach to the design of streets. He talked about the changes a result Covid 19, about the review of the Highway Code which proposes a ‘hierarchy of road users, where those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others users most at risk – pedestrians are at the top of the hierarchy, followed by cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists.

He illustrated an important analysis of all London’s roads that had been carried out by TfL which graded them as to whether their main function was more about movement or as places. For example, arterial roads are all about movement, while town squares are more focused on place. Turnham Green Terrace is probably in the middle, he thought, with some movement and some place, but it is also a connector.

Image above: A Soho street with diners filling the street during the summer

Brian showed images of Marylebone High Street, which is probably the best example of a retail street that has come back from the dead. It is also a connector like Turnham Green Terrace. He described how Urban Movement had inserted new landscaping, areas of green as well as sustainable urban drainage into spare bits of space. “Make the most of the street that you’ve got,” Brian said.

A photo of Soho with diners filling the street during the summer showed that busy streets can be converted into places. How far could Turnham Green Terrace transition from “road” to “place”? Could it reduce the space for loading to provide space for parklets, for landscape or outside dining?

Image above: Participants were asked to choose which description best represented how they wanted Turnham Green Terrace to be. Top left represents the most functional type of road for carrying huge amounts of heavy traffic; bottom right represents a street with the most human friendly, attractive environment.

Brian then took a poll of attendees to ascertain what sort of changes they’d like to see: 25 per cent wanted TGT to stay the same (as it had been prior to this summer’s changes); 16 per cent wanted it to remain as a connector, 47 per cent wanted it to be a city street – the same level of movement but with improved quality of place, 13 per cent liked the town square, reducing the movement and making it more of a social space but no one voted for removing the traffic to turn it into a city place.

Chris and Brian then opened up the chat room and started to respond to questions. These covered a range of related issues including the wider area, flexibility and timed use, parking, access and design.

Several people commented on the need to take an area-wide approach. There were references to the survey carried out by Ealing’s Liberal councillors where one of the most popular suggestions was to make TGT one way and Fishers Lane the other. Brian agreed that such a change would be possible but the downside is that one-way streets encourage drivers to increase their speed.

Image above: Design for a people friendly street in Glasgow

There was a discussion about the idea of building a multi-storey car park on Sainsbury’s site; “It’s close to the High Road and would be a bit like park and ride” said one chat. “Maximising peripheral parking to create space in the core is a good idea,” said Chris, but others thought Sainsbury’s was too far from Turnham Green Terrace.

A resident of Grove Park talked about the idea of the 15-minute city which is catching on around the world as a result of COVID19. “I looked at the map around this area and it’s amazing how many businesses are within a 15-minute walk,” he said, “Chiswick already is a 15-minute city! We need to rethink how we are using Chiswick, how we are getting around. Its compactness already lends itself to walking”.

There was a lot of interest in the timing of streets – using it for different purposes at different times of the day and different days of the week. One speaker suggested that the big family footfall was at weekends: “Why don’t we trial pedestrianisation then? Make it family-friendly on Saturdays, with stalls and more of a cafe feel.”

One retailer agreed: “There will be radical changes coming to transport and street systems in the future and we have to do the best we can to make the transition. The problem with the present system is that it all came together. That has had a massive knock-on effect on the retailers. Do it in a more controlled way, do trials, improve communication with the Council, TfL and the traders. It would be lovely to have pedestrianised streets – but the practical issues of retailers need to be taken seriously. Let’s trial them, whether it’s a one-way system or weekend closures.”

Image above: Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

“The flexibility of streets is important,” said Brian. “We’re getting smarter at doing that. Loading pads – inset bays level with the street – are a classic example. They can be used as such at particular times, at others, they become extra pavements, at weekends they can be spaces for market stalls or street food.”

Several speakers like the idea of free half-hour parking, although if the national trend is towards more shopping locally can we improve the street scene so that people stay longer and spend more? “Half an hour free parking was good for business,” said one retailer.

The conversation touched on detailed design issues: “The area outside the Tube station is scary: the narrow strip behind the bus stop, the bit taken out of the pavement where cars draw in and park, the big traffic island and taxi rank make crossing the road difficult and dangerous.”

Chris pointed to the designs he had done for Marylebone High Street where there were lots of pockets of space that he used for planting and seating. “Without making big changes you can increase the sociability of the space by using the space better.” A shopkeeper commented that widening the pavement on one side and limited delivery pads on the other would probably be well received.

Image above: Design for a streetscape in Camden

Access is key. “We’re all concerned about the road closure,” said one retailer. “We did a survey and 90 per of the managers and owners felt strongly that the closure would be disastrous for business going forward. Although the restaurants and cafes like the road closure because they can have their windows open”.

At the end of the discussion, Brian repeated his poll. The idea of the city place now had 9 per cent of the votes, the town square had gone up to 22 per cent while City streets went down to 38 per cent. Connectors had dropped to 9 per cent and remain the same to 22 per cent.

“Good result,” said Brian afterwards “only 9 per cent want more cars and 69 per cent want positive change for people!”

As the chat page was closing downing of the respondents wrote: “Deliberative democracy…much better than everyone shouting at everyone.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Peter Murray is Curator-in-Chief of New London Architecture. He trained as an architect but has spent most of his career writing about it. He edited the weekly newspaper for architects, Building Design, before moving on to the Royal Institute of British Architects Journal. He started the London Festival of Architecture which is now a significant annual event in the cultural life of the capital. He is also a Mayor’s Design Advocate and Chairman of the London Society. 

Image above: Graphic showing how a modern motorway interchange in Houston, Texas takes up a similar amount of space to the entire old city of Venice


You can watch the whole workshop here.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Peter Murray: one of London’s 1,000 most influential people

See also: Overwhelming majority want changes to Fisher’s Lane and Turnham Green Terrace

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