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King's Cross Railway Lands Group (KXRLG)


The transport review needs to take account of what we have now, and want to retain; what our aspirations are for improvement, and how the increased activity in the vicinity will be accommodated by the transport system.

What we already have

For many people, King's Cross is the local gateway to the bus and tube network.
It is worth reminding ourselves that the former King's Cross Ward had the highest density of any ward in either Camden or Islington, notwithstanding the fact that Islington is the second most densely populated Borough in the most dense city in England. King's Cross is already a major interchange for Londoners and a gateway to London from the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North-east and Scotland, and these national and regional considerations obscure in the minds of some the importance of King's Cross in providing transport to local people.

These wider objectives have resulted in gross overcrowding. Many tube services and some buses are heavily congested, to the point where boarding is not possible, although the large number of people changing mode ensures that once access has been gained to the station places on trains will be available.

The tube and local rail services benefit from a number of access points, but local suburban rail services can only be reached from one point furthest from local people.
The Thameslink entrance on Pentonville Road is particularly important, serving the least well-off part of the locality. Bus stops north and east bound are well sited both for interchange and for local people, but access across the Euston Road is poor even without the major work now in progress. Two main routes to the south-east, and one main route to the west, commence at King's Cross and this is obviously of benefit to passengers whose access is dependent on the availability of a seat.

Temporary problems arising from the major work in progress

Pedestrian routes are closed off to the public at peak periods.

The location of stops west-bound, already relatively inconvenient, is made worse by the major work and the increased use of doored buses. Routes to the north-west, serving a predominantly local market, have been particularly adversely affected by the major works. Anyone making an occasional visit to friends in this locality must be baffled by the constant re-routing and repositioning of bus stops.

Walking and cycling

The railway lands, and the plethora of railway lines, create barriers to safe walking and cycling, as does the nature of York Way and the width of Euston Road.

At the southern end, York Way suffers from the lack of access from the west. Further north the lack of activity on the street, the speed of traffic assisted by the slope, and the railway bridges all contribute to an impression of poor public realm.

The north-south cycle routes give King's Cross a wide berth. Although Copenhagen/Goods Way is a recommended east-west cycle route as a quieter road, this status has been under attack in the course of the prolonged major work in the area.

What we lack

By any stretch of the imagination, services to and from the north of King's Cross are not good.

The closure of York Road station on the Piccadilly line in 1977 means that people destined for the west-end have a longish walk of up to a mile before they take any form of public transport.

This has been made worse by changes to bus stops during roadworks in York Way

East-west journeys are even more difficult, with the limited service from Maiden Lane ceasing as long ago as 1916. Whenever the North London Line is curtailed by engineering work, the difficulty of east west travel is apparent from the tortuous and unsatisfactory bus substitute service.

There is no single point for buses, though I will argue that a bus station in a place served by so many through routes is counter-productive. Euston bus station has a catastrophic affect on certain journey times, while the advent of bendy buses has in any case driven routes out of the bus station built only fifteen years ago, because of inadequate capacity.

The underground station is unsatisfactory both to London Underground Ltd (LUL) and to local people. The need to come out of the cut-and-cover underground into the public area to access the deep tubes (or vice versa) is operationally unacceptable as well as adding to pedestrian congestion.

Changes already in progress

LUL works. The last mentioned problem is supposedly being addressed by the London Underground works now in progress. As a separate note from Phil Jeffries outlines, only phase I is in progress and unless and until phase II is completed this pedestrian congestion will remain. However, the developers have made it clear that little can be achieved on the Railway Lands without phase II, and they seem to be supported by every independent expert in this.

Thameslink 2000. The changes to St. Pancras have the effect of spreading the area covered by stations, and thus increasing the interchange time and commuter-miles (perhaps commuter-yards would be fairer) walked. The proposed new station on Thameslink (St. Pancras Midland Road) underneath the new St. Pancras, was intended to ease pedestrian flow on the west of the site, but this too is stalled. London and Continental Railways is required only to facilitate its provision, by creating the hole into which the station might go. Completing the work falls to Network Rail in association with the operator of Thameslink. There is some doubt as to whether the work is economically attractive to Thameslink, since the way the railways are privatised could mean that the Thameslink train operating company could make no more money with the new station than with the present configuration, and would lose income while the tracks are realigned. From our point of view, the loss of the station on Pentonville Road is undesirable. It is likely to be retained as an emergency point of evacuation, and there is a case for retaining it as an stop additional to Midland Road.

King's Cross main station. Railtrack/NetworkRail have ambitions for King's Cross which may never be realized. (Fans of Under Milk Wood might compare their relationship to the station with that of Mog Edwards to Myfanwi Price). These include a platform zero, i.e. to the east of platform one, and retention of as much of the public space in front of the station as they can. Given the constraints imposed by the two major building projects now in progress (Channel Tunnel Rail Link and LUL works phase I), sacrifices have had to be made by the local community and indeed all users of King's Cross in terms of access. Needless to say, the brunt of these sacrifices is by individuals.

Railtrack has managed to retain the carbuncle on the front of King's Cross station, despite the fact that its time limited planning permission has long expired (in 1998), although its removal would considerably facilitate pedestrian flows. The platform zero story has meant that plans to provide a walking route across the station into the new P & O development on the east side of York Way have not been realized, so that the P & O development turns its back on King's Cross. A scheme that has been widely hailed as a triumph for working with the local community could be even better. Railtrack even succeeded for two years in preventing the use of the area to the east of the station for taxis, even though it was obvious to many observers that taxis had to be provided for and that this was the only suitable place. (Matters came to a head when one passenger found the meter reading 10 by the time his taxi had escaped from the crush on to Euston Road just outside the station).

The East London Line Extension was finally approved in 1997 after years of procrastination. In theory this meant building it had to begin by 2002. In practice, by tinkering around here and there, an indefinite extension has been "gained". That is an extension in the time taken to build the thing, not a further extension of the line. New impetus for the scheme centres on the fact that unlike CrossRail or any other major scheme, there is still time to complete it before the Olympic Games in 2012. The scheme is potentially useful to us, because most recent plans show it terminating at Caledonian Road & Barnsbury. From there it would provide links to the city (Shoreditch/Broadgate) as well as south-east London. It is a relatively small step to extend it westwards from Cally Road to Maiden Lane and thus provide the north of the development site with access to the city, and one change access to the west end (Victoria Line) or Canary Wharf (via Whitechapel or Canada Water).

Other possible measures

As implied above, the re-opening of Maiden Lane Station is one idea that deserves exploration.

There is strong local feeling for the re-opening of York Road on the Piccadilly line. Various operational reasons have been put forward against this in the past, some of them mutually contradictory. It is still thought likely that LUL would not in the end support this measure, even if the developer paid for the refurbishment of the station and realignment of the tracks (which have been realigned since the platform was taken away).

Cross River Transit. This is the tramway scheme which was inspired by, but will not now use, the disused tram tunnel at High Holborn. This scheme has more high level support. Impetus for the scheme has been given by the perceived need for a high speed link between the two CTRL termini, Waterloo and St. Pancras. The central core of the tram route is thus prescribed, but there are options for the northern and southern extensions. In the north, these include a link from Euston to Camden Town, and an extension either through the railway lands or around them and up York Way.

Given the history of procrastination over major transport schemes, it is unlikely that there will be an early implementation of this scheme. Use of predominantly residential roads for a tram has attracted widespread opposition, and experience of modern trams elsewhere in Britain suggest that it is relatively less successful. There is no certainty that the relative popularity of trams will be maintained as they age, while the use of single deck vehicles is a significant underuse of road space.

The developers' outline plan includes provision for cycling and walking, and these are crucial to the success of the scheme for local people. The vast numbers living and working on the site will generate more traffic, although the emphasis on local jobs for local people is to be encouraged. Reducing the need to travel is fundamental to sustainable development, quite apart from the desirability of providing local jobs.

Suggested way forward (modus operandi)

Rather than come up with transport ideas straight away, I suggest that we agree the concerns we have first, and then agree objectives we wish to see met.

Andrew Bosi
for King's Cross Railway Lands Group

revised 19 07 04 me

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