By Linus Rees
The new Legible London signs and Cycle Hire stations dotted around our streets are likely to confuse any visitors to Fitzrovia and leave them wondering: “Where am I?” Cyclists using the cycle hire scheme are directed up one-way streets the wrong way by maps at the docking stations.
As anyone should know, Fitzrovia is the area bounded by Gower Street to the east and Great Portland Street to the west; and Euston Road to the north and Oxford Street to the south. This is stated in several books about Fitzrovia and London, including The London Encyclopaedia. But it seems the folks at Transport for London (TfL) and Legible London (LL) can’t find their way around as well as they should do.
The cycle hire station in Warren Street is labelled Euston (it should be Fitzrovia) but a Legible London walking map stuck on the same pavement just metres away tells the reader they are in Fitzrovia. Meanwhile the poor Fitzrovians living between Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street (known locally as the Gower Peninsula) seem to be left out of Fitzrovia altogether. Camden Council and other authorities recognise these streets as Fitzrovia, but again TfL and Legible London seem to be lost. Obviously they’ve been taking the advice of estate agents who are habitually mixing up one area with another and often trying to create entirely new areas.
A cycle hire docking station in Alfred Place is awaiting its blue and white sign but the electronic screens tell cyclists that Alfred Place is in Bloomsbury. Alfred Place is actually in Fitzrovia.
These signs are meant to bring clarity and to encourage walking and cycling but have caused tourists on foot to get lost and cyclists to ride up the one-way streets the wrong way in to the arms of awaiting plod who happily hand out on-the-spot fines.
The maps on the cycle hire stations are identical to the Legible London walking maps. These pedestrian maps of course do not show one way streets. But it seems no-one thought about this when they decided to stick walking maps on the cycle hire stations. TfL actually produce freely available cycling maps that show not only one-way streets but also recommended cycle routes. But this is lost on London’s transport planners who would rather spend time, money and effort on building Crossrail and getting business travellers to and from Heathrow.
A favourite location for this “nice little earner” is the one-way Candover Street (apparently the shortest street in London) where cyclists often travel between the Foley Street cycle station and the Scala Street cycle station as it is the most direct route, according to the map on the Foley Street cycle hire station. Of course what the map doesn’t show is the network of one-way streets these new Boris Bikers have to negotiate and so they end up travelling the wrong way down Candover, Riding House and Tottenham streets. But before they can turn into Riding House Street a member of Westminster’s thief-takers leaps out from a doorway and gifts them a penalty notice.
It seems everyone’s on the make with these new docking stations and street signs. Barclays have got all this advertising to help them increase their bonuses, the police and local authorities are milking the hapless cyclist, and the local resident is having their hard-won section 106 money from planning gain syphoned off into these silly Legible London monoliths cluttering up our already overcrowded pavements. In Bloomsbury ward in Camden, council officers admitted to spending at least £26,000 on these signs that should have been spent for community benefit. One council officer told me that these signs will decrease Camden’s carbon footprint (he intended no irony) by encouraging people to walk. Oh really? Wouldn’t you be better spending the money on enforcing the removal of the multitude of air-conditioning units that have been proliferating without either planning permission or care for the noise disturbance they whirr out 24 hours a day? No, far too obvious that is for Camden’s useless planning department.
At least the guerilla artists re-labelling the Boris Bikes are sending a clear message.