An innovation we’re really not taking advantage of enough is the bicycle‘
So said Lucy Saunders, Director of Healthy Streets, as she opened the Future Streets exhibition at NLA last night.
‘Cycling and walking could cover most of the short journeys in London, and yet that’s not happening’, she said. ‘We’re not supporting walking and cycling enough’. Most people in London do not cycle, Saunders added, so we have to think about how we innovate to make cycling much more attractive and accessible, partially to solve a problem of an ‘inactive population’.
With a background in public health, Saunders said she was interested in how people can have an ‘easier and less stressful life with human contact, interaction with nature, and exercise’. Conversations in this area often focus on gadgets and innovations, and for Saunders things like contactless payments, the Citymapper app and ride-sharing show the future is ‘here already’ and little noticed. But we need to think about technologies and how we adopt them in ways to help people to live well, she suggested. The private car, for instance, is an ‘amazing technology’ but only in Saunders’ view for taking people long distances on journeys that can’t be provided for by public transport or carrying heavy loads. ‘Unfortunately, we’ve taken this technology and use it for everything and we’re living with all the negative externalities of that’. E-scooters, meanwhile, have been banned in Singapore where the streets are narrow, but one of the thoughts leading from this is that we need to provide space for people travelling faster than walking speed, re-allocating road space for them. We need to also look at electric vehicle charging to think about whether that is ‘locking ourselves in’ to 20, 50, 100 years of people storing their cars on streets when we need that space for other purposes, Saunders concluded.
The Future Streets exhibition, said NLA Curator-in-Chief Peter Murray, presents future scenarios in which streets are re-imagined in the light of new technological developments, and ponders what sort of city we want to inhabit. Amongst other things, it asks: Will the future be ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’? with one scenario envisaging technology enhancing the quality of life and the other a ‘dystopia where we end up with overcrowding and vehicle domination’. A timeline in the show presents key milestones in recent history that have influenced the way London’s streets look today, from the arrival of the motorcar, to new forms of mobility such as dockless bikes. London has introduced key policies such as the congestion charge zone, but still has a long way to go, said Murray, to ‘communicate a shift from a car-orientated city to a city of places’.
The exhibition is accompanied by new research into the subject, with London at a critical juncture in its policy and design. In order to re-think street design, it suggests, we need to understand how we want to use the often limited space available to communicate and prioritise the city’s true values. The research seeks to investigate the impact and opportunity of new mobility technology in London, looking at how multiple technological developments and new transport strategies could help promote new street-based mobility solutions, that are also multi-modal, socially inclusive, accessible and environmentally sustainable.
The report, said Saunders, not only talks about the future of London but ‘beautifully encapsulates the past and present and future, and how they are merging together’.