London's night life is in trouble – and the night tube won't save it

Another dead night club: Turnmills in 2007. The club closed the following year, to be replaced by an office block. Image: Getty.

Today marks the launch of London’s night tube, a 24-hour service which will transport clubbers and workers alike in and out of the city through the day and night.

Many people had hoped the service could breathe new life into the city’s beleaguered late-night venues. They included London mayor Sadiq Khan, who has said the project will be “invaluable in helping to save London’s nightlife”.

But problems currently facing several of the city’s nightclubs suggest that more than a transport upgrade will be required. Just over a week ago, London superclub Fabric announced it would be closing while an investigation took place into the deaths of two young men at the venue in the space of just nine weeks.

This was not the first time that Fabric had run into problems. The club avoided closure in 2014 when it agreed to licensing conditions including sniffer dogs and ID scanners, after four drug-related deaths at the venue in three years. A subsequent appeal overturned this ruling and the club operated without incident for two years, until the tragic events of recent weeks.

In the wake of these, the Met called for Fabric’s license to be reviewed; Islington Council agreed. The club has remained closed since. A hearing to discuss its future will take place in September.

Fabric is far from the only London venue in trouble. Dalston nightclub Dance Tunnel was forced to close earlier this month, citing an inability to secure a late enough licence to make the business viable. Just down the road, arts and music venue Passing Clouds was evicted this week after its building was acquired by a developer who is alleged to have offered a new lease then decided to convert the site into offices. Last month, Shapes in Hackney Wick shut down. The club’s owner said he could not secure a permanent licence.


Alan Miller, chair of the Night Time Industries Association, says: “It’s brilliant news we’ve finally got the night tube.” But he adds: “It’s sadly ironic it coincides with not just Passing Clouds, Dance Tunnel and Shapes closing, but also the suspension of Fabric’s licence.”

In Miller’s view, Fabric has some of the highest professional standards in the industry yet risks being punished for a tragedy believed to be linked to drugs – a problem that society should share.

Khan has made several pledges which he hopes will help protect London’s nightlife. He has promised to appoint a ‘night czar’ who can fight on behalf of late-night venues. He has said he will make changes to the London Plan to safeguard venues from redevelopment.

Steps such as these take time. Since the news broke about Fabric, DJs and patrons of the club have called on him to step in – but the decision lies with Islington Council. Khan has called for a solution which “protects clubbers’ safety and the future of the club”. There may be little more he can do.

And so, as late-night venues close down and the fate of one of London’s best known clubs hangs in the balance, the night tube will make its debut. Khan may have hoped it would buy him some time. But for the man who promised he would “save London’s iconic club scene”, it looks unlikely to be enough.

Mark Wilding tweets as @mark_wilding.

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Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.