Does Kings Cross need a second tube station?

York Way. Image: Ewan Munro/Wikipedia Commons.

King’s Cross Central is one of the larger re-development projects currently underway in in central London. A decade in, the area now plays host to the Guardian’s London offices, the Central St. Martin’s art school and an obnoxiously large branch of Waitrose. Only last month, indeed, King’s Cross Central played host to the greatest share of events for the Lumiere light festival. All very prestigious – enough, indeed, to earn the area a shiny new postcode, N1C.

What it hasn’t earned it is a new tube station. Okay, there’s King’s Cross St. Pancras itself, at the area’s southern tip, but the northern end of the development zone is as much as 1km from there. And the rebranding of Nine Elms and Battersea to house the new American Embassy, remember, merited the development of two additional stops and an entirely new branch of the Northern Line.

The partnership behind King’s Cross Central presumably thought that the existing – admittedly, rather large – station would be more than enough. But what if it’s not? King’s Cross is a very busy and congested station, especially at rush hour, when people will be traveling to and from the majority of developments in King’s Cross Central. Buses are an option too, of course – but only one bus stop serves the northern fringe of the development, the 390’s stop on York Way.

This is where abandoned stations come into the mix. Inquisitive visitors to King’s Cross Central might have noticed the Leslie Green-esque building on York Way, in the north-eastern corner of the N1C area. That’s the old York Road tube station, where Piccadilly line trains used to stop between King’s Cross St. Pancras and Caledonian Road. It opened in 1906, but closed, due to lack of use, in 1932.

A map showing the two abandoned stations.

Various entities, from councils to contractors, have proposed re-opening the station as a solution to the area’s transport needs. But it wouldn’t come cheap, and anyway, it would increase journey times on the line as a whole. The result, Transport for London thinks, would be an economic cost that outstrips the benefits of a decongested Piccadilly Line platform.

There is another option. Maiden Lane station once lay between Camden Road and Caledonian Road & Barnsbury stations on what is now the London Overground. Little modern trace exists, but re-opening the station would be far, far cheaper than re-opening York Road (an estimated £8m, rather than £40m). That makes it a far more plausible option to serve the northern end of Kings Cross.


But why should we be choosing between Maiden Lane and York Road? Why not go the full hog, and open both?

A combined Maiden Lane/York Road Piccadilly/Overground interchange would offer a number of advantages compared to the less ambitious alternatives. To the west, Camden Town station is up for redevelopment, in part to improve interchange with Camden Road. Once complete, the stations might well become a popular interchange between the Overground and the Northern Line. To the east, Highbury and Islington already is a popular interchange between NR, Overground and Victoria lines.

That would leave the Piccadilly line as the only tube line in this area without interchange with the Overground. True, Caledonian Road & Barnsbury already offers a rarely used out-of-station interchange (OSI) with Caledonian Road; but it’s an inconvenient walk through an inconvenient location, unappealing to travellers.

If TfL reopened a new York Way station, designed to provide an interchange between Picadilly and Overground, travellers looking to change to the northbound Victoria or Northern lines could take the Overground at York Way to H&I or Camden Town respectively, instead of continuing on to King’s Cross. This would reduce congestion at KGX by reducing the number of journeys using it as an interchange, by offering a new route along the North London branch of the Overground.

Such behaviour could be encouraged by placing York Way in Zone 2, compensating the inconvenience of an extra change with a reduced fare. This would vastly increase the utility of a station at York Way, allowing it to become a hub for commuters looking to avoid the congestion and costs of travel through Zone 1.

A mock-up of what York Way might look like on the Tube Map. Image: TfL/Citymetric.

Finally, the area between York Way and Caledonian Road, lying just opposite the King’s Cross Central development, is currently classified as being among the most socially deprived areas in England. The development as it stands arguably offers very little real benefits to those living literally across the road.

A new station on their doorstep could be transformative in this respect. While the York Road station analysis argued this impact would be minimal, a station serving both Overground and Underground – going above and beyond to connect the local area – would likely be even more effective.

So, there you are. One day soon, King’s Cross St. Pancras might need a hand. And who better to lend one than its old friend from just up the road?


 

 
 
 
 

Self-driving cars may be safe – but they could still prevent walkable, liveable communities

A self-driving car, driving itself. Image: Grendelkhan/Flickr/creative commons.

Almost exactly a decade ago, I was cycling in a bike lane when a car hit me from behind. Luckily, I suffered only a couple bruised ribs and some road rash. But ever since, I have felt my pulse rise when I hear a car coming up behind my bike.

As self-driving cars roll out, they’re already being billed as making me – and millions of American cyclists, pedestrians and vehicle passengers – safer.

As a driver and a cyclist, I initially welcomed the idea of self-driving cars that could detect nearby people and be programmed not to hit them, making the streets safer for everyone. Autonomous vehicles also seemed to provide attractive ways to use roads more efficiently and reduce the need for parking in our communities. People are certainly talking about how self-driving cars could help build more sustainable, livable, walkable and bikable communities.

But as an urban planner and transportation scholar who, like most people in my field, has paid close attention to the discussion around driverless cars, I have come to understand that autonomous vehicles will not complement modern urban planning goals of building people-centered communities. In fact, I think they’re mutually exclusive: we can have a world of safe, efficient, driverless cars, or we can have a world where people can walk, bike and take transit in high-quality, human-scaled communities.

Changing humans’ behavior

These days, with human-driven cars all over the place, I choose my riding routes and behavior carefully: I much prefer to ride on low-speed traffic, low-traffic roads, buffered bike lanes or off-street bike paths whenever possible, even if it means going substantially out of my way. That’s because I’m scared of what a human driver – through error, ignorance, inattention or even malice – might do to me on tougher roads.

But in a hypothetical future in which all cars are autonomous, maybe I’ll make different choices? So long as I’m confident self-driving cars will at least try to avoid killing me on my bike, I’ll take the most direct route to my destination, on roads that I consider much too dangerous to ride on today. I won’t need to worry about drivers because the technology will protect me.

Driverless cars will level the playing field: I’ll finally be able to ride where I am comfortable in a lane, rather than in the gutter – and pedal at a comfortable speed for myself rather than racing to keep up with, or get out of the way of, other riders or vehicles. I can even see riding with my kids on roads, instead of driving somewhere safe to ride like a park. (Of course, this is all still assuming driverless cars will eventually figure out how to avoid killing cyclists.)

To bikers and people interested in vibrant communities, this sounds great. I’m sure I won’t be the only cyclist who makes these choices. But that actually becomes a problem.

The tragedy of the commons

In the midsize midwestern college town I call home, estimates suggest about 4,000 people commute by bike. That might not sound like many, but consider the traffic backups that would result if even just a few hundred cyclists went out at rush hour and rode at leisurely speeds on the half-dozen arterial roads in my city.

Technology optimists might suggest that driverless cars will be able to pass cyclists more safely and efficiently. They might also be directed to use other roads that are less clogged, though that carries its own risks.

But what happens if it’s a lovely spring afternoon and all those 4,000 bike commuters are riding, in addition to a few thousand kids and teenagers running, riding or skating down my local roads? Some might even try to disrupt the flow of traffic by walking back and forth in the road or even just standing and texting, confident the cars will not hit them. It’s easy to see how good driverless cars will enable people to enjoy those previously terrifying streets, but it also demonstrates that safety for people and efficiency for cars can’t happen at the same time.


People versus cars

It’s not hard to imagine a situation where driverless cars can’t get anywhere efficiently – except late at night or early in the morning. That’s the sort of problem policy scholars enjoy working on, trying to engineer ways for people and technology to get along better.


One proposed solution would put cars and bicycles on different areas of the streets, or transform certain streets into “autonomous only” thoroughfares. But I question the logic of undertaking massive road-building projects when many cities today struggle to afford basic maintenance of their existing streets.

An alternative could be to simply make new rules governing how people should behave around autonomous vehicles. Similar rules exist already: Bikes aren’t allowed on most freeways, and jaywalking is illegal across most of the U.S.

Regulating people instead of cars would be cheaper than designing and building new streets. It would also help work around some of the technical problems of teaching driverless cars to avoid every possible danger – or even just learning to recognize bicycles in the first place.

However, telling people what they can and can’t do in the streets raises a key problem. In vibrant communities, roads are public property, which everyone can use for transportation, of course – but also for commerce, civil discourse and even civil disobedience. Most of the U.S., however, appears to have implicitly decided that streets are primarily for moving cars quickly from one place to another.

There might be an argument for driverless cars in rural areas, or for intercity travel, but in cities, if driverless cars merely replace human-driven vehicles, then communities won’t change much, or they may become even more car-dependent. If people choose to prioritise road safety over all other factors, that will shift how people use roads, sidewalks and other public ways. But then autonomous vehicles will never be particularly efficient or convenient.

The Conversation

Daniel Piatkowski, Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.