“I’m very worried that Crossrail doesn’t have enough escalators”

A worryingly small number of escalators at Liverpool Street Crossrail station. Image: Getty.

Last weekend was Open House, a fantastic chance to check out some amazing buildings and sites around London. Visiting Farringdon’s future Crossrail station, however, reminded me of a worrying thought I’d had some years prior:

Crossrail, vaunted as the solution to all London’s problems, isn’t being built with enough escalators in each station. And we’re really going to regret that in years to come.

Surely my non-technical opinion is irrelevant, you would hope, because this has all been worked out by proper transport planners and engineers, people will degrees, and more than my B in Maths at GCSE. Sadly experience teaches us that this isn’t always the case. The Victoria Line is a good example: escalators were taken out of the plans as part of cost-saving efforts ahead of construction.

More recently there are the shortcomings at points on the Jubilee Line. At Canada Water, the two escalators from Jubilee to East London Line proved to be vastly fewer than needed. At North Greenwich, the station closed a mere six years after opening for the addition of another escalator “to meet demand from development on the peninsula” – development that was entirely predictable and was indeed one of the main reasons the station was being built in the first place

My point is, TfL does get these things wrong, either through cock-up, or through a need to deliver something to a budget. So, how many escalators should you have in a Crossrail station? Time to do some maths!

In 2002, academics at the Indian Institute of Management and the LSE conducted a study on escalator capacity. Behaviours can change capacity (see Holborn’s foolish experiments with banning walking on the left), but basically, on the London Underground, you can move 110 people per minute (ppm) on one standard escalator: that’s 6600 per hour.

The shiny nine car class 345 trains ordered for Crossrail have a capacity of 1500 people. Crucially, the platforms have been built long enough to extend this to 11 cars, for a potential capacity per train of around 1,800. Crossrail is planning for 24 trains per hour (tph), but the line was designed for 30 tph to be possible. Once those changes are brought into use, and with trains in two directions, that gives us a maximum number of people passing through a central Crossrail station at peak time of 108,000.


It’s not likely that everyone is not going to get off every train at one station except in an emergency. But at peak times, the idea that half the passengers on a train might get off at key stations – Liverpool Street, say – does not seem unreasonable. After all, from the east this service replaces the Shenfield metro, so many people will have commutes planned around alighting at that station; and from the west, Crossrail will be far the fastest and most pleasant route into the City.

With half the potential capacity alighting at Liverpool Street - some 54,000 passengers per hour - you would require eight up escalators to remove the arriving passengers from the platform at the rate they arrive. That’s before you’ve provided any down capacity, which will also be in high demand from passengers arriving from mainline services wanting to get to the West End and Canary Wharf.

So how many escalators does Crossrail have planned for its Liverpool Street station? It appears to be six. Six is the number of escalators the Victoria Line’s planners put in to serve Victoria Station, which became inadequate in the 1990s, and where TfL ending up spending £700m on a painful project to add three more.

It’s also three fewer than the nine that serve the Central Line at Liverpool Street – a line with a total capacity of slightly more than half that of Crossrail. If nine is what’s needed for the Central Line at Liverpool Street, and the Victoria Line at Victoria, scaling up to Crossrail’s foreseeable passenger capacity would suggest a potential requirement of 16.

And then there’s maintenance. As everyone who has regularly used a tube station knows, three escalators being present does not mean three escalators will be available. Every ten years or so, they close them off one at a time for maintenance that seems to take between six months and a year.

Perhaps this is all nonsense; perhaps they have got it right this time. But I fear that, a decade or two from now, when those same engineers start costing up the remarkably expensive “Liverpool Street Crossrail Platform Access Enhancement Project”, I’ll have a moment of schadenfreude, which I can enjoy for a few minutes as I queue to get off the platform.

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Barcelona’s car-free “superblocks” could extend lives. So will they catch on elsewhere?

Barcelona. Image: Getty.

The world’s biggest cities have larger populations and higher economic outputs than some countries. But as they grow in size and complexity, cities are also facing thorny challenges that threaten the health and happiness of residents. Congestion, pollution and a lack of community spaces have become major drags on people’s aspirations and experiences of urban living.

In response, cities must manage their resources and priorities to create sustainable places for visitors and residents, and foster innovation and growth. Enter Barcelona – the capital of Catalonia, in Spain – where a bold stroke of urban planning first introduced “superblocks” in 2016.

Image: ISGlobal/FAL.

Superblocks are neighbourhoods of nine blocks, where traffic is restricted to major roads around the outside, opening up entire groups of streets to pedestrians and cyclists. The aim is to reduce pollution from vehicles, and give residents much-needed relief from noise pollution. They are designed to create more open space for citizens to meet, talk and do activities.


Health and well-being boost

There are currently only six superblocks in operation, including the first, most prominent one in Eixample. Reports suggest that – despite some early push back – the change has been broadly welcomed by residents, and the long-term benefits could be considerable.

A recent study carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health estimates that if, as planned, 503 potential superblocks are realised across the city, journeys by private vehicle would fall by 230,000 a week, as people switch to public transport, walking or cycling.

The research suggests this would significantly improve air quality and noise levels on the car-free streets: ambient levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) would be reduced by a quarter, bringing levels in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The plan is also expected to generate significant health benefits for residents. The study estimates that as many as 667 premature deaths from air pollution, noise and heat could be prevented each year. More green spaces will encourage people to get outdoors and lead a more active lifestyle.

This, in turn, helps to reduce obesity and diabetes and ease pressure on health services. The researchers claim that residents of Barcelona could expect to live an extra 200 days thanks to the cumulative health benefits, if the idea is rolled out across the city.

Space to play. Imag: Mosa Moseneke/Unsplash.

There are expected to be benefits to mental health, as well as physical health. Having access to such spaces can stave off loneliness and isolation – especially among elderly residents – as communities form stronger bonds and become more resilient.

Stumbling blocks

It was Salvador Rueda, director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, who first championed the introduction of superblocks – and he argues that the idea could be used in any city. Even so, authorities looking to expand the concept in Barcelona or beyond will need to be mindful of some concerns.

Changes like these require capital investment. Even as the car-free streets are transformed with urban furniture and greenery, the remaining major roads will likely have to accommodate heavier traffic.

Nothing comes for free. Image: Zvileve/Flickr/creative commons.

Further investments in local infrastructure – such as improving surrounding roads to deal with more traffic, or installing smart traffic management system – could be required to prevent serious congestion. Then the question remains, how to finance such investments – a higher tax rate is unlikely to be popular.


What’s more, whenever a location becomes more desirable, it leads to an increase in property demand. Higher prices and rent could create pockets of unaffordable neighbourhoods. This may lead to use of properties for investment purposes and possibly, displacement of local residents.

It’s also worth noting that Barcelona is an old and relatively well-planned European city. Different challenges exist in emerging global cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America – and in younger cities in the US and Australia. There is a great deal of variation in scale, population density, urban shape and form, development patterns and institutional frameworks across the cities. Several large cities in the developing world are heavily congested with uncontrolled, unregulated developments and weak regulatory frameworks.

Replicating what’s been done in Barcelona may prove difficult in such places, and will require much greater transformations. But it’s true that the basic principles of superblocks – that value pedestrians, cyclists and high quality public spaces over motor vehicles – can be applied in any city, with some adjustments.

Leading the way

Over the history of human civilisation, great cities have been at the forefront of innovation and social progress. But cities need a robust structure of governance, which is transparent and accountable, to ensure a fair and efficient use of resources. Imposing innovation from the top down, without consultations and buy-in, can go squarely against the idea of free market capitalism, which has been a predominant force for modern economies and can lead push-back from citizens and local businesses.

Citizens must also be willing to change their perspectives and behaviour, to make such initiatives work. This means that “solutions” to urban living like superblocks need to have buy-in from citizens, through continuous engagement with local government officials.

A man speaks at a public consultation on the Eixample superblock in Barcelona. Image: Ajuntament Barcelona/Flickr/creative commons.

Successful urban planning also needs strong leadership with a clear and consistent vision of the future, and a roadmap of how that vision can be delivered. The vision should be co-developed with the citizens and all other stakeholders such as local businesses, private and public organisations. This can ensure that everybody shares ownership and takes responsibility for the success of local initiatives.

There is little doubt that the principles and objectives of superblocks are sound. The idea has the potential to catch on around the world – though it will likely take a unique and specific form in every city.

The Conversation

Anupam Nanda, Professor of Urban Economics and Real Estate, University of Reading.

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