Boris Should Bury Cars Not Bury Roads

Boris today in the states made a major announcement to reclaim land at street level currently dominated by major junctions and expressways.  Some of these are most welcome – indeed I would even claim that two of them at Hammersmith Flyover and Tolworth might have been my idea.  Although the ideas were for demolishing and redeveloping the flyover and for a Green Bridge at Tolworth, though i’m sure many others had similar ideas.

The astonishing thing though is that Boris rather than following the internationally successful projects for demolishing expressways and flyovers, instead intends to mimic the widely regarded as a expensive white elephant project of the Moscow Big Dig, and even more astonishingly plans a 30 billion new circular expressway under London, as the City Metric and Boris Watch blogs reveal through FOI requests.

First the release – not yet on the City Hall website

BBC News

During his trip to the US.

The mayor of London has announced plans to redesign some of London’s busiest roads by having stretches of them go through tunnels.

Boris Johnson said work could begin at five locations which would allow the land the road was on, to be developed.

The roads are the A4 in Hammersmith, the A13 in Barking Riverside, the A3 in Tolworth, the A316 at Chalkers Corner and the A406 in New Southgate.

But the mayor said tolls could be used to help pay for the work.

Boris Johnson in BostonBoris Johnson is on a six day visit to the US

Mr Johnson began his six-day visit with a walkabout in sub-zero temperatures around Boston’s “big dig” regeneration project, which saw major highways diverted underground.

He said the Boston scheme had helped improve air quality and speed up traffic.

“It’s the sort of thing we can do in Hammersmith where the A4 is a very old mouldering flyover, which we could take underground, releasing a huge amount of land that could be turned into a park, several parks, and other amenities, plus releasing a lot of land for housing,” he said.

“You could use some of the proceeds from that housing to pay for it and you would probably also have to look at tolling as well.”


The road redesign proposals:

  • A new mini-tunnel for the A13 to free up land for future development while reconnecting the borough of Barking with the new Barking Riverside development, which is the location for just under 11,000 new homes
  • Decking (building over and around the road) the A3 in Tolworth providing additional land for new homes
  • A small ‘fly-under’ on the A316 at Chalkers Corner in Richmond would add facilities for cyclists and pedestrians and remove a major pinch point for traffic
  • A ‘fly-under’ at the A4 in Hammersmith will replace the existing viaduct and the town centre would be reconnected with the River Thames, creating new opportunities for development and open space
  • Decking or a mini-tunnel at the A406 in New Southgate on the North Circular would unlock land for new homes and connect the area around the proposed Crossrail 2 station

Transport for London will now work with local boroughs on the proposals and an analysis including funding options will be presented to the mayor in May.

Grade separation of major urban roads is always expensive.  At the A406 at Southgate it was previously rejected as costing 100s of millions for little effect.

Where I am currently based in Beirut as seen 100s of million of dollars diverted to buildings major urban expressways (the disastrous Ecohard plan) and then more recently 100s of millions more on grade separation whilst nothing, and I mean nothing has been spent on public transport.  This is a policy which has only benefitted limo driven elites.

This is why cities have tended to demolish urban expressways rather than bury them.  There are many successful examples internationally where this has been done and it has not led to unacceptable congestion, for the very good reason that if you make driving difficult and public transport easy there will be a switch.

Some good examples, are the Embercade San Francisco, Cheonggyecheon in Seoul (below), Harbor Drive Portland and Rio Madrid, Madrid.  One is even proposed in Dallas.  So it would seem the obvious thing to do in places like the Hammersmith Flyover, White City and Westway.

Bricktown Oklahoma City where a canal replaces an expressway.  Lets do this at the East Cross Route (A12) with a canal connecting the Thames to the Limehouse Cut and the River Lea.

Of course Boris’s plans for an undeground expressway is expensive and bonkers, far more so than Boris Island, how does he think traffic would get up to grade without huge concrete on ramps digging to Blackheath and Clapham common and in many other places.

What is most wierd though is how he thinks the Boston Big Dig  is an example of a successful programme when it has been a vast cost overun and almost universally seen in the states as a mistake and huge white elephant,and quite possibly the worst managed transport project in history.  A year long Boton Globe investigation found over a billion dollars of cost overuns were due to mistakes by its contractors Bechtel. The project has only taken 17 years and cost  $24.2 billion overunning by over 200%. Costs escalated as additional costs were incurred as engineers devised ways to safely drill through landfill, unstable soil and old infrastructure.  You will never find this is London surely?  It was only affordable because of lobbying of congress.  The cost would have fully funded comprehensive public transport systems in around half a dozen US cities without them. Auditors considered concealment of cost overunns were the ‘the most flagrant” in the federal highway program’s history’. A Boris claims the Big Dig as an example  of good practice.  Has he left planet reality?

A 2008 Boston Globe report asserted that waiting time for the majority of trips actually increased as a result of demand induced by the increased road capacity. Because more drivers were opting to use the new roads, traffic bottlenecks were only pushed outward from the city, not reduced or eliminated (although some trips are now faster). The report states, “Ultimately, many motorists going to and from the suburbs at peak rush hours are spending more time stuck in traffic, not less.” Courts ordered 14 transit-related projects as environmental mitigation for the additional traffic the Big Dig would accommodate.  These cost an extra 9 billion, only some have been completed and because of the additional costs corners were cut on the Big Dig, leading for example to all of the lights having to be replaced at a cost of $54 million alone and major structural problems,


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