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Transport interchanges need immediate attention, say experts

Poorly designed transport interchanges must be avoided despite budgets being tight following spending cuts, experts said this week at Interchanges 2011, part of the London Rail conference.

Transport for London head of interchange planning John McNulty warned that spending cuts could also cause transport bodies to retrench into a “silo mentality”, resulting in poor interchanges.

He said tough economic times often cause companies to focus only on their own operations rather than on their interaction with other transport modes. He said: “We must not forget the importance of these interchange functions.”

The Old Oak Common interchange station, proposed as part of High Speed 2 (HS2), was a particular source of concern at the conference. The station would become one of Europe’s largest interchanges if built but its interaction with other transport modes must not be handled poorly, said McNulty.

“The Department for Transport (DfT) must be the lead sponsor. They must bring all the parties together at Old Oak Common to jointly organise that.

“The DfT must take responsibility for funding that as well. All of the built environment around it must be funded and made to work.” McNulty warned that Old Oak Common must not be thought of as “just a station box”.

“Transport for London has to take responsibility for driving the agenda for delivering fit for purpose transport hubs on [the HS2] route,” he said.

London Assembly member Valerie Shawcross told delegates that in the face of spending cuts there must be a focus on cost effective small-scale projects. Many improvements can be done cheaply, such as repositioning bus stops and improving signage, she said.

“Maybe we can’t spend £50M putting a lift in one station, but you can make sure there is information [on accessibility] there for people.

“We have seen a lot of capital projects cut back. We want to see them reinstated,” she said.

Debate at the conference also centred around existing examples of poorly designed interchanges in desperate need of renovation, with Elephant and Castle and Vauxhall – both in south London – particularly coming under fire.

Elephant and Castle was criticised for its dominating roundabout and sprawling, confusing pedestrian subways. Shawcross said a trick had been missed in not using community infrastructure levies (CIL) to bring in money for Elephant and Castle from the large amounts of development happening nearby.

Elephant and Castle is “a pretty poor environment” that “has not been designed as a bus interchange at all”, despite being one of the biggest bus interchanges in Europe, Shawcross said. “It’s a massive knot in the system.”

She said Vauxhall was similarly “mixed up” with a large gyratory system. “The surface pedestrian access is incredibly poor.”

The Vauxhall bus station was built without an overall strategic plan for the interchange as a whole, McNulty said.

“We did a partial improvement. On reflection we might need to do that differently. We should not make that mistake again.”

TfL has been mandated by the Mayor of London’s office to look at idea to significantly improve the public realm at Vauxhall while maintaining traffic flow, he said, calling it a “big challenge”.

Netherlands-based transport operator Abellio business development UK head Peter Lensink said Vauxhall is a poor interchange for cyclists. An overarching plan for the Vauxhall interchange must include good access to the tube and rail stations for both pedestrians and cyclists, he said.

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