cable cars

The planned move of the GLA to The Crystal building has a consequence that I wouldn’t have predicted, that of Sadiq benefiting from Boris. 

As with many GLA/TfL/LUL office moves, there seems to be an enthusiasm for placing London’s governance teams as far as reasonably possible from good public transport links in the interest of using the workforce as a fillip to an emerging area of development. 

I recall the move to Canary Wharf as the nascent estate was getting back onto its fiscal feet in the late ‘90s;  the move to Palestra to bookend The Cut, glamourise Southwark Bridge Road and make better use of Southwark Jubilee Line station;  the move to the windswept edges of Stratford to encourage a mixed-use urban wrap to the Westfield edifice;  and now to The Crystal building, not only being a chance to bolster awareness of and growth in South Newham, but also to at last give substantial purpose to the overpriced glamour project of Sadiq’s immediate predecessor. 

Someone at TfL has doubtless done the analysis but it seems to me that the Emirate’s Air Line cable car will now be the commuting route of choice for a large proportion of GLA staff and their non-virtual visitors, a journey-end reward for travelling in the increasingly overstuffed Jubilee Line.  The options are the Docklands Light Railway or a climb over the tracks to the buses from Canning Town, and so the gondola’d numbers could be substantial.

And of course I was thinking of this in coronavirus times when, like so many of us, I was seeking to predict the nature of public transport in a ‘Memories-of-Covid’ future. 

Only last year I had spent a jolly day riding the Mi Teleferico through La Paz, watching within that enjoyably chaotic city how elegantly and precisely the choreography of passenger movement was achieved between multi-coloured cabins and multi-layered city districts.  I had intended to write a blog on the simplicity and effectiveness of the system in operation and use, and the beneficial impact its arrival had had on the welfare of those who lived in the areas of the city that previously struggled to connect. But in pre-Covid times I demurred, considering then that the cable car had questionable value in cities like London that have so many other more capacious options to pursue and where, unlike La Paz, Bogota and Medellin, the topography is hardly the challenge.

Recently however, both the arrival of Covid in, and the departure of Sadiq from central London have given these observations another lease of life. Is it that the cable car can be the next DLR in an area where the topography, if not precipitous, is not short of water? 

Initially thought of as an amusing distraction by us ‘proper railway’ people, it was a 2-car DLR that greatly assisted the opening up of the east of the city in a way few had anticipated.  And while the Jubilee Line brought another level of growth where it could, the 3-car DLR continues to offer a valuable service throughout the hinterland.  Of course Crossrail is coming too, but each time a system is added, so the stations are placed further apart, largely located for interchange, and only positioned where the development need is already substantially satisfied. And so we have four rail systems circumnavigating the docks and still large tracts of land where people could happily live and work that are beyond the reach and capacity of our public transport. 

Parallel thoughts also influence my ‘Memories of Covid’ future:

–  These four systems are designed on the principle that people live a long way from where they otherwise want to be, and a predominantly radial London may not continue to be the preferred model.  

– Each of these systems is justified by loading as many people as possible into the minimum infrastructure, with social distancing inevitably reducing the viability.

– In place of Crossrail scale proposals a local area network may be the only thing that’s affordable and a popular ambition in any event, linking local residents to local services and local workplaces. 

– Proximity to a small number of other people during the journey may be either desired or essential.

– The onward journey is increasingly likely to be by bicycle if not on foot.

– And, as I have previously mulled, will it be that interchange doesn’t have to be immediate to ensure the desire to use the system, because a more leisurely journey time accompanied by a better experience is considered to be of value.

In post-Covid cities where such parallel thoughts may collide, the cable car now shows its strengths.

With a quick look at a map reminiscent of EastEnders credits (RIP Babs), I find that the proposed GLA HQ and its umbilical and potentially catalytic cable car lie in proximity to any number of growth opportunities, all awaiting, or at least needing, improved connectivity. A cat’s cradle of low cost public transport may be just what the area needs to repeat the DLR magic.

It’s a thought which interests me and that I shall develop towards a future blog. 

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