A new exhibition at New London Architecture (NLA) sets out the past, present and future of our road network. You’ll find the gallery near Goodge Street tube, but the visitor with an eye for the apposite will arrive via the streets.
London’s roads are a system under constant change, as favoured transport modes shift, the population grows, and new technology solves old problems and creates new ones.
Over a series of breathless panels, we’re bombarded with stats, maps and facts about the network. Although many of us have a tube fixation, or commute by train, a whopping 80% of journeys are predominantly by road (including those by private motor transport, bus, taxi, bike and foot).
Perhaps surprisingly, a quarter of us get all the exercise we need to stay healthy, just by travelling around London. It’s predicted that car use will drop over the coming decades, while walking and cycling will rise. As the exhibition makes clear, though, there are so many variables at play that nobody can be sure what our streets will look like in 2030.
The exhibition prompts so many questions. Could autonomous, electric vehicles drive a growth in four-wheeled transport? Will London go through a tunnelling mania, putting trunk roads underground and freeing up land above? Might advanced drones cut the number of delivery vehicles on the roads? To what degree can we, or should we pedestrianise our central streets — and do so-called shared spaces work?
It’s an exhibition high on facts, low on opinion, which invites the viewer to form his or her own speculations. The final panel includes a public survey on some of the issues raised in the show. Here’s how it’s looking so far, a couple of days into the exhibition:
It’s an absorbing exhibition with just one downside. With so many mentions of the ‘streets of London’, you’ll have Ralph McTell in your ear all day.
Streets Ahead: The Future Of London’s Roads is at New London Architecture, the Building Centre, Store Street until 24 February 2016. Entrance is free.