(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
How’s this for a kick in the head? From Monday 16th to Wednesday 18th April they opened up Bank Junction to all traffic. This was a temporary measure while dignitaries met for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Forum. I don’t know how often Commonwealth heads meet up in London, but we’re here all the time. This insults those of us who rely on free-flowing traffic in order to do our jobs. Those of us who are in London every day, not once in a blue moon.
The temporary re-opening is an admission that Bank Junction’s closure is all about protecting bus timings. The traffic doesn’t flow any better, of course; it’s just diverted to neighbouring streets. The City clearly didn’t want Commonwealth heads stuck in traffic as they make their way to and from the meetings. Maybe there were dignitaries staying at the Ned?
I don’t know how the dignitaries were getting around: did they take taxis? Or were they treated to chauffeured limousines? (most likely). Would the limos need special permission to drive through Bank Junction? (I’ve seen no Olympic-style lane markings).
The City closed Bank Junction because they said it was dangerous. They cited public safety. Are they now ignoring safety? In opening the junction up they are either saying it is not dangerous; or that it is still dangerous, but they are happy to put VIPs at risk with all those nasty taxis, mini-cabs and vans driving around. It’s like if they relaxed speed limits. If it has been deemed unsafe to drive at over 20mph, and the speed limit is scrapped for three days, it suggests driving over twenty wasn’t dangerous in the first place.
It all gives the false impression that London is open for business. Had the junction remained closed, the VIPs would think it odd there were no taxis or private cars in the City of London, only buses and bikes. London is essentially a working city, yet it is treated like a theme park. The different themes are awarded their own dedicated road closures on a whim. Little regard is paid to those who live or work here. We’ve recently seen Unilever promising to re-locate to Rotterdam because their staff can’t get around London for meetings. Whole areas of Central London are inaccessible for much of the day through ill-informed closures, or traffic schemes that artificially create congestion. Look at the complicated re-modelling of the Blackfriars are in which Unilever sits. It’s a dangerous mess of roads for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike.
The alternatives to Bank Junction include a slalom of chicanes and temporary lights on Gresham Street. Other difficult to negotiate roads like Lothbury and Bartholomew Lane help form a treacherous bypass of bus-only Bank Junction. The scene is nothing like that depicted on a London postcard that Commonwealth visitors might have picked on their last day: a few black cabs; one 1964 Routemaster bus; and near-empty streets. At least seeing these streets in person gives the opportunity to VIPs to experience modern London envisioned by TfL and its anti-motorist allies.
What’s going on in the City anyway? Road closures on provincial high streets that last a few weeks last months or years in London. Canon Street eastbound seems to have been closed for several months with no indication as to its re-opening. The closure has recently been joined by Gracechurch Street. Is Queen Victoria Street eastbound open when Bank is closed? I think it is, but I’m not sure. Now the westbound seems to be closed. Can we use Queen Street to escape some of the madness? It seems to be open sometimes, and not others. There’s no clear signage. There’s no consistency.
Access to Bank Junction is essential, and it should never have been closed. It adds insult to injury when roads closed for being dangerous are opened up temporarily to create a false impression to visitors. Those making the decisions aren’t going to listen to cab drivers, but when major corporations move out because of roads are closed and systems made too complex, they should realise that something very bad is happening on our streets.