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The Future Of The Square Mile Is Amazon Hubs And Pedestrianisation

The proposed changes at Bank junction

With its offices largely shut, the City of London has been empty of the more than 200,000 people who usually work there every day. So empty have been the streets that one enterprising criminal turned the basement of a commercial building on a normally busy thoroughfare into a cannabis farm.

Alastair Moss wants to make sure the workers who have left decide to come back. The City has a £50M fund to support commercial tenants, a move to keep the Square Mile’s amenities, the cafes and restaurants, dry cleaners and dentists, from going out of business, but the City of London Corporation’s Chair of the Planning and Transportation Committee is taking it a step further, thinking not just of the buildings but also about walking and air. 

“There is a demand and expectation of safer streets and cleaner air,” Moss told Bisnow in an interview. “If there is a perception that the streets and the air is dirty and unsafe, it damages the perception of an area.”

In December the City unveiled a tie-up that speaks to the future of central business districts — it agreed a deal for Amazon to use a portion of an underused car park as a last-mile distribution hub.

And last week it revealed plans for changes to the road junction at Bank tube station, partly pedestrianising an intersection that has long been infamous among cyclists, who take their life into their hands trying to avoid vans, cars and lorries, resulting in several high-profile accidents. 

The changes come after the City pedestrianised several streets following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to try and enable social distancing among those that did need to travel in for work and to help people walk and cycle more so they didn't have to drive or use public transport. 

The tie-up with Amazon will see the transformation of 39 car parking spaces at London Wall Car Park into a last-mile delivery hub that will be operated by the online giant. 

Deliveries into the City will be consolidated at the hub and then delivered to their final destination on e-bikes or on foot. Moss said there is the capability to use the hub to consolidate deliveries going to neighbouring boroughs like Hackney. 

The City said the hub will mean 85 fewer van journeys in the Square Mile each day, or 23,000 a year. It is looking to create another two such hubs by 2022 and wants a total of five by 2025.

It is a model that the commercial sector can copy too: In Madrid, giant Spanish REIT Merlin Properties does something similar with its office car parks. 

London Wall car park

“My ultimate vision is that nothing comes in or out of the City without us being thoughtful and strategic about how it gets delivered,” Moss said. “It’s about air quality and climate action and reducing the number of polluting vehicles on the roads.”

Transport for London data highlights the need to address the number of van journeys in order to tackle air pollution and climate change. Between 2000 and 2019, the number of kilometres travelled by car in central London dropped by 25%. But in the same period, the number of kilometres travelled by vans rose by 12%. For London as a whole, van journeys are up more than 35%, and this data covers the period before the pandemic lockdowns supercharged the online delivery sector.

The need for more e-commerce consolidation hubs to reduce van journeys is also highlighted by the data: TfL forecasts that if current trends continue, the amount of vans on the road could rise by another 30% by 2041. 

“We picked a hub which had its own flow of traffic, so it doesn’t create new traffic,” Moss said. 

On the pedestrianisation front, the City closed several prominent streets to traffic early in the pandemic and is now assessing whether some of these closures will become permanent. 

“The pandemic created a need to social distance, and what’s clear to me is that we will have to live with pandemics,” Moss said. “Therefore there will be a need to social distance and a need for active travel. People will prefer walking and cycling, and therefore you need a streetscape that promotes that rather than prioritising cars and vans. Some of those closures have worked, some of them haven’t.” 

At Bank, the historic heart of the City where the Bank of England and Royal Exchange are located, a consultation has been launched on several measures, including the closure of Threadneedle Street for motor vehicles between Bank junction and Bartholomew Lane in both directions to create a walking and cycling-only area; the closure of Queen Victoria Street between Bucklersbury and Bank junction for motor vehicles, except those vehicles exiting Walbrook in a westbound direction; keeping Princes Street open for only buses and cycles northbound and as a route for servicing to Cornhill in a southbound direction; and widening pavements around the junction to accommodate the large number of people who walk through the area normally.

“By making subtle changes to just a few of the arms of the junction, we will ensure the streets are even safer for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as being able to provide welcome improvements to the public realm in this busy part of the City,” Moss said.