Back To Our Routes
The first new Routemaster-style bus started operation yesterday in London, and inevitably Mayor Boris Johnson has come in for stick from all sides, with Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy complaining that each new bus costs £1.4m compared with the conventional double-decker bus, which costs about £190,000.
While I’m certainly no fan of Boris’s, it was predictable for MPs to number-crunch and ignore the real reason for the bus’s comeback; an illogical but profound love for the old originals by Londoners. In the last couple of privatised decades we’ve seen the demise of most London iconography, from the pillar box to the phone booth. The traditional colours of London’s street furniture were black, white and red, but as private firms came in and new colours and designs were added to the palette, the image of a cohesively designed London seemed not to matter.
Margaret Thatcher famously had no time for art or design. Identity is an intangible thing, but can certainly be helped by unity of design. There was a point in the mid-eighties when London started to look like every other city in the world. It became a divisive, depressing place in which to work. The bus argument is a passionate one and is set to continue, but it seems we rarely bring London’s overall design (which is generally shockingly poor) into the debate in any meaningful way.
There are improvements currently taking place around the city which please from both a safety and a design perspective. The black metal barriers on traffic islands that merely pen pedestrians in are being removed, and kerbs are being lowered, which creates a better dialogue between pedestrians and vehicles. In particular, it feels as if private cars are learning that they must negotiate London streets with the help of pedestrians, rather than treating them as obstacles.
But it feels as if there’s a long way to go. Crossrail has turned the West End streets into an obstacle course of closed roads, but the end result, with the stations working from a single design palette, will help to modernise and unify. The red bus is an unnecessary luxury, yes, but how nice to see it back on the streets in a new form.