What a pleasure to cycle through Russell Square in Bloomsbury, for the first time in a while, and find that streetscape improvements have undone the unpleasant one way system, and returned the roads on all four sides to the normal two way arrangement.
All one way systems in city centres have a dehumanising effect, the worst of all being the 'gyratories' such as Russell Square was until recently - a Georgian square transformed into a roundabout. They encourage vehicles to drive faster, which is unpleasant and dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists; they make traffic go further than necessary; and they result in the various expensive and ugly paraphernalia of signs, white lines, barriers etc. - all of which make cities nastier to live in.
The traffic calming project in Exhibition Road, which has received much more media coverage, is a 'designer' project - done very well. Russell Square, by contrast, is a project where there is not much to see on completion - the square now just looks neat and tidy and normal. The previous arrangement had had measures added in recent years to provide cycle contraflows and so on, all making the square a progressively uglier and more complicated boondoggle of blinkered, incremental interventions.
Just as it's hard to imagine how people would countenance the idea of the Hammersmith flyover if it were proposed as a new project now, so it's hard to imagine anyone proposing today to turn what is a nice square into a roundabout. But that is what Russell Square was until a few weeks ago. Those who put it right again deserve our thanks and congratulations. I hope they get a prize. But they probably won't, since photographs of the square will lead a jury to ask 'er, what have they done here exactly?' The trick of the recent project is progress by subtraction rather than addition. A new competition category is needed.