The most broken junctions in Westminster

If you’re at my office on Great Smith Street, and you want to get to, say, the Cabinet Office building at 1 Horse Guard’s Road, your best route is to walk straight up Storey’s Gate.

That route is definitely the shortest to get you from point A to point B. In order to make it to point B, though, you have to negotiate a particularly baffling junction at the intersection of Storey’s Gate, Birdcage Walk, Horse Guards Road and Great George Street.

It’s baffling because it is completely ignorant of the actual behaviours exhibited by people using this junction.

An aerial map of the junction at Storey’s Gate, Birdcage Walk, Horse Guards Road and Great George Street.
Figure 1: The junction of Storey’s Gate, Birdcage Walk, Horse Guards Road and Great George Street. Aerial photography from Apple Maps.

I’m not familiar with the process by which town planning decisions get made. I’m told it’s a particularly tricky profession; there’s a royal institute for learning how to do town planning, so it must be hard. It strikes me though that anyone who had spent more than 2 minutes observing the flows of activity at this junction would know the crossings are in the wrong place.

This is a very busy junction as far as traffic is concerned. It’s not as busy as other parts of the area, but definitely a risky junction to negotiate. The bad design decisions that led to this junction’s layout incentivise pedestrians into risk-taking behaviour in order to cross the road here. How do I know? Because I watch it happen almost every day.

You can cross the road on Birdcage Walk to St James Park; you can cross the road from St James Park to the Churchill War Rooms, crossing Horse Guard’s Road. What you can’t do, in one crossing, is safely go from Storey’s Gate straight to the War Rooms (or in my case, usually, to the Cabinet Office or Foreign Office buildings).

A sketch of the junction. I have added a red box where there should be an additional crossing.
Figure 2: A sketch of the junction, including the obvious thing town planners missed.

Hundreds of pedestrians a day must be faced with this seemingly innocuous navigation dilemma; and I’d wager most of them risk it and walk straight out in front of traffic.

Why isn’t there a crossing at a place where there is a lot of footfall and risky decision-making?

It’s not the only junction designed with a total absence of common sense in Westminster either. At the top of Horse Guard’s Road, you can cross the Mall, but you can’t cross Horse Guard’s Road itself. The nearest crossing is back at the other end of the road - a good 5 minutes walk away.

To put this in context, these are busy roads directly connected to Trafalgar Square and they are really wide - you could get at least 4 lanes of traffic down these roads with room for parking. These are not easy roads to cross without high-degrees of risk taking.

An aerial map of the junction of the Mall and Horse Guards Road.
Figure 3: The junction of the Mall and Horse Guards Road. Aerial photography from Apple Maps.

Worse, one of the crossings photographed above is currently being removed - so if you’re on the wrong side of the road, you can’t cross at a pedestrian crossing at all without a 5 minute walk back the way you came.

An aerial map of the junction at Parliament Square.
Figure 4: The junction at Parliament Square. Aerial photography from Apple Maps.

Parliament Square is another example of these odd little design decisions. There are pedestrian crossings on 3 sides of this crossroads, but not all four.

There’s no deep and meaningful reflection here: I just find this all a bit odd.

These junctions are regularly (too regularly) dug up and rebuilt - and yet, none of these changes seem to have observed the behaviour of pedestrians before decisions are taken. Instead, these changes seem to actively push pedestrians towards risk-taking choices.

I just have one question: why are these junctions so broken?