London Mayor Sadiq Khan has been on a public transit spending spree. Now his plans to spend $1 billion on cycling, and to stop buying dirty diesel buses, are joined by a push to bring step-free access to London’s Tube stations.
Over the next five years, Khan will spend more than $250 million on improving access for people who can’t use stairs or escalators, or who would find it easier not to. This means better wheelchair access, of course, but is also good news for parents with kids in strollers, or older folks who struggle with stairs. The plan is to make an additional 30 Tube stations step-free by 2022, pushing the total past 100 stations, or 40% of the network. Currently only 26% of the London Underground is step-free.
In the case of London’s Tube, “step-free” means that users can get around using ramps and/or elevators. There are already 70 Tube stations and 57 overground railway stations in London with step-free access (there’s a step-free map of the network so you can plan your route). In addition to these modernization plans for the world’s oldest underground network, all new stations, including the entirety of the new Elizabeth Line, will be step-free.
Converting London’s old Tube stations is a tricky proposition. Whereas the recently constructed Jubilee Line is all open-plan stations and wide corridors, much of the Tube is aptly named: Tunnels for trains and passengers alike are little more than narrow pipes often deep under the capital. It’s old, too: The first line opened in 1863, way before considerations were made for things like wheelchair access.
And elevators are a slow way to move lots of people. Adding them to stations with escalators and stairs, though, only makes access easier for everyone, including those stuck behind a parent trying to wrestle a stroller and a couple of kids up the escalator at rush hour.
Under Khan, London really seems to be pushing alternatives to cars. The Tube is already the main way to get around the city, but this opens it up still further, and the investment in bikes and cleaner buses will make it possible in future to carry out the second essential part of any plan to clean up the city’s air by removing as many cars as possible from the roads.