The Cut, London, Waterloo SE1 – An excellent example of what can be done

Author: Robert Molteno, Secretary

I visited The Cut one week day evening about 6pm. This was in late 2010, shortly after its completion.

The road runs eastwards from the Old Vic, past the Young Vic, and on for about 250 yards. What struck me were the interesting innovations which Southwark and Lambeth Councils’ engineers have made in order to rebalance the use of the roadway as between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, with heavy emphasis on pedestrian use.

Here are some of the things I liked:

  • Double-width pavements on both sides of the road: This is at the expense of roadway for cars and cycles – the roadway has been reduced to two lanes. Result: much easier for pedestrians to walk abreast, stroll at different speeds without getting in each other’s way, and chat.
  • Slower speeds; less Noisy: While there is no speed limit reduction to 20 mph that I could see; there are frequent, big, roadway-width raised sections instead. Result: less traffic noise.
  • Benches for pedestrians: The benches, sited here and there along the pavement, were ugly, I thought! But comfortable. And used quite a bit. Result: These benches make the street a much more convivial place for people to be in; and are of particular use to elderly people who may like to sit and read a paper or chat.
  • Tree planting along pavements on both sides: Obviously, the trees are still young and small. But in medium term, the road will become more of an avenue. Result: This will cool the pavements, provide shade in summer, and a pleasant feel. As London’s summers get hotter this century, this greening of the street will be particularly welcome.
  • Bars and cafes with outside seating spilling on to the pavement: Since the pavements are already wide, no cluttering or congestion results. Result: they contribute to a people-friendly ambience.
  • An area with flower-beds, trees, and considerable distance from both roadways: This quite big space is located at the intersection of the Cut and the main Waterloo Road. Still in the making when I was there (no benches yet installed), but quite attractive. Result: a relatively quiet, shady, pleasant-looking space to loiter in.
  • Cycle parking on-pavement: lots of it. Result: much easier to leave a cycle safely.
  • New kind of parking bays leading to far fewer cars parked along the street: every now and then, there are specially paved areas jutting into the wide pavements. These parking bays are reserved for non-normal parking like vans unloading at shops, taxis and so on. As a result, the  street cannot be used by commuters as a car-park, and  very few cars were parked along the road. Result: I was particularly struck, and surprised, by how this gives the road a much more open feel.
  • No special cycle lane provision for cycles: cycles are merely part of the vehicular traffic flow which in any case is going much more slowly than normal.