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Bank station upgrade – a missed opportunity?

Blog by Alan Benson. This blog and its content reflect the views of the author only.

I’ve got a dirty little secret, and I’m going to share it with you right now. Are you ready? I like to go out and have fun. There it is, it’s out there now. Do you know what else? I love living in London. I’ve always enjoyed visiting, but until moving here three years ago I didn’t think it would suit me.

My problem was I use public transport to get around, but buses don’t really suit me. They’re slow, uncomfortable and unreliable, at least for me. This means getting into London, into one of the mainline stations or around London, on the Overground, DLR, Jubilee line etc, is relatively straight forward, but there’s a black hole engulfing Central London that is the Underground Stations. These stations are inaccessible to a whole spectrum of disabilities, to families with children, to visitors to London, all for a wide range of reasons. So I’m left pounding the pavements (can you do that in a wheelchair?) or calling cabs.

I’m not unrealistic. I’m well aware that the Underground is 150 years old and that means it comes with a lot of baggage that’s going to take a lot of time, and money, to fix, but one key lesson the Olympics taught us is that where there’s a will, there’s a way. We also learned, if we didn’t know it already, the benefits to everyone of having an inclusive city, in fact so much so that the Mayor, Boris Johnson, has made inclusivity one of his 6 strategic objectives.

So imagine how pleased I was to be invited to a meeting this week to discuss the new upgrade project for Bank Station. At this point I must declare an interest. You see Bank and I have a history together. I’ve tried to use the DLR at Bank in the past. So far the score is 3-0 to Bank due to the lift being out of order. But no matter, I was fired up, I was onboard and very supportive.

A once in a lifetime project

The good news, for everyone, is that this huge, £537m, project promises a huge capacity expansion on the Northern Line. The plans are very impressive, offering a new concourse and entrance (including a ticket office interestingly enough given the current debate on the planned closure of all said offices.) But most of all, what I took from this meeting was accessibility. We discussed appropriate signage, audible announcements, colour coded routes and a good selection of other very positive things which had either been thought about, or which would be passed back to the project group for serious consideration. After all, it’s much cheaper to make changes on plans than after the work has begun, or even completed. The only small cloud is that none of this work makes the District, Circle or Central lines step free. Of course, Cannon Street is only a short walk away and it has better access (ie some), but a short walk isn’t what you might call hassle free travelling.

So I’m left with a question. This is a once in a lifetime project, and a huge expense. If we don’t make the effort to be accessible now, then when? I’m also left wondering whether it will be my children or my grandchildren who, when looking at an Underground map filled with stations that have been made accessible, notice Bank station, a little island of inaccessibility, and ask their own question, “How did such a busy and important interchange station get missed?“