Old Street roundabout to open - three years late and over budget

A long-awaited safety upgrade to one of London’s most dangerous roundabouts should be completed within a year, transport chiefs vowed on Tuesday.

Transport for London confirmed a new timetable for the transformation of the Old Street gyratory to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Originally due to be completed by the end of 2020, the two-year project is three years late and millions over budget — costing in excess of £112 million, according to the most recent estimates.

The delay was due in part to the pandemic but primarily because of the complexity of the site. The landmark entrance to London’s tech quarter is part of the inner ring road — the congestion charge boundary — and sits above a Tube and train station.

 (Ross Lydall/Evening Standard)
(Ross Lydall/Evening Standard)

New protected cycle lanes and pedestrian crossings should be finished by the summer, with the wider improvements — including two new entrances to the station and a new piazza on the western section of Old Street — complete by around the end of the year.

There were a total of 215 collisions causing injury in the area in the 10 years between 2009-18, including two pedestrian fatalities, 22 serious injuries and 191 slight injuries.

In July 2018, cyclist Sarah Doone was nearly killed by a cement lorry as she attempted to cycle round the roundabout. She had to have a leg amputated — an incident that shamed TfL into pressing ahead with the changes almost four years after they had been backed in a consultation.

The new layout removes the gyratory by pedestrianising what was the north-west arm of the diamond-shaped 1960s roundabout — switching traffic to a more conventional two-way system.

An artist’s impression of Old Street roundabout and the new station entrance (TfL)
An artist’s impression of Old Street roundabout and the new station entrance (TfL)

Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, said: “It was one of the most dangerous junctions in the city. Like Holborn, doing nothing was inconceivable. When I first moved to London I lived in this area.

“Previously, you would take your life in your own hands when you cycled around here. I met families of people who have been very seriously injured. People will experience a total transformation. It’s the direction of travel for the city we want to see. This is going to be a new hub for transport within London.”

Mr Norman added: “We apologise to people who have been inconvenienced by this, but the complexities of this project, as well as covid, meant this has taken longer than we thought. But I think it’s going to be worth it.”

The upgrade has been carried out while keeping the roads and the station open. The distinctive advertising hoardings that “float” on an arch above the roundabout have been retained.

Construction was further delayed on three occasions when bones — which turned out to belong to horses — were unearthed. The sub-surface retail concourse has been rebuilt and walkway ramps have been removed.

However, there is no step-free access to the Tube or train platforms. The project was classed as a highways scheme and the budget was not large enough to cover the cost of sinking lifts and digging interconnecting tunnels.

Helen Cansick, TfL’s head of healthy streets investment, said the delays were due to an “exceptionally complex location”.

She said: “We have uncovered a lot of things that we were not expecting. That has created a lot of delay. It will be worth every penny. There will be a really impressive station entrance. It will be a lovely place to be. It will be safe if you are cycling.”

Keith Prince, Tory member of the London Assembly for Havering and Redbridge, said: "The Old Street roundabout project is taking far too long and costing far too much.

“This is a dangerous junction which urgently needs to be made safer for local residents. Sadiq Khan needs to stop making excuses and get this sorted."