At a recent open day held at Westminster School I listened as an engineer enthusiastically pointed to a neat looking picture and explained the benefits of his underpass design.
He talked at length about the need for 'grade separation' to ensure safety. Not being an engineer, I've since googled this term. Apparently he meant keeping people and trains moving on separate levels so that when they cross they can't physically collide. That does sound very safe, if you consider that a train is the only threat we pedestrians face.
And there's the rub. It was hard to tell from the pictures, but an underpass is a tunnel. It is lengthy, angled and contains several blind corners for pedestrians. Forcing commuters in to and out of a tunnel offers them rail safety, but it also exposes them to all kinds of risks to their personal safety - particularly where an assailant can not be observed.
These personal risks are far more random and less able to be controlled by the individual. For example, I cross at the northern end of the platform using a maze crossing. The design forces me to look up the track to avoid crossing in front of a train. I can control the risk to my safety simply by watching where I'm going.
It's a different proposition underground though. I cannot see around corners. I may not be able to hear a potential assailant. I have very little control over these threats to my personal safety - particularly where they cannot also be seen by others.
Unlike rail safety, personal safety risks are not equally shared. Assailants are overwhelmingly opportunistic. They are far more likely to target women, young girls and boys, the elderly, the disabled and people who are mobility impaired because they know we are more vulnerable.
The current overpass may be old but it separates pedestrians from trains while maintaining their public visibility. The new tunnel may be' revitalised' but is it really safer?
|The overpass may be old, but it works and it is visible|