Finchley Road – Once a country lane, now a city motorway

Post by Dr Paulo Rui Anciaes

This post is a brief overview of the history of Finchley Road, one of the two London case studies of our project. The study will look at the section where the road crosses the neighbourhood of South Hampstead, just North of Regent’s Park. Finchley Road station is in the middle of this section.

Imagedigimap_roam_FR - Copy© Crown Copyright/ database right 2014. Ordnance Survey/EDINA supplied service. All rights reserved

The map below shows how the area looked like in 1880. The area where Finchley Road station is now was then at the edge of London. The area north of the station was rural farmland. Finchley Road was built in 1829 (as “Finchley New Road”) to provide a new route to (horse-drawn) traffic from central London to the northern part of the country.

Image© Crown Copyright/ database right 2014. Ordnance Survey/EDINA supplied service. All rights reserved

Just 10 years later, in 1890, the area already looked very similar to the way it does today. The fast urban development was linked to the opening of new rail stations in this area, including Finchley Road, South Hampstead and West Hampstead in 1879 and West End Lane (now West Hampstead overground station) in 1888.

Image© Crown Copyright/ database right 2014. Ordnance Survey/EDINA supplied service. All rights reserved

The steady growth in car ownership and suburban development during the 20th century changed the character of Finchley Road. The road became more and more important for the distribution of car traffic from the growing northern suburbs to central London and, after the construction of the M1 motorway in the 1960s, also for the distribution of traffic leaving the motorway at Brent Cross Junction, 5km to the Northwest.

Finchley Road was redesigned over the years to accommodate the increase of the traffic, transforming the road into what is effectively a city motorway, with three lanes of traffic in each direction and barriers separating pavements from carriageway and the two directions of traffic flow. By the 1970s, the road was already an obstacle to the movement of pedestrians, as these pictures show:

ImageImage© Copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Traffic levels increased even further since these pictures were taken. In some parts, physical barriers now separate pedestrians from the carriageway. Pedestrians also have to wait a long time to cross at traffic lights. There is an underpass near Finchley Road station, but it can be intimidating, and is not an alternative for people with mobility issues. The railway lines just North of Finchley Road station contribute to the physical and psychological separation between different parts of this neighbourhood.

In February this year, Transport for London has announced that the junction near Swiss Cottage station will be redesigned, which will improve the conditions of what is one of the most problematic parts of Finchley Road for pedestrians.

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