Community group calls for safer, greener roads in Hackney

‘Living Streets’ demonstration on Sheep Lane All Credits: Brenda Puech

A Hackney community group has called for safer, greener streets in the borough.

The Living Streets team has been working towards making the borough a more climate-friendly and secure place to live and travel, with support from Jeremy Corbyn and Hackney Council behind them. 

Living Streets is a charity that began in 1929 with a focus on walking and pedestrian rights which has now developed to predominantly campaigning for green issues relating to transport. The group now wants to make the streets of Hackney more liveable and reduce the impact of impact of motor traffic. 

Brenda Puech from Living Streets told EastLondonLines:  “This is a question of justice, equity, health and efficiency. Households in Hackney that do not have a car are double the number of households that have cars, yet all our street space is given over to cars and car parking.”

Puech has been part of the group for many years, after being involved in a collision with a driver with ran through a red light and damaged her bike. She was unhappy that the driver received six points on their licence but no further sanctions. She said: “Drivers do not have to face the consequences of bad driving despite the danger and physical injury risks they pose for other road users, let alone the pollution and ill-health they might cause”. 

They are a small – only six people are involved – but effective team. They have successfully lobbied for a community parklet programme to be in place in Hackney, which allows residents to apply to place a small garden in a parking space rather than a car, the first borough in the UK to implement this. They have also campaigned for living and school streets in the borough which allow only pedestrians and cyclists. 

Parklet in Bethnal Green

The group’s manifesto is to “to make walking and cycling a priority, remove motor vehicle cut-throughs, utilize bus gates more to prioritise buses over cars, , make streets around schools a priority for filtering of motor traffic and make streets greener with more trees, plants, flowers and seating” as well as making the roads safer through the increase of wider footways, slower speed limits and more direct and signalled crossings. 

Puech says the group has received good support from Hackney Council, and that although they do not go far enough, they are quite “progressive”, with “good transport strategies and policies”.   

Hackney is one of the more environmentally friendly boroughs in London when it comes to transport, with one of the highest bus usages (26% of Hackney residents in 2012 said that the bus was the primary mode of transport, according to figures released by TFL) with the council’s “2015-2025 Transport Strategy” outlining plans to plant more trees, create more “Low Emission Neighbourhoods” which would restrict access to motor cars but instead allow access to shared electric cars/bikes, with parking spaces replaced by play areas and community areas, implement emission-based parking charges and most noticeably, introduce a 20mph speed limit on all roads in the borough (which has already been brought into affects in Islington and Camden) which was intended to take effect from 2015 but as of 2019 is still yet to be applied. 

Puech has criticised the efforts of the current government in tackling environmental issues, telling ELL: “They are doing the complete opposite. They have been reducing fuel duty on cars by 1.2 billion a year for many years. It is spending huge amounts of money on building new roads for cars, but has not invested enough in facilities and infrastructure for walking and cycling.” 

However, the group received support from the Leader of the Opposition in a chance meeting. Corbyn, who was attending the Finsbury Park Cycling & Walking festival, was asked by Puech to sit in the parklet that she had on display as part of the festival. Puech states she asked Corbyn to sit in the parklet, with him commenting that “this is much more comfortable than sitting in a car” and showing great interest in the scheme. 

Jeremy Corbyn sitting in a parklet, talking to the Hackney Living Streets team at the Finsbury Park Cycling and Walking Festival

Puech is clear about why her work is so important, saying: “The pollution emitted by cars causes asthma and serious breathing problems, especially for children and older people. The space taken up by cars is inefficient; cars carry on average only 1.6 people and they are parked 95% of the time which is a seriously inefficient use of valuable and precious road space. Also,  climate change is a real recognised threat and cars contribute significantly to global warming.” 

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