Cyclists urge councils to use Government virus cash to make streets safer

Photograph of a cyclist using the freshly painted crossing of Sutton Street in Tower Hamlets.
Freshly painted Cycleway 3’s crossing of Sutton Street in Tower Hamlets. Pic: Tower Hamlets Cycling Campaign.

Cycling campaigners in the Eastlondonlines area have called on local authorities to prioritise cycling and walking to minimise air pollution and reduce the risks of spreading the virus.

Last week, the Department of Transport urged all council Chief Executives to take advantage of the London Active Travel Emergency Fund.

The London Cycling Campaign has launched the #StopTheTrafficTide campaign. It encourages members to persuade local councils to prevent motor traffic from returning to pre-lockdown levels.

Austen Cooper, secretary for the Croydon Cycling Campaign, told Eastlondonlines: “The #StopTheTrafficTide campaign is important for everyone in Croydon, London and across the UK. As we exit lockdown, people need to be able to choose safe and easy ways to travel to the shops, work and schools.”

He stressed: “If we all pile onto public transport, there’s a risk of a second spike in Covid-19 infections. If we all drive, our streets will be gridlocked by cars, increasing air pollution and making breathing much harder for people with asthma and the virus.”

Cooper said that bike sales are booming in Croydon and across the country. He said: “What Croydon council needs to do is act fast to use government money ‘to embed walking and cycling as part of new long-term commuting habits and reap the associated health, air quality and congestion benefits’.”

In Tower Hamlets, cycling campaigners say temporary measures are urgently required to make cycling and walking more accessible. Alex Jenkins, 34, of the Tower Hamlets Cycling Campaign, said cyclists were worried about the capacity of public transport under social distancing rules. Without the measures, he told ELL, “the people of Tower Hamlets simply won’t be able to get around safely.”

In Tower Hamlets only one-sixth of residents own a car and he warned: “Even if more journeys could theoretically shift to cars, the traffic jams and pollution would become horrific.”

Tower Hamlets Council launched the School Streets Programme alongside walking and cycling charity Sustrans in September 2019. It introduced timed closures of roads outside schools at drop-off and pick-up time to create safer streets, divert motor traffic and reduce air pollution.

Jenkins said the programme should be “rapidly accelerated’’ to aid a safe socially-distanced school run on foot or by bike. The Campaign also called for physical barriers to protect bike lanes on some of the main roads as well as planter boxes to make more residential streets no-through roads.

He added: “A crucial point is that what we are asking for isn’t really about existing regular cyclists in Tower Hamlets. Instead, it’s about ensuring that our borough’s streets are safe enough that cycling can become an attractive transport option for those who currently rarely or never cycle.”

Hackney Cycle Campaign (HCC) set out a long-term plan to transform transport in the borough. The Hackney Vision re-envisions public space, the roads and how residents travel.  

Jono Kenyon, co-ordinator for HCC, 43, told ELL: “Cycle campaigns have been around for decades in Hackney, but we had never done one for the whole borough that incorporates every single road into the plan”.

The Hackney Vision became more urgent because of the coronavirus outbreak. Kenyon added: “Covid-19 is showing that we need to speed this process up. It has completely transformed our lives, we won’t be able to go back to business as usual.”

Air pollution is a major issue in Hackney, in 2017, 6.9% of deaths could be attributed to long-term exposure to particulate air pollution which is higher than the London average of 6.5% and the England average of 5.1%.

Kenyon said: “It’s not acceptable that our children are poisoned as they go to school. If it was the water that was polluted, we would see immediate change.”

Health inequalities in Hackney are not just about air pollution, there are also high levels of inactivity among children and adults. The Hackney Vision prioritises walking and cycling, and aims to reduce overall health inequalities by increasing access to clean air and green spaces. 

The vision for Hackney follows Sustainable Safety – the Dutch approach to achieve better road safety. This system of road design ensures the plan benefits everyone who lives, works and visits the borough.

Tracey Fletcher, chief executive of Homerton University Hospital has backed the Hackney Vision. In a press release from HCC, she said: “Infrastructure for active travel enables people to exercise as part of their daily routine and being physically active is an effective way to reduce rates of various chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.” 

It is unclear whether the Mayor, Philip Glanville, will back the Hackney Vision plan but the Council is also pushing to decarbonise the borough.

In Lewisham, the Council has approved temporary road barriers and pop-up cycle routes to aid safer walking and cycling, writes Felice Southwell.

The plans, published in a recent report, aim to create more space in Lewisham’s busiest areas, including Deptford High Street, using planters, parking suspensions and traffic cameras to aid social distancing as lockdown restrictions ease. 

Councillor Sophie McGeevor, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment, said: “It is vital the Council takes these urgent actions.”

The report says that, before the lockdown, only 7% of journeys in Lewisham that could have been cycled were actually made my bike, and that these plans will “protect against a car based recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic” while keeping congestion down and maintaining the improved air quality experienced under the lockdown.

The proposed measures for Deptford High Street, Coulgate Street and Staplehurst Road joins measures announced by Transport for London of a temporary cycling route between Catford and Lewisham on the A21.

The public can view proposals and give their ideas on the Commonplace website on whether measures are working and how they can be improved.

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