Over 12,000 Lewisham residents are petitioning the council to reopen roads that they closed last June during lockdown.
The closures – dubbed low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) – put in place by Lewisham council were intended to create safer spaces for pedestrians and cyclists.
But many residents claim the closures – which include the temporary closure of roads with schools on at pick-up and drop-off time – have caused congestion and air pollution by displacing traffic to particular roads.
The petition says: “These closures are creating more traffic congestion, more air pollution and longer journey times. The Covid-19 epidemic is being used as an excuse when road closures have no benefit for social distancing.
“We also request that no further such road closures are installed, on a temporary, experimental or permanent basis, without a public consultation.”
The person behind the petition, which was set up in June of last year, cites both so-called school streets and modal filters – bollards and planters which block the road, preventing vehicles from passing through, as part of the problem.
The other cause for concern among residents is the air pollution that congestion could cause. Low traffic neighbourhoods were originally designed to decrease air pollution in areas by having less traffic on residential roads. The LTNs aim to reduce levels of car usage and aim to increase the number of people walking as their preferred method of transport.
Road transport in Lewisham is accountable for 64 per cent of Nitrogen oxide emissions in the borough according to data acquired by Lewisham council in the Air Quality Action Plan.
However residents worry that although the low traffic neighbourhoods are safer spaces with cleaner air, many cars will be diverting to main roads causing worse air pollution in areas not covered by the ‘modal filters’ or ‘school streets’.
One resident who has signed the petition commented: “The road closures are just causing unnecessary build up of traffic in areas that were otherwise unaffected before.”
Amongst the petition there was also concern in the comments regarding the effects that LTNs and road closures have on the elderly and those with disabilities. The road closures aim to increase walking and cycling, however do not consider those who are reliant on motor vehicles for transport.
Damien Egan, Mayor of Lewisham said: “We remain absolutely committed to this Low Traffic Neighbourhood and the principles it set out to achieve. We have been listening to the concerns and issues raised – the positives and the negatives and it has become clear that it is time to make changes to the current scheme so we can address what the local community has told us.”
Similar petitions have also begun in Tower Hamlets as Low traffic neighbourhoods continue to rise across London.