So you want a healthy school street

One of my most popular tweets ever is the one which includes four pictures of Sebert Road in my ward. Two of these photos are from before our school street timed closure, and two from after it was installed. You can read my blog post about the idea here.

This road is the one on which my local Infants school is situated, and is the main route to walk into Forest Gate, and to the station, for large numbers of people who live not only on Sebert Road itself, but on the various residential roads which come off it. I have spent many hours of my life on Sebert Road:  dragging / chasing children along, pushing pushchairs, chastising toddlers, carrying shopping, coaxing, cajoling, shouting, singing, skipping, running home as a baby wailed, or pushing the buggy grimly on through rain or hail or gail.

Quite apart from the various challenges life throws at you when your children are small, the traffic on Sebert Road has always made this journey much more stressful than it had to be, and particularly at school drop-off and pick-up when the traffic was briefly terrible. From speeding cars, to cars stuck bumper to bumper, to cars getting stuck between parked cars, and drivers getting out to shout at each other, to watching the head teacher fighting a daily battle to remind parents not to pull up on the zigzags outside the school, “No, not even just for a moment.”

So I suppose it’s not surprising that a tweet showing, in a series of pictures, the difference that a timed closure can make, has been a (for me) relatively successful one.

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But I realised recently that I’m often asked by people how they can have a similar closure around their school. The short answer might be that it all depends on the willingness of your Council to make the necessary traffic orders, but I also realised that even if no school street is planned, or if one is coming but not immediately, or if your local council is doing other school streets and may come to yours soon… there is still quite a lot that local people can do, be they councillors, parents, teachers, residents, to help garner support, and to nudge things along. And actually those things apply not only in Forest Gate North, but in Newham, and indeed anywhere there is a school, a road, and a desire for the school run to be safer and better.

Sadly, the whole list currently comes with an enormous Covid-19 caveat. Some of the things I’m suggesting will be possible at the moment if you live in a part of the country not currently on Tier 2 restrictions. Some of these things I share in a spirit of optimism, thinking that they might be possible in the future. Some of them are still possible regardless. So please take this list as a set of suggestions to spark your own ideas, and of course make your own assessments about what is safe or not, and make keeping yourself and others as safe as possible your priority.

But with that lengthy preamble, here is my blog post:

10 things you can do to get your very own Healthy School Street timed road closure

  1. Write to your local councillors
    This is probably the first and easiest thing you should do. Just in case you’re not already a regular correspondent with your local councillors, you can look them up here: https://www.writetothem.com/Local councillor support isn’t a magic bullet, but it really can help. You can send an email to all of your local councillors, highlighting the school where you think there should be a school street closure. You could include pictures of what traffic is like, and even offer to meet them there at drop-off time to witness it themselves. It is really helpful for councillors to know that they have residents who want things to change, and actually in general I always find it really bolstering and encouraging when I hear from residents with ideas.
  2. Write to your Mayor and Cabinet lead
    Depending on where you live, this might be the leader of your Council, a Mayor, or whoever is the political lead. Here in Newham, that means writing to Rokhsana Fiaz (directly elected Mayor of Newham) and James Asser (Cabinet lead for Sustainable Transport and Environment).If your local authority already has school streets in place, then name these, explain why you support them, and then explain why you think the school you’re concerned about would be a good place to expand the scheme.If your local authority doesn’t yet, then talk about how many school streets are already in place across London and indeed across the UK. Make the case for why your school should be the first one in your authority.
  3. Understand how school streets work
    This might sound dull, but if you are really interested in making this happen, it’s worth taking a bit of time to really get your head around how the detail of a closure works. How they are done varies from authority to authority. Here in Newham, they are enforced by camera, but elsewhere people physically go out and unlock and raise bollards, or pull temporary barriers across the road. Understand who is exempt, and how exemptions work in your authority. What is the impact on local residents, within the closure, and just outside it? I was advising a resident last year who lives on Sebert Road, but just outside the zone, that if her car is parked inside the zone she can drive it out, but she shouldn’t drive into the zone and park during the hours of closure.Taking the time to get your head around these kind of details will mean that if you want to have more detailed conversations with local people, you can do so from a place of knowledge, and not make promises or assurances that turn out not to be true.
  4. Speak to your head teacher
    It’s a sad fact that most of the head teachers I have come across spend time most days negotiating with parents to try to encourage better driver behaviour outside their school. That’s mental energy that could be very usefully expended doing literally almost anything else.Have a chat with your head teacher and ask if they are aware of the programme of school streets closures. Are they in touch with the Council already? Have they requested one?They might be concerned about the impact on staff who drive to work (this isn’t an insurmountable problem, but could be an issue, and is better talked about openly at the start). When planning our school street we discussed how most staff who drive arrive before the closure, but in the event of someone being late, they would need to park outside the closure area, and we weighed the impact of this against the benefits to the whole school of a quiet road.Chat about the impacts: not just cleaner air and safer streets but also how a school street can encourage behaviour change, how a quiet road can be a pleasant and peaceful start to the day, how now in times of Covid a closed road provides safer spaces for social distancing.
  5. Get parents to sign a petition
    I have to admit I’m not an instinctive supporter of petitions as a tool for campaigning: I think they can sometimes be a bit simplistic, even antagonistic! But in some cases they can be useful, and I think here there is a case for creating a petition for parents to sign showing that they would like to have a school street road closure. The main reason this could be useful is because gaining signatures for it enables conversations about a school street, and about the potential benefits. It not only helps you to raise awareness, but also helps to identify who your champions might be. A petition could be the beginnings of a campaign group.Equally, you can have very productive and useful conversations with people who don’t wish to sign: understanding any people who are opposed to the idea, talking through their concerns, and thinking about any negative impacts, is a very helpful thing to do, and the earlier you have these conversations, the better.If you are a parent at a school then you probably have a reasonable idea about who the opinion formers are! Does your school have a PTA? A set of unofficial whatsapp groups? Identify the people who run those and speak to them early on.
  6. Speak to the governors
    It is also helpful to know who your school governors are, and to speak to them about a school street. Governors are yet another set of unsung heroes of our education system: giving up their time and expertise on a voluntary basis to work with the head and the leadership team, supporting and helping to improve, and being a critical friend.Your school will have parent governors, who might be a good starting point. Depending on how the conversation with your head teacher goes, you could ask the Chair of Governors if you could come to a governors’ meeting and talk about school streets. If the governors were really keen they could put together a joint letter to the leads at the Council for Education, and Highways, asking for a closure.
  7. Speak to local residents
    Ok, so you have contacted your councillors, your Mayor, your head, all the parents, the governors, and they are all on board and passionate, but you have excess energy and want to do MORE.Before our school street came into operation, some local Labour party members made our own leaflet about the closure, and we door knocked down Sebert Road to talk to the local residents who would be most affected by the closure. Door knocking is time consuming, but it was so worthwhile doing it.Obviously this is all pre-Covid, and there is certainly no party political door knocking going on at the moment. But if you are reading this in the post-Covid utopia that we are all hoping for, then get out there and door knock.  And if you are reading this during Covid times, and you can find a safe and responsible way to speak directly to local residents living right by the school, I would definitely recommend doing it. We found the most local residents were the people who were most familiar with the localised traffic problems at the beginning and end of the school day, and were some of our most passionate supporters.
  8. Encourage cycling at your school
    There is lots that you can do to encourage people to cycle to your school. Whilst plenty of Londoners in particular don’t have space to keep a bike, there are many more that do have a bike but don’t use it often, or who would like to cycle more, but are feeling uncertain.Some small steps you can take might be to ask your neighbours or friends if they want to cycle to school with you. You could talk to the school about what they are doing to encourage cycling. How much storage do they have for bicycles? Might they open the playground after school one day to allow children to cycle on the tarmac? Do they have any learn to ride, or bikeability sessions planned? Would they consider allowing adult learners to use the playground? Could you hold a cycle maintenance workshop before or after school one day?If you are in Newham, talk to Newham Cyclists about your ideas, and see if they have any suggestions. They are a small but very dedicated group, and have plenty of contacts. If you’re not in Newham, you may well have a local equivalent, and you might find that its members are potential advocates for a school street.
  9. Encourage walking
    Not everyone wants to cycle, and the great thing about London schools is that the population is so dense, most families live close to school, so walking is not just possible but probably faster than getting to school by car.If you want to help encourage more children to walk, you could chat to the school about their plans, and ask if you could work together. You could organise a walk to school challenge, and ask the school to do a daily show of hands and a tally to show how many people walked in that day. Have a chat to fellow parents and find out what stops them walking to school. Is it concerns about road safety? Get them to sign your petition! Is it distance? Would they try walking for a day or two and see how it goes? Are they worried about the weather? Chat with the school about whether they have space for children to store wellington boots during the day.Understanding some of the reasons why some people don’t currently walk, and thinking through whether any of those are things you could do something about, is great preparation for a school street closure.
  10. Hold a play street
    I am a big fan of play streets generally, for lots of reasons. But I think there can be something particularly powerful about a play street right by a school, as it helps everyone involved to visualise what it might look like if that road was closed, and could help to build momentum and support for a timed closure.If you held a one-off play street, you could arrange for lots of the things above to happen at the same time: invite local councillors, and the lead for transport, to come along. See if you could get someone doing some basic bike maintenance for you. Have a small stall with your petition, and some volunteers to get more signatures. Would your PTA like to be there, to encourage parents to get involved and to sign up to volunteer?

And that’s all ten. I may write some more in future about how to help make a school street work (clue: there is a lot of crossover with the ideas above!) but I think that’s more than enough for the moment. I hope this is inspiring and helpful. If you are in Forest Gate North and want further school streets closures, please do contact me as I would be happy to advocate for you, and to help you with the above! If you’re outside Forest Gate but want someone to chat to and bounce ideas off, ditto, drop me a line.

I need to add that when it comes to school streets, I am not a pioneer, but an enthusiastic follower in the footsteps of other organisations who led the way. School streets had been implemented in Hackney, Islington, Waltham Forest and many other places before we got on board here in Newham.

Organisations like Mums for Lungs, also Living Streets, have been campaigning for them for years and I would highly recommend looking at their websites and the information they publish, particularly the Mums for Lungs campaigning guide, and Living Streets’ toolkit, as well as this brilliant website: http://schoolstreets.org.uk/ which has lots of helpful information about the ‘why’, ‘how’ and existing schemes.

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Maryland works update

Just a quick post to publicise the very detailed and informative update from Conways about the works taking place around Maryland station. To be added onto the list to receive this directly, email Helen on helen.mcconnell@fmconway.co.uk

View newsletter here

Some highlights include: the refurbished mechanism for the ‘twisty clock’ will be fitted in the next few weeks, updates on the various planters, and all work should be completed by the end of 2020.

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Newham High Streets

A call out to Forest Gate residents to get involved in a great new project to improve our high streets. Starting with Forest Gate, Green Street, Manor Park and Little Ilford, this is a collaborative project to identify what residents want to prioritise, and to make our high streets better. During lockdown and beyond we have all come to rely even more on our local small businesses, particularly when we could see the strains they were under, and the efforts they make to keep us safe. This project, which works alongside other complementary projects like Shape Newham, is a way of getting more involved with your local area, by just giving your views about what is important to you.

The text below is from the first Newham High Streets newsletter:


Blurred image of high street with text 'NEWHAM high streets' superimposed

Hello,

We are getting in touch with you in relation to the newly launched Newham High Streets initiative. The aim of this programme is to work in phases to support high streets, focusing on the happiness and wellbeing of residents and businesses and ensure they have what they need to deal with the challenges of recession and recovery. The first phase of the programme includes the areas of Green Street, Forest Gate, Manor Park, and Little Ilford.
To join the discussion, sign up on the Newham Co-Create platform and share your experiences and aspirations for your high street.

On the platform, you will be able to follow the progress of the programme, receive key updates, and most importantly contribute to its development. At this stage, you can contribute to a survey until October 25th.

Updates will be also communicated through Newham Council’s social media (Facebook / Twitter / Instagram).

If you would like to ask any questions or be added to our mailing list, please contact us via email at newhamhighstreets@newham.gov.uk or via phone at 08008611424, from Monday to Thursday, between 11.00 – 16.00.

Sign up & Join the Discussion    Read more about Newham High Streets

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Ward report September 2020

Hello Forest Gate Northers! After a bit of a hiatus, I’m publishing another councillor report. These are reports which are officially made to the Forest Gate North ward of the local Labour party. Local Labour members are the people who selected me, Sasha and Anam to run for election, so I report back to them about what I’m doing.

I also publish these reports on my councillor blog (which may be where you’re reading it now) for any resident who wants to know more about what the person they voted for – or didn’t, of course – is doing for the local area.

Covid

Firstly I wanted to share the most recent Newham ‘Covid dashboard’. This really helpful overview of how things are in Newham is being produced once a week, and I am sharing it on social media. The ‘What does it mean?’ section from our Director of Public Health is particularly useful, pointing out that although there isn’t a large increase in cases, the numbers are almost certainly reduced by the fact that people cannot access tests.For more detailed information please do check the Council’s website, but in the meantime we all need to stay safe: keep our distance, work from home if we can, wear a mask, wash our hands, and protect each other.

We have been trialling the NHS Test and Trace app in Newham, providing feedback to the Department of Health about how it could be improved. You can read all about the app in this blog post here: https://forestgatenorth.com/2020/08/20/nhs-tracing-app-in-newham/


I also went out visiting shops and businesses on the Romford Road with Ian from the Gate library, encouraging them to download their own QR code so that customers can ‘check in’ with their app.


This wasn’t entirely successful – we didn’t find a single QR code displayed in any of the businesses! Feedback included people who planned to download and display their code but hadn’t, people who clearly had no plans to download it but were nodding in the hopes that I would go away, some people who were suspicious of the app and concerned about the safety of their information, and several businesses concerned about the impact of being asked to isolate for 14 days. All this has been passed back, through our public health team, to help with the further development and improvement of the app and the communications with it.

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs)

This is probably the biggest piece of work I am currently involved in, and I should say up front that I realise this topic can be divisive, and it’s one that people have strong feelings on. It’s also the single biggest and most positive change that I think we can make quickly, for our local area, and I’m delighted to see the benefits of quieter roads becoming obvious already.

You can read my introduction to what an LTN is in my blog post here:
https://forestgatenorth.com/2020/06/25/all-about-low-traffic-neighbourhoods/
That post is all about the principle of reducing through-traffic, what that normally looks like in practice, and what the benefits are.
And you can read about the introduction of our LTN in another blog post here:
https://forestgatenorth.com/2020/08/19/our-first-low-traffic-neighbourhood/
That post is more specifically about the LTN that stretches from Woodgrange Road to Stratford, about where is covered, about implementation, and starts to cover some frequently asked questions about, for example, traffic displacement and emergency services access.

Where we are now is that the LTN has been entirely installed, and we are all adapting to it. Some changes are being made in response to comments: most recently some bollards are being added to the pavements around some of the filters to stop the small number of very determined cars who have ignored the signs and the planters and mounted the footway to continue their journey!

My initial reports from residents nearby are entirely split between a small number of people who want them removed immediately, and another group of people who are incredibly positive about the impact they are already having. Some people are genuinely concerned about emergency services access, which I do tackle in my blog posts, but to summarise: all emergency services are consulted at an early stage of the design. The main reason why some of the filters are physical (planters right across the road) and some are camera-enforced (planters but with a gap for a vehicle to pass through) is because of feedback from the police, fire service or ambulance service.

I’ll be writing more blog posts on this topic, especially as we move into the implementation of the next local schemes, around Manbey Grove, the Woodgrange Estate, and Forest Gate North East (anyone saying ‘the village’ will be subject to a penalty and forced to come up with a better name ).

I’ve been passionate about the idea of reducing traffic in Forest Gate and indeed in Newham for several years. Some use of vehicles is a vital party of our city life, especially for disabled people who may rely on adapted vehicles to get around, but there is an absolute environmental imperative that those of us who can, change our behaviour, and using private cars less is a vital part of that. LTNs form a vital part of the jigsaw. We need to put them in place, and in parallel to that continue with the work outlined in the Newham Air Quality Action Plan: https://www.newham.gov.uk/downloads/file/166/air-quality-action-plan and the Newham Climate Now work: https://www.newham.gov.uk/NewhamClimateNow

Noise nuisance
I have had several ongoing complaints about noise nuisance, which became considerably more tricky to manage during lockdown when not only was everyone at home more, and often trying to work from home, but also the noise nuisance service was unable to visit residents’ homes so was effectively suspended for a period.

One of the main offenders was some railway arches that were squatted, and which before lockdown had become the site for regular ‘parties’, and in fact appeared to be operating as a de facto nightclub at the weekends. When I first heard about this, I quickly contacted various people and departments hoping that I could get some information sharing and a quick resolution. I dropped a line to my contacts in the local police Safer Neighbourhood Team, Noise Nuisance, Licensing, and also the Arches Company who manage the arches and their leases. Once lockdown began I tried to put the Arches Company in touch with the team at Newham helping homeless people, too. I have to say that this quickly became rather thorny, exacerbated by a number of issues which included the legal complexities of evicting the people from the arch, the difficulty of getting the Arches Company to get back to me consistently (at one point in despair, after getting no answers for weeks I resorted to twitter), and then of course lockdown.

The local residents have really suffered with significant noise, ASB, some reported threatening behaviour, and of course worrying about the wellbeing of people living in arches with no facilities.

After all of this, it was good news to finally hear back from the Arches Company that they had got the legal order required, had evicted the people squatting there, had secured the arches, and were inspecting them regularly. They are also marketing them to let, and I’ve asked them to ensure that they engage with responsible tenants who can run businesses in a residential area.

A slightly more surreal, but no less disturbing for the residents, piece of casework has been one of the cockerels which are living on the western side of the ward. Having been backwards and forwards about the complaints from neighbours who are woken and disturbed every day by what appears to be a large number of cockerels kept in a private garden, I’ve spoken to a senior officer about this case as we need to be sure of animal welfare, quite apart from anything else.

Boundary review
The Local Government Boundary Commission has reported back, and in a surprise move, rather than giving its final recommendations has begun a further round of consultation, looking at the configuration of wards in the borough. The affected proposed wards are Forest Gate North, Forest Gate South, Maryland (a proposed new ward), Forest Gate Green Street (a proposed new ward replacing Green Street West), Green Street East, Little Ilford, Manor Park, and Plashet (a proposed new ward).

You can read a summary of this on Newham’s website here:
https://www.newham.gov.uk/news/article/504/further-consultation-announced-by-the-boundary-commission-over-newham-council-ward-boundaries

Another controversial topic! I know there has been some debate about ward names, ward boundaries, about the existence of some proposed wards at all. Personally, I don’t feel as strongly about this as some people do. Boundaries have to go somewhere, and some of those boundaries will be natural ones that feel ‘right’ to some people, but in a place like London you’ll never really be able to draw electoral lines that exactly reflect the places where people feel that they live and belong. That said, I did feel that the previous iteration of this map had the Forest Gate North boundary too far east, so seeing it proposed to move further west strikes me as a good thing.

I am not at all sure about 2 councillor wards, knowing as I do from first-hand how a team of three can spread out the workload, and can flex and take account of periods of leave, of ill health, of family responsibilities and more.

Anyone who has a view on the latest stage of this consultation should make sure that they send their views in to the Boundary Commission, an independent organisation who make the final decision. The website to do that is here: https://www.lgbce.org.uk/all-reviews/greater-london/greater-london/newham

Healthy school streets

I was so pleased to see that the Healthy School Streets closures are back up and running with the new term, supporting parents and children to walk, cycle, or scoot to school safely, and even more important now that we need to use the space to social distance.
Having appointed myself as unofficial cheerleader for timed school street closures in Newham, I was also really delighted to hear that we have more school streets rolling out across the borough: more information to come. It has been very interesting to see that what started as a slightly unusual and even controversial idea is now much more widespread. We have led the way for Newham here in Forest Gate and I’m hugely grateful for the schools, parents and local community who have been so very supportive in making this happen.

Our neighbours Hackney announced 40 school streets, Waltham Forest are announcing more just this week as I write, and it seems clear to me that in the future closed roads around schools will become the expectation, with any roads near schools that have to remain open an exception.

Planning

When almost everything seemed to suddenly stop in March, planning was one of the first functions to pick back up, and start operating remotely. So I’ve been continuing to sit on planning committee meetings, albeit from my bedroom rather than from the Town Hall. This means of course that if you are really keen you can watch along, as the planning meetings are now broadcast live on Facebook… though I understand this is a level of commitment and interest not everyone has!

I have now been sitting on planning for six years, and am more and more interested in how this legal process shapes the place we live, and how we can use it better. As an elected councillor I’m very aware that there are officers in this field who have literally spent years studying different aspects of it, and the challenge as a lay person is to make the democratically accountable bit of that process work, holding people to account whilst not charging in like a rhinoceros all over months of work and shouting ignorant things (though I’m sure I have unwittingly done that too).

I very often ask questions about active travel: about how developments can design in walking and cycling, also about green spaces, and how we can make developments greener both in terms of spaces for residents to enjoy but also for biodiversity and to reduce flood risk. I was very interested to attend some training last year about new standards for biodiversity and greening in planning, and I know this is something Forest Gate residents are also very keen on, and which I feel it’s my role to represent and promote. I am no expert but I always want to know more about design, and about good not just ‘acceptable’ design, and how the layout and design of buildings, particularly at ground floor level, can make liveable and attractive spaces for people. Of course we are all also jointly, as committee members, constantly questioning developers on the homes they are building: in terms of the number of social rented units, where those units are placed within larger developments, how many family units, whether those are suitable for larger families, and more.

There are currently changes planned by the Tory government to the legislation that governs planning. Officers are going through this in detail, and putting together points for us to discuss, but it’s hard to view what is being proposed with anything other than a deep sense of misgiving. I’ll come back to this topic.

Finally, I thought it was worth reiterating that one of the downsides of sitting on Strategic Development is the legal necessity to approach meetings with ‘an open mind’. Meaning that in order to do this role properly, I need to make sure I haven’t taken a position about something before the meeting begins and all the evidence is assembled. This is actually quite sensible, and should lead to good decision making. In practice it means I do have to be a bit mealy-mouthed about some developments, including those which might be controversial. You can read about, for example, where this leaves me on the MSG sphere in my old blog post here:
https://forestgatenorth.com/2019/06/03/the-msg-sphere-planning-application/
From a practical perspective, if you have an opinion on a large planning development and are looking for local councillor support, please do contact Sasha and Anam who can help you with this as they are not constrained in this way. On smaller applications, which don’t go to Strategic Development but to a different committee, I can and do help any way I can.

Thorogood Gardens
I popped into Thorogood Gardens very briefly recently, where local residents were holding a planting and weeding session. Thorogood Gardens will always have a special place in my heart after the work that Seyi and I did to create a garden space out of a disused green area, create a play space, and more to help spruce up an area that had felt rather abandoned. To read about that project, take a look here: https://forestgatenorth.com/2017/11/21/thorogood-gardens-update/

The green space that Seyi and I created is now thriving, carefully tended by local resident Derek, and now freshly planted with tonnes of bulbs for the spring by the Maryland Community Group. There have been problems here with ASB and littering, and Derek could certainly use some more regular help with the gardening, but overall a real change has been made here, and I’m really proud to have been part of it.

Greening
Talking of greening, I have been a bit involved with the latter part of the work of the ‘greening’ group that came out of the Forest Gate Citizens’ Assembly. This group, made up of local residents, was behind the ‘Bloomin’ Forest Gate’ festival that should have taken place in March. But they have also done other bits of work, and most recently we were looking at the planters outside Bereket, near Wanstead Park station.

These planters were put there at my suggestion, to help with a perennial problem of cars parking on the pavement there. They were temporarily removed as part of the ‘Streetspace’ works, to make room for social distancing, but were put back after I suggested that without the planters, we get cars parked there, leaving less room for pedestrians not more!

They had been planted up by volunteers, but apparently the planters were partly full of sand which was contributing to the plants not doing very well. So a group of residents made a plan: they collected the plants, the council emptied the planters and filled them with soil, then the greening group came back and planted them up.

We discussed having some signs in them to let people know that they are community planters and need caring for, and I volunteered my painting skills and painted some signs. There is an ongoing problem here with people using the planters as unofficial benches, congregating there to drink and make noise, and leaving litter behind. You will see if you go past that there have been some experimental efforts at deterring sitting on them: little wooden ‘triangles’ attached and some railings too. We’ll keep on trying – sadly a ‘fairy garden’ in one of the planters was quickly stolen, and some of the plants went missing this week too. Greening and improvements in busy, densely populated areas will always be a case of trial and error, so we will keep going, and keep trying, undaunted.

Recycling trial
I was genuinely thrilled to find that several Forest Gate North streets are included in a recycling trial that Newham is running. I am regularly contacted by residents who are dismayed, as I am, by the small range of materials that we are able to recycle in our orange bins. The topic of recycling probably deserves a whole separate post, but to summarise the main factors restricting, say, recycling glass, include a long and very unhelpful contract for the disposal of waste, money (of course) and also our very high level of recycling contamination.

During this trial, certain streets will be able to recycle a larger range of materials, including glass bottles and jars (hallelujah!), plastic tubs, pots, trays, aerosols and foil paper. We’re also trialling a new approach with these streets where people who put the wrong materials in their bins will receive a postcard through the door reminding them what can be recycled. If the materials are contaminated again then the recycling may not be collected.

This kind of approach, though common elsewhere, is completely new for us in Newham, and I’m really pleased that we’re trying it out in a planned way so that we can see what the impact is. Trying to improve how we all dispose of rubbish is a thorny problem that I’ve spent more time puzzling over than I care to think of, and this trial seems a very helpful way of trying to identify some ways forward, as well as looking at any unintended consequences.

For more information about the trial, see this page of the Newham website:
https://www.newham.gov.uk/rubbish-recycling-waste/waste-service-trial/1

Fly tipping


Talking of disposing of rubbish, the fly tipping trial continues, and you can watch a video about this work here:
https://youtu.be/eUeVUk0Q19E
When I was cabinet lead for Environment and Highways, I helped to start off this piece of work, where we brought together residents, facilitated by Keep Britain Tidy, to think about the issue of fly tipping and what might help to reduce it. The initial experiments residents suggested have been trialled across the borough, and we’re now rolling out the most successful ones more widely.

Just to prove what I said above about this being a thorny issue, there is a stencil saying ‘no dumping’ on the marketplace … very near a seemingly permanent pile of bags and rubbish. The struggle continues!

Shape Newham and the High Streets project
A couple of very positive projects are going on that I hope will also have a real impact on our streets and our physical environment. Shape Newham is a project to improve public spaces through projects chosen deliberatively by groups of residents: combining resident involvement and physical improvements to our environment, it really represents Rokhsana’s manifesto from the last election. You can read about the project on its website here: https://shapenewham.co.uk/

The project that will be happening, I believe quite soon, in the ward is a mural on the Youth Zone, designed in partnership with young people. I will publicise this when it starts to be installed.

I also recently attended a briefing on a new piece of work being started by the Regeneration team looking at high streets. I know that a large number of residents are really passionate about our high streets, and also are brimming with ideas for how they could be improved, so am really looking forward to sharing more information about this. In the past, our physical regeneration work in Newham has been very focussed on areas of intensive new development (the docks, the Olympic village, Canning Town) so it’s great to see attention being paid to what can be done to improve our existing high streets, and the businesses there.

Virtual surgeries

I have run a couple of ‘virtual surgeries’, at the normal surgery time of 10.30am on a Saturday. I’ve offered that if someone contacts me with their preferred virtual method of communication (Zoom, Skype, Facetime, whatsapp video or even just the phone) I can make them an appointment. No one has taken me up on this thus far, and in fairness I think for most people needing some help, it’s easier to write an email than it is to arrange a virtual face to face. I’ll keep offering though, partly just to remind residents that councillors are there and also as a way of keeping up my surgery commitment.

This also feels like a good time, after a period with lots of local discussion on social media, to say again that I always aim to reply to social media tags on Facebook and on twitter, but this isn’t the most reliable way of contacting me. Sometimes my mentions are fast-moving and things get lost. Sometimes I’m doing family stuff, or even have decided to take a short digital break! I do my very best to reply to everyone but a backbench councillor role is a part-time one, which I know not everyone is aware of.

If you need to make sure that I see something and want a considered reply, please email me!

I hope this has been a useful insight into some of the work going on locally in these strange times.

Do take care, all, and stay safe.

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How to request on-street bicycle parking

I have already written a (surprisingly evergreen) post some time ago about how to request a bike hangar to store your bicycle in. You can find that here with all the information you need.

(I should add here that demand for these has been so enormous that we currently have a huge waiting list for them. I mean, this is encouraging in lots of ways. But also depressing, of course. And I am as tired of talking about lack of money to do things as you are tired of hearing about it.  I have asked whether we could prioritise applications within the Low Traffic Neighbourhood as a way of encouraging and promoting behaviour change, but allocating resources to one area away from another is a difficult issue of fairness.)

I wanted to write another post though, about on-street bicycle parking. Not the hangars for residents, but the bicycle stands that you find, or want to find, at the places you visit. Outside the shops. By the station. By the leisure centre. At the park.

I am periodically contacted by people who request additional spaces to park their bikes, and of course I pass these on diligently. But I knew there must be a more efficient way. And lo and behold, there IS.

The excellent London Cycling Campaign, supported by Transport for London, runs a map where you can suggest places where parking might be useful. It passes all of this information to highways authorities (here, that’s Newham) and to TfL regularly. I was pointed to this map by officers, who also check it regularly to see where there is demand.

The map is online here: https://www.urbancycleparking.org.uk/

It’s a great place to leave those niggling thoughts you might have when you are looking for a place to safely lock your bike, and can’t find one, or the ones there are full, or at a place that you think you might visit if only there were a place to put your bike.

The LCC also points out that there is no complete map of bicycle parking provision across London, so is effectively crowd-sourcing one by allowing people to add the parking that they find to a second map, also available on the above link. I have to admit that I do love this kind of collective wisdom, and the way that the internet allows us to capture it to be shared. It feels both democratic and also faintly, pleasantly anarchic to populate a map together with anyone who has information and an internet connection. You may or may not feel the same, but even without participating you can still use the map, for example, if you are visiting somewhere and want to see if there is a good place to lock up your bike.

And of course, if you can’t or don’t want to use these maps for any reason, you can still email cycle.training@newham.gov.uk to request bicycle parking.

Enjoy!

 

 

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NHS Tracing app in Newham

Tomorrow, August the 21st, letters will arrive to Newham residents letting them know about the new NHS tracing app, which we are trialling here in East London. The letter will contain information about the app, how to download it, the code to authenticate yourself as a Newham resident, and more.

This (long awaited) app will we hope become a national, safe, quick way to help us all move around safely in what I hate calling ‘the new normal’, but still haven’t found an alternative term for. So, at risk of stating the obvious, we all still continue with hand washing, with masks wherever possible, with social distancing wherever we can. And then we can use the app to record where we are, and be alerted quickly if we’ve been in contact with someone who tests positive for Covid.

The ever-impressive public health team at Newham have produced a series of infographics about the app, and will continue to do so. This one is all about how to download the app:

How to install the NHS app

This next infographic is about how to use the app. From my experience of downloading it, I think if you’re reasonably familiar with apps, with registering with services, and with your smartphone, you should find using it very straightforward.

There is also a youtube video with information about the app, if that’s helpful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWBJFScQy68&feature=youtu.be

I am by no means an expert on the app, far from it, but as part of the Health Champions network I do have access to people who know more than me. So if you have questions about using it, any concerns or ideas, then please do get in touch. Or you can become a Health Champion yourself, and get information directly and cut out the middle woman? We are all encouraged to use the app, and to feed back about anything unclear, or any concerns, as this is all part of the testing process to help the app work as well as it can.

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LTNs – settling in and teething trouble

This blog post is specifically about the implementation and the initial period of our low traffic neighbourhood or ‘LTN’ (What’s an LTN? Read here. Where is the LTN? Read here…).

In summary: it’s very normal and in fact entirely expected for there to be some disruption whilst things settle in.

Elsewhere in other LTNs, there has sometimes initially been some confusion from drivers who don’t expect the closures to be in place. People living nearby take a while to adjust routes that they have used for some time, and may drive the wrong way once or even a few times before learning a new route. There can also be increased traffic on the main roads around the outside, though experience also shows that this calms down a lot once behaviour starts to change. LBN contacts the emergency services, also the bin lorries etc, but no method of communication is perfect, no one is perfect, and sometimes these vehicles may expect to go through roads which are now filtered.

Simon Munk from the London Cycling Campaign is very knowledgeable about this, and has written a piece for Ham & High, which you can read here:
https://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/ham-high-guest-simon-munk-london-cycling-campaign-wait-for-the-crouch-end-trial-and-highbury-corner-scheme-to-settle-1-6489475

His opening sentence, ‘When the road changes, we need to wait a bit…’ sums up the whole article. Every time our roads change, there is an initial period where we all get used to it.

Wait for schemes to bed in. Every time a water main bursts, and a main road shuts down for months on end without warning, there’s one day of panic, then we all get on with being Londoners and having a quiet grumble.’

He also makes an excellent point about schemes not being perfect, which I think is worth reiterating. Designing ways for people to move around is an art, not a science, and will always be iterative. The schemes we’re putting in and planning now have been as well-planned as we could make them, but they will change over time, will improve and shift and accommodate,  will become more ambitious and / or will compromise, and will get better. Allocating space on the road and determining access for vehicles is a balancing act, and there are trade-offs to be made.

The important thing is that the absolute necessity for making changes to our pavements and streets remains. The climate emergency. Covid 19. Air quality. Spaces for children who live in over-crowded accommodation. Our ailing high streets and retail sector. Our low levels of activity and correspondingly high levels of type 2 diabetes and obesity. All of these problems can be partially addressed by the principle of Healthy Streets, which underpins all of London’s transport strategy. (You can read all about Healthy Streets in this document here.) All of these problems require changes to how we live, and how we move around.

I’m evidently a big fan of low traffic neighbourhoods as part of the way that we address these crises. But I’m under absolutely no illusions that LTNs are a complete answer; we need all kinds of other things to happen too: better and cheaper public transport, work on main roads to make them better for all users but particularly for buses, more cycling infrastructure, greater flexibility in working practices, better surfaces on our pavements for all users but particularly for wheelchair users, government requirements for industry to be greener, national action on climate change,  a Labour government! … I could go on.

The point is that we can’t wait, and we have to start somewhere, and here we are.

Implementing this LTN and helping it to be as good as it can be, and thinking about complementary work that will increase the impact might not be perfect, but it is the best thing we have for now, so let’s make it happen.

Simon also uses one of my favourite quotes in his article:

don’t make perfect the enemy of good‘.

Wise words.

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Our first low traffic neighbourhood

I am actually writing this post after the bollards and planters have started to be installed, but nevertheless wanted to mark the occasion by saying that we now have Newham’s first (and I believe the first ever cross-borough) low traffic neighbourhood.

If that term isn’t familiar to you, then please do read my previous post, which goes through the concept, and gives some background, some examples, and what the benefits can be:
All about low traffic neighbourhoods

The design of this LTN is on this map below. I confess it took me a little whilst to properly understand it, and in fact after a couple of questions on social media, it was updated to make it more clear. In essence, the filters have been designed and placed so that if you need to travel by car, you can drive within each of the coloured areas, but to go between them you need to travel to the main road and drive around.

I am sure I’ll be blogging about this much more in the future, (lucky you) but I did want to take the time to discuss a couple of things here.

All roads are still accessible

Firstly to make it clear that no road is inaccessible (or it shouldn’t be! Our project manager has spent some considerable time examining the various routes through). If you live in this area, and you have a car, and you are making a journey that you need to drive, then you can still drive to and from your house. Equally, visitors can drive to you, as can deliveries, emergency service vehicles (more on that later) and more.

Of course, you might have to take a slightly different route. Your quickest way to a main road may now be closed to cars, so you may have to divert in order to use one of the entry and exit points (marked on the map above by the small double-headed arrows). This is a necessary feature of an LTN.

But there are a few points to make about this. Firstly that if you are travelling a long way, this additional time is likely to be a very small proportion of your overall journey. If you are making a shorter journey then the additional time will help those people who can move to a different form of travel to do so, whilst those people who still need to use their vehicles can.

Filters, not closures

This might sound pedantic, but it’s an important point. We (and I include myself in this) often talk about through-traffic reduction as being made up of ‘road closures’. Actually, the roads all remain open to people walking, scooting, wheeling in wheelchairs or mobility scooters, cycling, playing, running or indeed cartwheeling or playing football. Motor vehicles can access the road but cannot drive through it on their way somewhere else. A term that transport planners use which used to mystify me as well is ‘modal filters’, which are so-called because they are a ‘filter’, not a closure. People can pass through. Most cars cannot. Which brings me onto…

Why not cameras?

This is an interesting question. Some residents cite the Browning Road bridge as an example of the kind of ‘closure’ they would like to see: marked as closed to through-traffic with a camera to catch offenders, and exemptions for local residents. And I can see the attractiveness of these, partly because we’re already accustomed to them with the healthy school streets. Another benefit of cameras is that they raise money. I remember two years ago sitting in a cafe in another borough by a camera-enforced pedestrian street that a local councillor told me raised one MILLION pounds per year. That’s money that can be spent on our streets, creating more LTNs, planting trees, resurfacing roads etc, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t tempting.

But the reason so much money is raised is because camera enforced closures are routinely ignored, and traffic still runs through them. Most of the drivers who do so are fined, so after an initial surge of tickets, this does slow down. But it seems to be unstoppable. Footage from across London of filters in LTNs shows cars slowing, examining signs which show that there is no access, and then driving through anyway. In some cases, I’m told, driving through at higher speed in order to ‘beat’ the camera. Cars that are stolen, or not registered, cannot be easily pursued for payment.

I’m also a bit concerned about some of the logistics of exemption permits. Who gets them? Who doesn’t? There has to be a line somewhere, where one household can be exempt and the household next door is not, and whilst all of politics involves dealing with those kind of boundaries, and restrictions, I don’t necessarily welcome the idea of creating more!

But my main feeling about cameras, and the reason why they are generally used as a ‘last resort’ to achieve an LTN is that they give some of the benefits of an LTN but not all of them. They don’t reduce through-traffic to the same extent. You have a safer street, but not one where people can safely and confidently use the road space. You also, to be absolutely honest, don’t get that ‘nudge’ that a physical closure can give, and which we’ve seen elsewhere results in local people walking more, and cycling more.

Some of the most moving footage I’ve seen of LTNs elsewhere is of children learning to ride their bikes in roads  that would previously have been too dangerous: wobbling and pedaling, and gaining in confidence. Children playing around bollards and planters, kicking a football or running around. Without wanting to sound mawkish, our children have had a hell of a year, without access to face to face learning, without even access to playgrounds, or friends. For some children this has been upsetting and discomforting. For our more vulnerable children, the impact has been serious.  I attended a webinar on LTNs where an architect who advocates for child-friendly cities said that play, and particularly play outside on the road, play that is easily accessible from the home, in a space large enough to social distance, will be a place where a lot of the healing will happen.

Emergency services

Some residents are really worried about emergency services access, and of course the idea of people waiting longer in a potentially life or death situation is a very concerning one. That’s why the emergency services are one of our statutory consultees, and my colleagues in highways shared the draft scheme with them before it was published, and made changes to it where necessary. For example, there is a camera-controlled filter in Wooder Gardens, which I believe was initially proposed as a physical barrier but the emergency services needed access.

Something I found really interesting, and if I’m honest frankly a bit unbelievable at first, is that in Waltham Forest, where a form of LTNs have been implemented all over the borough over the past several years, emergency services response times haven’t been lengthened but have actually reduced very slightly. I now can’t find the table of times I was looking at yesterday, but I will add it to this post when I do. This issue is also discussed on the excellent ‘we love Mini Holland’ site here: https://wesupportmh.wordpress.com/myths/

What now?

Some residents have been concerned about a lack of consultation, and I do hear that. This scheme has been brought in much more quickly than I would ever have imagined, and in non-Covid times I would have loved to do all of this much more slowly, with meetings and discussions and co-design sessions and much more. But government money is available for LTNs precisely because of their importance at helping us move around safely without becoming ill. And that money quite rightly had to be used to schemes that were done fast, so that people can get back to work where possible, can get back to moving around, and living their lives. Hence, everywhere we’re seeing changes happen much faster than we’re used to: pop-up bike lanes, widened pavements, LTNs across London.

The filters have all been put in with experimental traffic orders,which we sincerely hope will be permanent, but which does mean that there is scope to improve them. I’ve already had some contact with a resident about a particular issue with parking and unloading near her home (if you’re reading this, I haven’t received your email yet! Please do message me).

I’m going to write another, separate post, about the initial ‘bedding in’ period, which I’m hoping to post today. I know there has been a lot of discussion about the LTNs on social media, some of which has been really useful and constructive, and some of which has had a range of very strongly expressed views, some helpful and some less so.

We’ll be doing a lot of talking about LTNs over the coming 6 months. Not least because we do have more coming, and we’ll need to be tweaking and working on them all to make sure we get them right, which we’ll only be able to do with your help. Do drop me a line if you have questions or if there is something you’d like to discuss. I am currently replying to emails much more slowly than I’d like, but am hopeful this will improve when (if?) the schools reopen in September. Thanks for bearing with me.

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Become a community health champion

As part of our commitment with the new administration in Newham to involve and work with residents, I was delighted to see that we are recruiting Covid-19 Community health champions: local people who can help share accurate, up to date information about how people can stay well and stay safe.

Lockdown restrictions may be easing, but our lives have changed, and the advice on what is permitted, and what is safe and recommended, can seem to be changing frequently. The public health team are therefore recruiting community health champions who can help to share simple information about staying well, and also in turn keep the Newham team informed about what is happening ‘on the ground’.

Colleagues in public health are producing simple, easy to understand bite-size images with plain text combined with simple graphics to help get information out to as wide an audience as possible. 

This graphic below gives information about test and trace:

And finally – fittingly –  this image gives information about how to become a champion.

Health champions infographic

To become a health champion, email covidhealthchampions@newham.gov.uk or call 020 3373 2777. We would like to recruit people from right across the community, who can share information with their friends, their family, their workplace, their local whatsapp group, their neighbours, their reading group, their quiz buddies, their knitting circle… anyone at all. You will be invited to regular briefings, get the most up to date information about the virus, and be given simple information to share. And you can feed back about what you’re hearing ‘on the ground’.

The time it will take you is minimal, but the impact on helping to share reliable information (especially in this age of misinformation and ‘fake news’) could be significant. Please do join in and help spread the word.

www.newham.gov.uk/covidhealthchampions

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All about low traffic neighbourhoods

‘Low traffic neighbourhoods’ or LTNs for short, are sometimes also called Liveable Neighbourhoods. They have been popular in transport planning terms for some time, particularly as part of the Mayor of London’s transport strategy to improve our air quality, get us all moving more, and moving more short car journeys onto other ways or ‘modes’ of travel, particularly walking and cycling.

In these strange, tentatively post-lockdown days, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are more important than ever as a way of helping us to move around safely, as we emerge into the light, blinking a little and keeping our distance from each other. And they are coming to Newham, more specifically to Forest Gate, so now seemed like a great time to write a bit about what a LTN is, how it works, what the benefits are, and anything else that I can think of to help us all get more familiar with the idea, and with what is coming.

In essence

A Low Traffic Neighbourhood is basically a way of managing a group of roads to reduce traffic, and encourage people to walk and cycle. You take a discrete geographical area or ‘neighbourhood’ of roads, and design a series of  ‘filters’ so that vehicles can access for visitors, residents, and deliveries, but not to pass through on their way somewhere else. In its simplest form, a filter can be a bollard placed in the middle of a side road junction. This filter allows pedestrians, people on bicycles, scooters, wheelchairs,  pushchairs, and cargo bikes through, but does not allow ‘rat running’ cars. Effectively, vehicles driving through the area are moved onto main roads and off residential streets.

This video from Oxfordshire Liveable Streets explains it rather brilliantly (they use the term ‘connectors’ rather than ‘filters’, but I can live with that, frankly):

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are quieter and safer, cleaner and more pleasant, and I could not be more pleased and excited at the prospect of bringing this kind of transport planning to Newham. There are significant benefits to doing this, and although I’m far from an expert, I would like to spend a bit of time running briefly through the main ones.

If you are looking at this post and thinking, ‘Blimey, Rachel, ANOTHER long and wordy post’ then you might want to save time by just having a look at this, from Lambeth Living Streets:

In fact, I would recommend having a look at Lambeth Living Streets on twitter regardless, as their social media content on this topic is absolutely on point.

Air quality

I have spoken on this blog before about the absolute necessity of taking action on air quality. Air quality in Newham is notoriously poor, it affects people on lowest incomes worst of all. We have various contributors to bad air quality here, including London City Airport and the proposed Silvertown tunnel, and this makes it even more important that we take whatever action we can locally to improve things. Doing nothing is not an option.

Waltham Forest have been doing fabulous work for years now to encourage walking and cycling, and the difference they have made in terms of air quality is frankly staggering.

There is plenty of information online with evidence (and believe me, I’ll be linking to plenty of it in future posts), but I tweeted these memorable results from some training I attended, which shows the results achieved very clearly.

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Benefits – increased activity levels

Another very stark impact across Waltham Forest is that where Low Traffic Neighbourhoods have been introduced, levels of activity have increased for residents who live there. People are walking more and cycling more. This not only has an impact on pollution and reduces congestion, but it’s particularly important here in Newham where so many residents have or are at risk of health conditions like type 2 diabetes, or heart disease. It is imperative that as a public body, we do everything we can to encourage people to become more active, and it is a sad fact of public policy that it is really incredibly difficult to do anything that creates behaviour change. The results our neighbours have achieved, with on average 30 minutes more walking per week, are really significant.

Benefits – road safety

Of course it’s pretty obvious that with fewer cars on the roads, there are then fewer accidents, and the streets become safer for all of us, but particularly for vulnerable road users such as children, and people with reduced mobility.

Benefits – quality of life and community

What is less initially obvious, however, is the benefits that more walking and cycling bring in terms of community and quality of life. When I visited the work done in Waltham Forest (kindly shown around by Clyde Loakes, who has been an absolute powerhouse in terms of getting this work done there) he said that something people often commented on was that with quieter streets they could hear bird song again. I know I’m not the only person to have noticed more bird song, and in fact more birds full stop, when traffic reduced so starkly when lockdown was introduced.

But also a quiet road is not just a means of getting efficiently from one place to another. It’s a place where children can play, where you can learn to ride a bike, where you can linger, and chat, and also a place where you can get to know your neighbours, and increase your sense of community. There is even evidence showing that the less traffic there is on a road, the more of your neighbours you are likely to know, and the more of a sense of ownership you have over your area. This brilliant blog post goes into that in more detail:
https://mattturner.blog/revisiting-donald-appleyards-the-environmental-quality-of-city-streets-a-residents-viewpoint-in-21st-century-britain/

Benefits – for businesses

One concern that people have is the impact on local businesses. This is particularly important at the moment, as our high streets are slowly reopening, and many of our small businesses have been significantly effected and continue to be close to the edge. Concerns and even staunch opposition to any through traffic restrictions are often expressed by small business owners themselves, and also local people who use and value them.

There is much to say about this – rather more than will fit into a summary blog post! But in essence, the correlation that some people feel to exist between parking and money spent locally is not as straightforward as it might appear. For instance, providing free parking is detrimental to businesses, as people will park up and use bays for long periods. It’s also very interesting that businesses tend to over-estimate the number of their customers who arrive by car, and also that people travelling on foot, by bike or by public transport, actually spend more money. If you are not travelling in a car, you can wave to friends, stop for a catch up, read a poster, notice a new shop opening, make an extra stop for some groceries on your way home, and you can do all these things easily and quickly.

You can read a full and detailed report on ‘the Pedestrian Pound’ here:https://www.livingstreets.org.uk/media/3890/pedestrian-pound-2018.pdf

or if you’d prefer some graphics and a summary, once again Lambeth Living Streets have saved us all some time with this excellent thread:

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Especially now, post-lockdown but in a world where we still have to social distance, we have some stark realities to face in London about transport. All over the world cities are turning over their road space to support small businesses, especially those in food and drink, turning spaces that would have been taken up by cars into places where socially distanced tables and chairs mean that restaurants and cafes with tiny profit margins can open up again. Creating quiet streets where people want to visit: not just drive in and clear out again as soon as possible, but places to linger, to eat, and socialise.

Traffic evaporation

One of the most fascinating things about traffic (and yes, I am being serious. This is what 6 years as a councillor will do to you) is that we tend to think of it as being ‘like water’, flowing mindlessly through the path of least resistance if displaced. Actually, traffic does not behave like this, and one of the ways that this difference is demonstrated is through ‘traffic evaporation’. This quite literally means that when you displace through traffic, some of it moves onto main roads. But some of it also literally evaporates. People radically change their route, or change how they travel, and some of the cars that were there just, well, ‘evaporate’.

So a common concern about a low traffic neighbourhood is ‘what about the impact on the main roads’ and this is of course natural. But some of that impact is mitigated by reduced numbers of vehicles. Main roads are also built to carry more cars, and the percentage increase in numbers of vehicles is relatively small, compared to the residential streets where the same number of vehicles as a reduction in overall traffic has a proportionally huge impact.

But we know from the evidence of transport planning around the world that ‘if you build it, they will come’ has rarely been more true than when applied to how we move around cities. If you open up roads, increase the space for vehicles, build additional lanes, and make parking cheaper, many more people will use a car. And what you might have hoped would ‘free up traffic’ or ‘allow traffic to flow’ actually has the opposite effect.

Resistance

I have written before about resistance to changes to our roads, particularly when it comes to cars. Regular readers of the blog will be familiar with my tales of the quite extraordinary strength of feeling that comes up on the subject of parking, for instance. I don’t underestimate this: much of it comes from uncertainty and concern. People are always worried about unintended consequences, and concerned about their quality of life. But there is often strong resistance to making changes to roads that make more space for people, rather than cars, and it’s just worth flagging up that I know some of these changes will be controversial, and won’t be shocked when people feel that way. I think there is a lot of work to do so that we can all discuss the potential downsides, the compromises to be made, and the benefits that are possible. Social distancing makes these conversations much more difficult, but still important.

Very normal

Exactly as with my post on parking charges, I did just want to flag the fact that there is nothing particularly unusual happening here. Low traffic neighbourhoods are happening right across London: funding is being announced regularly for fast interventions and it seems new schemes are announced daily. I’ve been admiring the comms work for the ‘Oval Triangle’ low traffic neighbourhood (and not just because I used to work around there) which includes a rather beautiful little hand drawn map by artist Charlotte Mugarra

https://ovalltnproposals.commonplace.is/about

Islington have announced ambitious plans for a third of the borough to be part of a low traffic neighbourhood by the end of the year.  Waltham Forest are continuing to do work all over their borough, despite the impression that some of us have that there was only ever one ‘mini Holland’ that was hotly contested, they have moved on and created many more neighbourhoods, with much less controversy than surrounded their first. Hackney are moving so fast that I joked on twitter (often a mistake, to be honest) that they are making the rest of us look bad: more school street closures, and more and more filters to cut out rat runs.

What’s happening here

So, I hear you ask, what is happening HERE in Newham? Well, we applied some time ago for funding from TfL for a joint Liveable Neighbourhood Scheme with Waltham Forest, which I talked about in this post here. That pot of funding is now not available, after the disasterous impact that Covid-19 has had on TfL’s finances. But we are pressing ahead anyway, in partnership with Waltham Forest, to implement a lower-budget version of what we had originally planned over an area that covers the Western, Maryland side of Forest Gate north ward, also the Olympic Village, and goes into Waltham Forest to Cann Hall.

More information on this scheme should be coming out any moment now, and of course I will be publicising this when it does. After that, I’ve been talking to officers who are looking at other places in the borough that would lend themselves to this approach, and am delighted to say that one of those areas is what some people term the ‘village’ area: bounded by Sebert Road, Woodgrange Road, Capel Road and extending past Tylney Road into Manor Park. (On a side note, I will offer a small prize to anyone who can come up with a better term than ‘the village’, which I find desperately twee and try-hard, but keep coming back to as it’s so much faster than a geographical description of the roads).

I think it’s obvious from the above that I am a passionate supporter of this approach. I am so excited at the opportunity to really have an impact on the environment we live in, and am thrilled at the prospect of the benefits extending to many of our residents. From a selfish point of view, I am also really excited to think of the impact of reducing through traffic on my road, which will form part of what I hope will be the second Forest Gate LTN. The idea of my girls cycling safely on the roads around us, going out to visit their friends on quieter roads, is lovely. At night I can often hear cars speeding down Capel Road, screeching to a slower speed before each speed bump, and hitting the top of each bump with the chassis of the vehicle. Obviously it’s possible that all these drivers are locals who are forgetful about the humps. But it seems to me that if the scheme is designed well, these cars may well not form part of our evenings any more.

Quieter, cleaner, healthier, better for children, better for businesses, better for all of us. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, coming soon to a road near you. What’s not to love?

 

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