2021 Geolog archive
Low traffic neighbourhoods
The London Borough of Newham has one of the highest rates of serious illness in the UK, linked to air pollution. A great improvement has been made through a joint borough initiative between Newham and Waltham Forest, two of the 2012 London Olymic boroughs. A low traffic neighbourhood has been created on either side of the border between the two boroughs, covering a vast swathe of five square miles, including Forest Gate, Maryland, Leyton and Leytonstone.
Streets have been blocked to through vehicle traffic to stop ‘rat runs’. There is new signage and numerous large planters containing shrubs and flowers at the end of key streets. The planters stop cars and vans but allow access for pedestrians and cyclists. The new ‘cul-de-sacs’ only allow resident vehicle access and has created a much safer environment. This safe space means that I now walk down the middle of the roads all the way to the Olympic Park, two miles from my house.
Air and noise pollution has greatly decreased, walking and cycling is now safe, especially for children, disabled and elderly people. This complements the Olympic legacy aim for people to take up more excerside in these safer, quieter streets with a much lower car accident rate. It is nice to know that there are no more ‘rat runs’ with cars and vans racing through the area on their cross-London commute during the rush hour.
The scheme is a good example of local democracy at work, with regular updates and local opinions sought, pinpointing place on the map. Reading the comments, most people welcome the plan but there is significant oppostion from the ‘car lobby’ and I suspect many of those do not live in the neighbourhood, but they can still post their opposing comments. A negative has been the increased traffic on the roads which border the scheme. The two boroughs acknowledge that this is a short-term effect but that in the long run it should encourage people to leave the car and either walk, cycle or use the bus, so this must be a positive result.
I can imagine that residents in the other areas of the borough, which are outside the scheme, may be a little jealous of us and, hopefully, will put pressure on their local councillors to extent the scheme into their neighbourhoods.
Blight at the end of the tunnel?
The campaign for Mayor of London in the elections on May 6th is well underway and one of the issues dividing the parties is the new East London river crossing, also known as the Silvertown Tunnel. Originally proposed by Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London, and supported by the current Mayor, Sadiq Khan, the project was given the government go ahead in 2018. Construction work has already begun. However, anti-tunnel campaigners have pointed out what should be blindingly obvious – that building a new tunnel goes against both the government’s and the Mayor’s stated aims to reduce carbon emissions and to create cleaner air in London.
The main reason for the scheme is the congestion that builds up at either end of the current east London river crossing, the Blackwall Tunnel. The new tunnel would, hopefully, divert some of that traffic and provide an alternative route whenever the Blackwall Tunnel is closed in an emergency (as happens if an oversized vehicle tries to go through, or oil is spilled). But, we’ve heard it all before when new motorways are built to take congestion away from existing routes. Eventually, not only does the motorway fill up, existing routes also end up just as busy as they were before. Building new roads simply increases the volume of traffic. I’m sure the same is true of tunnels.
The Lib Dem candidate for Mayor, Luisa Porritt, has called the Sivertown Tunnel, “Sadiq Khan’s dirty little secret”. It is not mentioned in the Labour mayoral manifesto, perhaps because it is already happening or, perhaps, because its not something he’s very comfortable with. But, clearly, those campaigning against it haven’t given up on getting the project scrapped. What I’ve heard less about in the campaign, so far, is what the alternatives to a tunnel are. Transport connections between east and south-east London are notoriously bad. If the Blackwall Tunnel is blocked and the Woolwich Ferry is having a bad day, it is difficult to cross the Thames in east London.
However, I have recently heard about an alternative – the proposal for a new cycling and pedestrian bridge at the Thames Barrier (about a mile downstream of the Sivertown Tunnel). At a cost of £300 million, it would be only a fraction of the £2 billion that the tunnel would cost. Needless to say, the new tunnel does not include any provision for cyclists or pedestrians. Indeed, there are no crossings for cyclists between Tower Bridge and the Dartford Bridge, twenty miles downstream. Surely, the better solution to the problem of congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel, rather than another tunnel, is to provide alternative means of transport. A new cycle crossing, along with improvements in public transport, might help to lure people out of their cars and ease the congestion.
13th January 2021
In support of Boris
Happy New Lockdown!
There have not been many occasions over the last ten years when this blog has come out in support of Boris Johnson. But, his well-publicised ride to the Olympic Park last Sunday does have my support – assuming that he did ride and didn’t catch a lift there with his bike in the car. The main criticism of his ride is that it seems to go against the spirit of the Government’s guidance (I think it is guidance rather than law, though you can never be sure these days) to stay local when you exercise. Speaking as a cyclist, anywhere within a day’s ride of home would count as local for me. I happen to live in the same borough as the Olympic Park but, the thought of cycling round and round it to get my exercise does not greatly appeal. I’d much rather cycle to a destination and, ideally, come back by a different route.
There is a great deal of posturing and lecturing right now on the question of what we should be doing to protect ourselves and each other. I agree this is a moment, more than most, when we need to think about the collective as well as the individual. But, it’s annoying to hear Labour politicians (and I am a Labour supporter) getting on their high horse to tell Boris that he should not cycle across London because it sets a bad example to others. I’d much rather he cycled, and lost some of that surplus weight he carries, than sat in a car polluting the air. Cyclists, as a rule, have a small environmental footprint and make little impact on the places they cycle through. Assuming they carry their own bottle of water and a packed lunch and don’t stop anywhere for top-ups, they could hardly be accused of treading on anybody else’s toes. They’re not even increasing risk of transmission of the virus as they might if they travelled by public transport.
Finally, its good to hear that Boris actually remembers the Olympic Park, now that he’s got bigger things on his mind. There was a time, as Mayor of London, when the park was one of his pet projects – and he had a few. Who could forget that it was Boris who commissioned the artist, Anish Kapoor, to design the Orbit to be a tourist attraction in the park, or who gave the go-ahead for the stadium to be kept as a permanent memorial to 2012? Perhaps, when he retires he will be able to spend more of his time cycling in the Oympic Park, marvelling at his own legacy. And, with my Labour hat on, hopefully that time will not be too far away.