Saturday, 12 December 2015

Why close streets to through traffic? A personal view.

Hackney has benefited from reducing and slowing traffic through measures such as humps, parking zones, improving junctions—which remains the biggest challenge in any city, particularly London—and, as I mentioned earlier, assigning quieter routes off main roads. In fact, it is possible to cycle around the backstreets of Hackney and rarely meet a moving car. That is what gives me the confidence to cycle slowly in my own little way.
Meg Hillier MP, Hackney South and Shoreditch, Parliamentary cycling debate, 16 October 2014
London is currently a city of 8.6 million inhabitants and that will rise to 10 million in a relatively short time. The population of a single Borough, Hackney, grew by 20% between Census 2001 and 2011 and 15,000 more homes were built in the borough in that time period. Hackney has to deliver even more homes to meet demand - at least 1,500 homes each year. Looking beyond Hackney, half of all new homes in London are due to be built in the East of London. 

If car ownership in all new Hackney households were to be at similar levels to that of the borough's existing households (at 35% the lowest in the UK) there would be an additional 525 private motor vehicles per year moving or parked on Hackney roads. TfL has forecast  rises in congestion of 25% for inner London ( ).There are city-wide problems of physical inactivity, vehicle pollution, climate change and housing those in need. How we travel has a bearing on all these problems.The figures are conceptually staggering, and unsustainable! It is imperative that we change the way we travel.

Hackney has prioritised the bus on bus routes. The best example on 
Amhurst Road, Hackney Central
In fact, Hackney has been at the forefront (by a very long way) and has de facto taken the lead in changing how we travel in London. Hackney's public transportation has improved beyond recognition with the expansion of rail services and the prioritisation of the bus on its roads. Hackney has improved the pedestrian and cycling environment more than any other London borough with  myriad interventions; from high quality paving and 20mph zones on its' residential streets; speed tables on many of the borough's roads (creating a lower speed environment); to the removal of pedestrian guard railing and pavement parking. 

Kingsland High Street at Dalston Kingsland is a street for walking

There have also been major street improvement projects. Our shopping streets at Dalston Kingsland, Mare Street in Hackney Central, Stoke Newington Church St and Broadway Market have been transformed, in a manner that encourages informal crossing of streets for shopping and commerce, with space for people to linger and chat, as well as to circulate.

Car-free development has helped to reduce the number of private
vehicles in the  borough

Hackney has benefited from being part of the congestion charge zone, itself an initiative which has contributed to reducing private motor traffic and increasing bus use and cycling in the borough. Controlled parking has been introduced across much of the borough and almost all (97%) of new housing development is car-free, which means that new home owners purchase those homes knowing that they will not be entitled to an on-street car parking permit. This basket of measures reduces the prevalence of private car use and allows better public use to be made of the public space of our streets.

In addition, and over many years, large areas of Hackney have had streets closed to through motor traffic, which improves the environment on those streets for cycling and walking and, crucially, simply for living on. More recently Hackney has ensured that these closures are easily passable by cycles. The most well known area to have had this treatment is De Beauvoir Town in the west of Hackney. Here much of the through traffic has been excluded for a generation and the streets are great for cycling and for walking.
De Beauvoir Town. The most photographed of all area wide filtered 
permeability schemes in place for over two decades.

There are other sizeable residential areas in Hackney which have received similar street scene treatment to De Beauvoir Town. Finsbury Park; Lower Clapton; the part of Hackney which abuts  the City of London, south of Great Eastern Street; and the Stoke Newington ladder roads south of Church Street are some of the larger schemes.

Palatine Road, one of the point closures that has had an area wide impact 
on the Stoke Newington ladder roads.
Smaller areas have also benefited from such interventions, including the area behind Hackney town hall. New Kingshold estate was regenerated in the recent past and has been designed with street patterns that exclude through traffic. There are many single point closures too - Downs Park Road east of Hackney Downs and Ashwin Street in Dalston for example

The point closure on Ashwin Street..

Closing streets to through traffic, alongside the many other measures mentioned above, provides a good and ever improving, area-wide cycling and walking environment. However, the objective is not simply to move vehicular traffic from one street to the next, but as part of a strategy to bring down the overall volumes of traffic across the borough's roads. Closures will restrain some motor vehicle journeys through and originating from the area. Not all vehicular journeys will simply be displaced, and over time there will be net reduction in traffic volumes. 

Hackney's proactive and consistent approach has meant that it has the most enviable transport statistics in the UK. More residents cycle to work than drive. The number of walking trips doubled in just ten years between the Census years 2001 and 2011. The proportion of residents using the bus is higher than anywhere else in the UK. More children are cycling to school, building on the very high numbers who presently walk. Car ownership is among the lowest in the UK.

It is important to see these measures, not in isolation, but as having a cumulative effect. Part of the effect is an increase in physical activity, as people walk - to the shops, to their work, or to their public transport. Public health professionals do not distinguish, in general, between the relative physical advantages of, say, cycling, over walking or walking to get to public transport. What is important is the physical activity in all three cases. Creating a more welcoming environment for walking, cycling and the use of public transport - and for living in - is one of the main strategic aims of transport planning. Taken on their own, the measures that Hackney has implemented may not seem to contribute to reduced congestion, more active lifestyles, a reduction in emissions and a more liveable, denser city. However, as our MP said, even for her, an occasional, not a committed user of the bicycle, Hackney's streets are welcoming and encouraging.

Hackney, and London generally, should continue to improve the alternatives to the private car. Selectively closing streets to through traffic - while maintaining and enabling access to properties for builders, plumbers, electricians and others who contribute to how we live our lives, is one part of a strategic approach to accomplishing these ends and should be supported.