Lewisham’s LTNs from the perspective of a Hither Green resident who rides a bike, walks, uses public transport and sometimes drives.
What I am concerned about
I believe that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods can contribute to promoting the Council’s stated aims for the C19 temporary schemes of encouraging more cycling, walking and of reducing unnecessary car journeys.
However, I don’t think that the way they have been set up in Lewisham will do that. In my view the schemes the Council have set up are ill considered, poorly delivered, and have given no attention to the knock on effect for people living in the surrounding areas.
I’ve ridden a bike almost every day for 40 years (commuting, racing and family leisure use and for a while as a courier). I am also a pedestrian, driver and use public transport so I think I have a relatively rounded view on the issue of traffic and personal transport choice informed by some experience, over the long term.
In my area, traffic that previously moved with relative ease through the LTNs in Lee Green has been displaced to Hither Green Lane. It now causes congestion and tailback with associated noise and diminished air quality for residents there. That’s socially divisive, a waste of public money and not sustainable.
It’s very easy to see the negative impact of the Lee Green scheme on surrounding roads in hard terms (additional traffic volumes, number of resident complaints, noise and pollution). I have been asking the Council to show me quantifiable evidence of the declared positive impact for Lewisham of increased, sustained bike use or walking, and reduced car use.
They haven’t provided it. I don’t think they can because the scheme has not been set up in a way that will deliver a positive impact that can actually be measured other than for those few residents who wanted their roads closed to all through traffic.
Why the scheme will not deliver a positive impact
I have a lot of experience of cycling in UK new-town, North European and North American cycle traffic management schemes. I don’t think that our local schemes consisting of planters with hurriedly assembled road signage and camera actuated penalties will achieve what deliberately considered and sensitive schemes such as these can do to balance car and non car transport use. This is largely by default of our historic road and residential configuration, traffic volumes and dominant traffic flows (arterial and secondary-arterial) through the Borough and culture. In other countries where things are planned to work well, mixed mode transport is a default of the design and build of townscapes, not a bolt on.
Having done some research, I don’t think the model of modal shift and the related concept of traffic “evaporation” are a proven and reliable foundation for the schemes. What might seem to work in one area does not necessarily stretch to another. Each area has different transport infrastructure, traffic flows and places for displaced traffic to go to. Moreover, with dynamic sat-nav and real time journey planning, driver behaviour cannot be predicted in the same way as it was when some of the model schemes used by Lewisham were introduced and evaluated. Putting in place interventions to modify entrenched traffic patterns and driver behaviour is altogether a more nuanced and specific task than Lewisham’s LTNs is set up to deliver.
The One Lewisham website is a very good source of the challenge to the Lewisham rationale for introducing the C19 LTNs. It has been set up by residents like me who are concerned that not enough thought and proper resident engagement has been put in to make them effective.
My suggestions for what should be done
The Council say they have introduced the C19 schemes to safeguard public health by promoting walking, cycling and reducing car use.
Speaking as a regular cyclist, pedestrian and less regular driver perspective, the LTN approach of closing roads off and hoping for the best that traffic will stop coming to Lewisham and that people will automatically take up cycling and walking more will not work. Quite apart from being introduced without understanding where traffic will be displaced to, the schemes do not bring concrete measures that could support the modal shift to cycling and walking as options in themselves, or as alternatives to driving. So, failure is built into the design and delivery from the outset.
I think that what the Council have said that they want to achieve, is more likely to succeed by doing the following:
- clearly marking cycle lanes on roads and, if appropriate, on pavements
- buddy schemes for new cyclists to build their confidence
- free or subsidised cycle proficiency training
- secure communal bike stores and racks
- more safe points for pedestrians to cross roads
- road safety education for all
- smart information boards on signposts to regulate driver speed
- regulation of car use near schools during school run hours
- more buses, especially during the C19 period
- engage with local residents to understand why they actually use their cars the way they do (especially school run drivers)
- a demand for a regional review of and changes to the way in which our arterial roads move traffic through the area
Ideas 1-9 are framed within what the actual transport infrastructure can realistically deliver for all modes of transport without provoking the system failure (additional congestion and pollution) that we are seeing now with the Lee Green LTN. 10 is about generating insight about actual use of cars by residents in order to tailor options and messaging to encourage assent to behaviour change.
11 is the real strategic clincher, though, as the flow of traffic through the Borough along the arterials is the primary cause of the use of smaller residential roads as alternatives when the arterial roads get blocked or are slow moving.
1 to 4 are options that would have been of interest to me when I started using a bike to commute to work back in the late 20th Century as they are about making the choice of cycling a bit more convenient and safer!
Bringing people along
I don’t see my local community of Hither Green as anything like the late 19th Century Victorian suburb it was set up to be. Things have moved on since most of our houses and streets were built. The lived experience, in the early 21st Century, of the majority of residents is about balancing a lot of competing priorities like work (sometimes a number of jobs in the same day), getting children to school (sometimes different schools), going to the shops to do a large weekly shop for a family, visiting the hospital and doctor, generally living their individual lives, managing their homes, running businesses that people and suppliers can get to. The mode of transport people choose to do these and many other different things will be driven by what they have the ability, time and resource for and what the transport infrastructure will support.
I don’t think it is reasonable for the wishes of a few to dictate how the many will live and that’s where the C19 LTNs are really going wrong. The rationale for the “road-closure-and-camera-actuated-sanction” LTN model is that people all share the same mindset, values, resource and would be instantly willing and able to switch from, what they presently do now out of choice, to what a few think is good for them and because that choice has been removed. Life isn’t like that. If people are being asked to make a different choice then that choice has to be an easier, more attractive alternative to what they are choosing to do now. Otherwise why should they change? Closing off or making a current choice hard does not guarantee change. it is more likely to provoke resistance, challenge and continuation by any means of what people have always done.
I am really worried by the C19 LTNs. Since they started, parts of the Borough now live with a level of disadvantage as a result of the schemes that they do not have any choice to live with. This is unlike some of the residents of the LTN scheme areas who presumably took the traffic flows in their area into account as part of their due diligence when they first moved into their homes. They had a choice then, residents in areas where traffic has been displaced do not have a choice now and that is unfair and divisive. This is especially disappointing given that there are alternative ways to achieve the Council’s aims for the C19 LTN scheme, as I have listed above. Yes, these are more time consuming and practically complex to introduce but they would stand a much better chance of actually working over the longer term once the temporary period for the C19 LTNs comes to an end.
If the council are unable to make its objectives and approach clear, in a way which is actually measurable and fair, then perhaps the Lewisham Lee Green LTN trial should be temporarily and immediately suspended until they can do so. This is simply what the council (successfully) demanded of TFL and their A21 Streetscape scheme.
The introduction of the Lewisham Lee Green scheme has not been properly mandated by the Council in conjunction with the community. It generates a quantifiable negative impact over a wide area that far outweighs the unquantified and non-verifiable positive impact that is claimed for it by local councillors, other advocates and a very small number of residents in a very limited number of roads.
TFL have seen fit to revise the Streetscape scheme proposals for the A21 in the light of community and stakeholder objection. Other Councils are now standing down their C19 schemes in light of challenge from their residents. I’d like to see Lewisham adopt the same maturity and humility of approach, particularly with the Lee Green LTN. The Council should have a bit of a rethink and talk to all residents potentially affected and with a real stake in making traffic work in this Borough.