Online Event: Walking in London with Will Norman

Wed, 3 Feb 2021, 18:00 GMT

Click here to register

London’s walking and cycling commissioner will talk about TfL’s huge efforts to enable walking during the pandemic and the plans to create walking-friendly streets and public spaces across London and although London specific this will be of value to anyone who is interested in enabling walking through their work or in the town or city where they live.

Emma Griffin of London Living Streets will continue the theme, including the “Footways” initiative to create maps of pedestrian routes on quiet, low traffic routes – now extending beyond central London.

We will start off with a presentation and then move on to a Q&A/discussion with a mix of questions already submitted and questions on the evening. If you do have a question to pose in advance email us on jeremyleach@posteo.net and we will do our best to make sure that it is covered on the evening.

Programme

6pm – Welcome from Katja Stille , Chair UDG and introduction by David Harrison LLS.

Presentations

Will Norman, Walking and Cycling Commissioner for London on Walking in London

Emma Griffin, London Living Streets on the Ambition for walking in London and the power of walking networks (Footways)

Q&A with Will and Emma

Walking@tea-time: maps and apps

Online: Monday 16 November at 5pm  Register here 

Did you know that Apple have approached London Living Streets to talk about algorithms?  Our London Footways map has started a discussion and the next meeting of Walking@Tea-time will be exploring the potential of algorithms.  In particular, can they capture the human experience of walking?  

In a few years, we’ve gone from a world in which people found their way using the AtoZ to one in which we rely on our smart-phones.  But this is more than a change of medium: in addition to efficient route-finding, algorithms have the potential to provide us with highly customised options and to draw our attention to points of interest or opportunities of particular interest to us.  Can this induce us to walk more?  And is there something special about the paper map that we lose when we reach for our phones? 

Emma Griffin, co-founder of the Footways Project, will describe the human experience of creating the map

Two experts will assist us with our enquiries: 

Ana Basiri, Professor of Geospatial Data Science at University of Glasgow, whose ground-breaking work with large datasets has included the creation of maps from crowd-sourced data 

Hana Sutch, Co-Founder and Chief Walker & Talker at Go Jauntly, the innovative app that both provides and gathers information about great walks 

Register here 

The 15-minute city: a London case study

There has been a huge amount written about the 15-minute city with the emphasis on glamorous city centres in global cities. The reality though is that the 15-minute city is perhaps less likely to find its fullest expression in those city centres where relatively few people live than in local urban high streets and town centres.

When we add the impact of the pandemic, with more people working from home and making use of local shops and services, these local centres have even greater potential to become the heroes of sustainable living.

Continue reading “The 15-minute city: a London case study”

Consultation Response to DfT: Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge

Dear Department for Transport,

Responding to the DfT Policy Paper, Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge

London Living Streets – https://londonlivingstreets.com/ – is the campaigning group of residents, operating across London as a whole, of the national charity, Living Streets – https://www.livingstreets.org.uk/. As a voluntary branch of the leading organisation articulating the perspectives and needs of people who walk many of their trips and wish to walk more of them, we are responding to the DfT’s Policy Paper, Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge.

We would like very much to take part in the upcoming Stakeholder engagement process that the DfT wishes to have in preparing its proposals for Decarbonising Transport.

We will confine ourselves largely to Road Transport.

Comments on the thinking in this Paper so far as Road Transport is concerned:

(Our policy proposals are in bold/underlined)

  1. The ongoing assumption of a huge growth in Total Kilometres travelled by road vehicles — 35% by 2050 (over 2018 baseline) – this despite arguing for mode shift to Public Transport and Active Travel (Figure 9).
    Owing to the significant disbenefits of travel by motor vehicles (inc. energy consumption (see 2 below), air quality (see 2 below), road casualties, public health (discouraging people being active) and their negative impact on community and social interaction, The DfT ought instead to be seeking a reduction in both the total number of motor vehicles as well as the total distance they travel annually. These overall reductions should of course vary, having regard to the type of vehicle – buses, delivery vans, private hire vehicles, HGVs, private cars etc.

    We would argue that in the light of the Covid-19 crisis and the longer term changes that may result in travel demands, a review of these assumptions is required.

    In particular, the number of buses and the distance they travel should indeed increase as people are encouraged to make greater use of public transport. But, precisely because, as DfT makes clear, motor cars generate over half (55%) of the entire transport sector’s carbon emissions (Fig. 3), their present number and the distance they travel should be reduced. Cars, of course, are the single most space-inefficient method of transporting people in urban areas, as well as occupying huge quantities of public space as result of 25% of them (some 8 million) being parked on streets over-night (Para. 2.6).
  2. Electric Vehicles by themselves will be far from sufficient to address the challenge of the Carbon Emissions generated by Road Transport

    Electric Vehicles are not a Zero Carbon mode of transport. Their CO2 emissions will only become significantly less than diesel and petrol vehicles to the extent that their sources of electricity become entirely renewable. And mining and processing minerals for the metals their construction require and ‘rare earth’ elements for their batteries, transporting these, and the actual manufacturing process itself will all continue to generate significant CO2 emissions.

    Electric Vehicles on average currently generate more Particulate Matter than their petrol or diesel equivalent (from road surface wear, tyre wear, and their brake linings) because of their greater weight. It is ultra-fine particles, along with Nitrogen Dioxide, that damage people’s health in built-up areas on a massive scale and, inter alia, exacerbate existing respiratory problems.

    Substituting EVs for petrol and diesel vehicles does little to reduce the externalised costs of motor traffic borne by urban populations – road danger, physical inactivity, community severance etc.

    Furthermore, without bringing forward the date for a ban on fossil fuel vehicles, we must remain sceptical how fast EVs are likely to replace them: Current uptake of EVs remains miniscule. The total number is only 230,000 out of 32 million vehicles (Para. 2.4) – or less than 1%. In 2018, only 1.6% of new vehicles bought were EVs (Para. 2.9), this despite the Government subsidising their purchase via the Plug In grant (Para 2.13). Indeed average CO2 emissions per mile from cars and vans have risen over the past 3 years (2016-2018) because of the surge in buying SUVs which now comprise 21% of new car sales. (Para. 2.7)
  3. Not paying attention to the fall in Fuel Duty revenue that must occur as EVs replace petrol and diesel vehicles.

    The only realistic solution to this problem, as has been argued by various economists for some years, is some form of Road User Charging. National Road Transport policy must urgently address this issue with a view to swift adoption.
  4. Overlooking the range of external costs that motor traffic, regardless of carbon emissions, imposes on urban residents 

    The Government has finally recognised the health-damaging impacts of poor Air Quality, and certain cities are taking advantage of the funds beginning to be available to remedy this.

    But there are several other external costs, including: Road Danger; the Discouragement of taking Physical Exercise by daily walking and/or cycling; Noise; and Community Severance. These costs, financial and other, are borne by members of the public who experience these externalities. But public authorities, notably the NHS but also the police, other emergency services and local authorities, are also burdened with the extra financial costs such externalities cause.

    Any new national Road Transport policy must take full account of these externalities and set out how Government proposes to address them.

    In our view only a Road User Charge will make a real difference; something the DfT is already beginning to accept in relation to HGVs. Widespread introduction of Workplace Parking Levies would, however, be another major contribution to Decarbonisation.
  5. Walking & Cycling are modes of transport, particularly within towns and cities, that could be used for the high proportion of journeys that are relatively short.

    The Department for Transport has already recognised the importance of walking and cycling to health, air quality and decarbonisation in its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, and needs to build on these foundations through increased investment in active travel.

    To see what has already been achieved in some other countries or cities, the Netherlands, and cities like Copenhagen and Paris, are examples, of the investment needed to transform urban road infrastructures. Low-cost interventions such as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods can also make a major difference to the quality of urban life. We would note the success of relatively low-cost interventions in the London borough of Waltham Forest where a number of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods have now been delivered as part of the Mini-Holland funding from TfL. Their benefits are wide ranging1 and include improved levels of walking and cycling including by children, improved performance by the local economy, improved air quality, lower road casualties and indeed quantified increases in life expectancy. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods can be delivered by modal filters in the form of planters or even concrete blocks and so can be very low cost.
  6. No measures are contemplated to end out-of-town car commuters driving in to work on a daily basis (and/or to shop), and clogging up town or city streets. More generally, DfT must develop specific policies to reduce hugely the current overwhelming dominance of the Car in Commuting to Work.

    Currently (2018), as the Paper shows, 68% of all workers in Britain travel to work by car. Many of these are drivers who live within the urban area where they work; but there are many who choose to live out of town and drive in from the surrounding smaller urban centres and villages.

    In London, by contrast, only 27% of workers travel to work by car. This London achievement, the result of decades of serious investment in public transport, ought to become the national target by 2050.

    This has huge implications for radical shifts in transport investment allocations which any national Transport policy must reflect – away from ‘predict and provide’ and building or ‘improving’ yet more motorways and trunk roads, and towards transforming our urban road infrastructure to enable the buses to provide passengers with integrated, less time-consuming travel; the reallocation of carriageway space towards trams and light rail; as well as infrastructure transformations to enable safe and comfortable Cycling and Walking.

    Bus travel, in particular, has collapsed. Only 5% of all journeys are now being made by bus (Para 2.21). Yet buses are not only hugely more space efficient than cars, but the whole bus sector generates less than 3% of all transport sector emissions. Rail (where the number of passengers has doubled since privatisation – Para 2.33) is even more efficient, producing only 1.4% of all transport emissions (Para 2.30). 

    We look forward to the Department’s Bus Strategy later this year.
  7. There is a need for a quantum shift in transport Investment sums required to meet the DfT targets – ‘help make public transport and active travel the natural first choice for daily activities’‘support fewer car trips through a coherent, convenient and cost-effective public network; and ‘encourage cycling and walking for short journeys’. (Figure 1)

    The DfT has recognised the need for an increase in investment in Active Travel public spending from £250 million a year (Para 2.62). The Paper quotes ‘The £100 billion of additional infrastructure announced in the Conservative Party manifesto for the renewal of roads, rail and other infrastructure’ in December 2019 (Para 2.66).

    Significantly increased investment should be made in walking, cycling and public transport, in line with the recommendations of Living Streets and other members of the Walking and Cycling Alliance.
  8. The target date to achieve Zero Carbon Emissions in the Transport Sector by 2050 will not avoid dangerous Global Heating: 

    The year 2050 is a whole generation away. In the view of most Climate Change scientists, this is far too relaxed a target date for countries to pursue if the planet is to avoid serious Global Heating by the end of the century.

    At the very least, DfT should plan interim targets for the reduction of Transport emissions with for example 5 year intervals.

    These Carbon reduction targets, in turn, need to be translated into investment targets for building additional public transport infrastructure at scale, as well as road infrastructure transformations to enable significant increases in cycling and walking rates.

    Further, there will need to be financial incentives of various kinds to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuel vehicles in favour of EVs and vehicles powered by other non-carbon- emitting propulsion systems.

Further national policy-relevant comments, specifically from our perspective as an organisation articulating what people on foot need from our roads infrastructure – whether walking their whole journeys (trips) or only part of longer journeys made by public transport or other modes (stages).

Based on our experience and expertise, we urge the following:

  1. The need to recognise, at both national and local authority levels, the already existing extent, and potential for expansion, of Walking as a mode of transport for short trips in our villages, towns and cities.

    Walking and Cycling are, it must be emphasised, the only actual Zero Carbon modes of travel. Any national transport strategy focussed on getting Carbon emissions down to zero must therefore pay particular attention to how to get far more short journeys undertaken by these modes (walking up to 2km and cycling up to 8km).

    Active Travel nowadays is widely recognised by transport professionals. Currently many more people walk short trips or stages, than cycle. Walking requires no specialised equipment, is open to all regardless of income and forms an essential part of every journey – including public transport journeys. But walking is often overlooked in infrastructure and planning decision-making.

    There is also a massive disconnect between local transport and land use planning. As Transport for New Homes have highlighted, opportunities in new developments are routinely missed to create Walking- and Cycling-friendly environments, thereby entrenching car dependence into the future.

    We note the rarity of specific Walking Plans drawn up by highway authorities, let alone their making specific budgetary appropriations to create the walking-enabling infrastructure investments and behaviour change programmes required. While Walking is often notionally placed at the top of the hierarchy in many Transport Strategies, the stated mode hierarchy is routinely ignored in practice.
  1. Transforming our urban road infrastructure in ways that enable Walking as a mode of urban transport for short distances – ie.significant investment in changing, reallocating and improving the existing road infrastructure and public realm of our towns and cities so as to make, in DfT’s words in this Paper ‘Active travel the natural first choice for daily activities’.

    This is essential in order to make Walking short trips, or stages in longer trips (to bus stops, railway stations, tram stops etc) the obvious and easy choice for people to make.

    Paying attention to the infrastructure changes that Walking requires also means ending the current over-reliance on encouraging behaviour change (convincing people of the benefits of walking). In our experience, local authorities typically engage in such programmes to avoid the ‘harder’ decisions around reallocating road space away from the longstanding de facto prioritisation of (especially private) motor traffic, and in favour of Walking and Cycling (which, as noted earlier, are the only trulyZero Carbon modes) as well as public transport (notably bus lanes and tram tracks).

    Here we will mention some of the most obvious infrastructure-related investments that Walking requires:
    • Pavements (rapid repair to a high non-trip hazard standard; dropped kerbs; as part of planned infrastructure changes, or at locations where there is a desire and need to increase the ‘place’ function footway widening can be undertaken, including at commuter hubs and other interchanges, shopping streets and schools; upgrading paving materials used; and banning pavement parking);
    • Road Crossings (number of; location; safety of design; pedestrian wait times; amount of time allowed for pedestrians to get across; Countdown indicators; installation of new Zebra-style pedestrian priority at all intersections of side roads with main roads (following the outcome of the results of the TRL study into the experimental crossings in Manchester);
    • Residential Streets with the infrastructure pedestrians need (quality lighting; seating at intervals; pocket parks, planters and other greening);
    • Lower traffic speed limits with 20mph as the default in built-up areas;
    • Local Town Centre and other shopping streets (wider pavements; traffic-free community hubs for local markets; seating; drinking fountains; greening; removal of clutter);
    • Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (the widespread use of mode filters particularly where rat running has non-local traffic passing through a residential area). These have a major advantage of being potentially very low cost to deliverand can be combined with greening projects such as parklets and the use of planters (as modal filters).
    • School Streets;
    • Signage.
  2. Reducing the volume of motor traffic in our urban areas if Walking is to become the default mode of travel for short urban journeys:

    Building walking-enabling infrastructure is not enough on its own. Town and city dwellers will continue to be deterred from choosing to travel on foot even very short trips, or stages in longer trips, so long as our urban streets remain overwhelmed by so much traffic, the vast majority of which is private cars. The disbenefits of this dominance (ie. the external costs imposed on the rest of the population by so many private cars in urban areas) include: health-endangering air quality (contributing to the premature deaths of tens of thousands of people annually); road danger (with pedestrians and cyclists now bearing a far bigger load of road casualties than the drivers and their passengers in cars); the prevalence of obesity, over-weight and other health problems arising from lack of physical activity (due to urban residents having sedentary jobs, or not using Active Travel modes for regular journeys such as the commute to work); community severance and loneliness (as older people and young children, in particular, are deterred from going outside and walking and seeing other people on our streets); and noise. Again we would assert that a review of travel in towns and cities is required following the Covid-19 crisis and that greater emphasis should be placed on active travel and a reduction in the impact of the dis-benefits that travel by motor vehicle causes.

    What measure could most effectively reduce the dominance of our urban streets by motor traffic? In addition to all the policies we have suggested in this response above, we would like to conclude by highlighting one measure whose time, in our view, has come.

Road User Charging: This is much the most effective approach to reducing the dominance of motor traffic in urban areas. In our view it would be the fairest way of managing what is a scarce public resource and should be set in place with an aim of reducing overall urban traffic volumes and supporting public transport (within the guidelines of safe social distancing):

  • This is because it affects everyone using motor vehicles.
  • It also generates funding for investment in enabling sustainable travel modes (public transport, walking and cycling).
  • Road user charging enables drivers to pay more fairly and more fully for the external costs imposed on the community as a result of their choosing to drive, rather than using public transport, or walking or cycling.
  • The savings to the NHS and social care system – as a result of lower volumes of traffic leading to greatly reduced road casualties, as well as the likely reduction in numbers of people prematurely suffering from a range of conditions brought about by exposure to poor air quality or lack of routine physical activity – would be immense.
  • Sophistication and Flexibility as to Purposes and Charges: A sophisticated Road User Charging scheme would set the level of charges varying with regard to a number of factors, including type of vehicle (and so its carbon footprint, production of Particulate Matter etc); how much it is used (ie. distance travelled in the town) and where; and at what time of day the driver chooses to use it (e.g. increased charges at peak travel times) etc. In order to support active forms of travel, a pricing weighting could be given to discourage short journeys by motor vehicle (ones that could be most easily substituted by walking or cycling). The London Congestion Zone, introduced in 2003, is an existing (albeit simple) example. And London’s scheduled (Autumn 2021) extension of its Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which targets in particular more polluting vehicles) is another. Several other English cities are already contemplating their own schemes. The Centre for London has already produced a detailed scheme specifically for London which offers ideas for DfT to consider. (Centre for London, Green Light: Next Generation Road User Charging for a healthier, more liveable London, 2019. https://www.centreforlondon.org/reader/green-light/

We look forward to taking part in the Stakeholder engagement process. We would be happy to respond to any requests from the Department to provide more detailed information on any of the points made above.

Yours sincerely

Jeremy Leach

Chair, London Living Streets

DATE 7th May 2020

Continuing the Drive to Improve Road Safety in Islington with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Hokman Wong (specialist brain injury solicitor at Islington firm Bolt Burdon Kemp) looks at road safety in Islington and making streets safer with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.

Road traffic collisions are the main cause of severe traumatic brain injury in people aged 10 to 50.

Every day I work on cases involving brain injuries. I see the profound effect brain injury has on a person’s life and those around them. Knowing what I know about road traffic collisions and brain injuries, I realise the importance of improving road safety. Since I became a father two years ago, I’ve felt even more passionate about making streets safer for little ones, and big ones too.

Continue reading “Continuing the Drive to Improve Road Safety in Islington with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods”

The future of walking in central London: returning to the best of the past

By David Harrison 

If you were able to go back to the central London of mid-Victorian times, there would be many surprises. Using the recent lockdown to do some research into the period, I found a few. 

Perhaps most surprising was the existence of extensive measures to prevent rat-running. Our ancestors knew that if we were to enjoy our streets they were best kept free of through traffic. 

Continue reading “The future of walking in central London: returning to the best of the past”

Walking @ Tea-Time – The Pedestrian Pound Revisited – 5:30 pm on Thursday, 9th July, 2020

Join us for Walking@Tea-time – The Pedestrian Pound

Following a very lively and well-attended launch event in May, Walking@Tea-time is back to discuss what we know about the pedestrian pound.

Active travel campaigners know that pedestrian spending is very important, and that an attractive public realm brings people in. Major landowners know this too. But many shopkeepers believe their trade depends on the passing motorist. There is now a considerable body of evidence on the subject both in the UK and internationally. We are delighted to welcome two speakers perfectly placed to discuss this evidence: Stephen Edwards, Director of Policy at Living Streets, and Anne Faure, President of Rue de l’avenir. They will also be well-placed to discuss developments post-Covid 19, and (with Anne’s insights) we will consider the likely consequences of Mayor Hidalgo’s recent election triumph in Paris.

We hope you will be able to join us!

Click Here to Register

Walking@Tea-time, is hosted by Tom Cohen and is supported by London Living Streets and the Active Travel Academy at University of Westminster.
Co-ordinators: Tom Cohen, Emma Griffin and David Harrison.

Street Parks for London

One of the few benefits of lockdown has been the quietness of the streets in my neighbourhood. Without motor traffic, people thronged into them as never before: families walking and cycling, teenagers skateboarding, children on scooters – all enjoying the empty roads. As the buds on the trees burst into leaf, and the spring air filled with birdsong, it seemed as if the area had become a park. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, if we could keep this when lockdown ended. Would it be possible to create a ‘Street Park’: a collection of streets where people feel it is as safe and pleasant to walk and cycle as in a park?

People walking and cycling freely down the middle of their local streets to maintain social distance during the Covid pandemic
People have used all of their streets during lockdown Photos: Martin Gorst

While I was mulling this over, in mid May, Transport for London launched Streetspace for London – a programme to create more space on roads so people can walk or cycle while social distancing. Looking at the documents TfL posted online, I saw it had carried out some impressive research. Among the maps was one showing areas of London, marked in blue, where the street layout creates conditions for rat running.

Map from TfL Streetspace document showing areas where low traffic neighbourhoods should be a priority
TfL’s priority locations for low-traffic neighbourhoods in London

Transport for London would like to transform these areas into emergency low-traffic neighbourhoods – places where councils could quickly install low-cost objects such as planters to remove rat-running motor traffic. To make it happen, local councils need to bid to TfL for the money, but many will only bid if they feel the scheme has local support.

Will people get excited enough about low traffic neighbourhoods to ask their councillors for one? While the concept is great, the term itself is about as appealing as ‘low-calorie diet’. You don’t immediately think “that sounds nice”. As a low-traffic neighbourhood is almost identical to a street park, I wondered if the term ‘Street Park’ would work better. The only way to find out was to put it to the test.

Three wooden planters placed across the carrigeway to block motor vehicles but allow walkers and cyclists free passage
Simple modal filter promoting active travel Photo: London Cycling Campaign

Based on the rat-running areas TfL has identified in Ealing, I’ve mapped out 13 potential ‘street parks’. On average, it would require about five bicycle filters and one bus filter to create each of these areas. That’s about 200 planters – not a lot of money to reduce pollution for thousands of people.

Map showing how south-west Ealing could easily be divided into a number of Street Park areas
Potential Street parks in Ealing Image: Martin Gorst / Open Streetmap

While street parks have lots of benefits, it’s important to acknowledge their down side. The modal filters that remove rat-running traffic can make some car journeys longer for residents. In the past, this has been a major objection to low-traffic neighbourhoods. However, after experiencing the joy of quiet streets in the last two months, many people don’t want a return to busy roads.

Slide listing key characteristics of street parks: Resident parking unaffected, Delivery access to all properties, pleasant place to meet, safe for children to cycle,quiet, less damage to cars from rat-running vehicles
Street Parks Image: Martin Gorst

In the past few weeks I’ve presented this idea to several different groups, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. People immediately get the idea of street parks. Why wouldn’t you want a park in your area? I’ve also sent it to my local council. At the time of writing, I hear they are bidding for at least two of the schemes, hopefully they will bid for more. The results of these bids will be announced around 18th June and there will be be a further funding opportunity for councils judged to have used the initial funding well.

TfL is aiming to fund street parks (‘low-traffic neighbourhoods’) all across London. So why not ask your local councillors for one in your area.

Concluding image showing people enjoying quiet, safe, street
Street Parks Image: Martin Gorst

View from the Street: Less Traffic – More Life

View over the square in DeBeavour Town, Hakney

Dido Penny recalls life in one of London’s pioneer low traffic neighbourhoods and looks forward to seeing the benefits as Councils are asked to re-prioritise people over traffic our streets.

A few years ago I shared a flat on De Beauvoir Square in Dalston with a couple of friends. We were lucky in lots of ways – the flat had lots of natural light, views of the square, and a big living area that was great for parties. It even had a tiny garden. But one of the best things about living there was that we didn’t really need a garden at all with the square only a few yards away. We spent a lot of time out there in the summer – picnic breakfasts, afternoons lying in the sun and early evening cocktails where we would take it in turns to run in and get ice. We weren’t the only ones who loved it- most people who lived on the square seemed to spend a lot of time there and it was rarely empty.

Picnic in the square – Photo: Dido Penny

There are lots of reasons why De Beauvoir works so well as a community space. There is a summer fair and various other events (such as the annual dog show), and an active neighbourhood association. And the square is well maintained, with a playground, lots of trees and a rose garden, as well as being a beautiful space to begin with.

But one of the main reasons that people treat it as an extension of their homes is the almost complete lack of any traffic. The whole De Beauvoir area is well filtered; it’s possible to access any street by car, but there are only a few designated through routes without modal filters. So although there are parked cars on the square, and a stream of commuting cyclists for a few hours every day, it’s pretty much car free. It is a real example of how much more pleasant pedestrian areas are, and how a lack of traffic makes people feel that they own the space around their houses and spend more time outside. There were so many things people wouldn’t do if the square was a busy roundabout – picnicking on the grass only a few yards from the road, chatting to their neighbours in the street, letting dogs off their leads or children play in the playground supervised from a distance.

Pedestrians and child cyclists move easily through filtered streets
Pedestrians and cyclists given priority of movement. Photo: Hackney Cycling Campaign

I now live in central Hackney, and though I love the area, there is much less sense of communal space. But walking around the area during the lockdown when there was very little traffic save the occasional delivery van, I noticed that many people seemed to be using the space around their houses in a way that reminded me of De Beauvoir. On my daily walks around familiar streets, people were outdoors much more than they would be in normal times. I noticed several families on the same street washing their cars together, and chatting to each other from across the road (from a safe distance!). People were sitting in the little front yards between their houses and the pavement. I saw one couple having brunch on a table they had set up on the pavement outside their front door, complete with prosecco. The lack of any traffic didn’t just make the streets quieter and the air cleaner, but seemed to create a different atmosphere for the residents as well. On a sunny weekend it felt like this was one of the few positives in this strange situation.

Of course this is partly because many people were not at work and children not at school, and parks were either shut or limited to exercise. In an area where most flats have a small balcony at best, people were improvising to find ways to relax in the sun. But it was also a consequence of there being virtually no traffic to the extent that the streets felt pretty much pedestrianised. The streets in my area are in fact fairly well filtered already and set back from main roads. But despite this the streets normally feel just slightly too busy, and the risk of speeding cars is too real for them to feel truly safe.

In the past couple of weeks since the lockdown has been relaxed, it seems that unfortunately the traffic is returning to normal and I’ve noticed far fewer people using their front gardens and porches and the green spaces next to the blocks of flats. But the nearest park to me is very busy on weekday evenings and weekends as it’s now officially OK to meet friends outside. It seems that just a slight increase in traffic- or even just the perception that people will be driving again – makes quite a big difference. Reducing the number of cars in a residential area can have a big impact on the way people perceive and use the space around them.

The lockdown has also given many a renewed appreciation of their local area- I certainly found that being limited to where I could walk within an hour made me very grateful for the local shops and green spaces. And the importance of a local community and support network has proved to be of real value during the lockdown. Much has been written about how the Covid Mutual Aid groups have connected neighbours and created support networks ready to help those self-isolating. Even the weekly clap for Care Workers has meant that people feel more connected to their neighbours- in some cases actually seeing them for the first time. It would be a really positive outcome if this sense of community could be maintained and built upon.

Having read a little about the history of De Beauvoir square and why it is such a successful low traffic neighbourhood, I learned that the measures to prioritise pedestrians were a result of a long campaign from the local residents in the late 60s and early 70s. Following years of pressure on the council and demonstrations where residents blocked the roads, they succeeded in making most of the area filtered to traffic. It’s a virtuous circle where a determined group of people created a desirable area to live, which itself continues to foster a strong community spirit. I hope that the few weeks of lockdown, which, though so difficult in many ways, give residents in Hackney and other areas a sense of what the area could be like without cars, and that this is something worth fighting for.

Broadway Market open to people walking and cycling
Broadway Market, Hackney with filtered access to allow social distancing. Photo: Brenda Puech

What’s exciting is that changes are already happening. Hackney Council have already closed Broadway Market to traffic, and on the 22nd May announced three further road closures. This is in addition to the  120 road closures proposed in Hackney as part of the London wide StreetSpace plan. This is one of many reasons why Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, which many London Boroughs are now installing, and attractive low pollution walking routes such as the Central London Walking Network, are so important. Streets that prioritise pedestrians are not only safer and healthier, but also more fun to live in and encourage a sense of community.