City needs to be walker-friendly

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The following letter from London Living Streets vice chairman, David Harrison appeared in the Evening Standard, 9 July 2018.

Chris Haywood and the City of London Corporation are to be congratulated on their determination [“Pedestrian areas mulled to ease City of London overcrowding,” July 2] to address the Eastern Cluster, and especially the increasingly crowded streets around Bishopsgate and Liverpool Street station, by pedestrianisation and improving walking routes and crossings. Almost 500,000 people work in the City and the number is increasing.

While there must be access for essential vehicles, it cannot be right or sensible that a handful of people in cars should continue to be given priority over the vast majority of people walking around.

If the City is to maintain its appeal, to workers and investors, especially in the challenging conditions following Brexit, it is essential that it creates a safer and more attractive and appealing environment.

David Harrison

Image:  Garry Knight, Flickr

Greater Manchester plans UK’s largest walking and cycling network

By Emma Griffin, London Living Streets website manager

Small_Chapel StreetLondon Living Streets is thrilled to see Greater Manchester’s ambitious plans to create a city region for people, not vehicles.

The Beelines proposal, announced today by Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner Chris Boardman, is welcome for its focus on crossings to create a joined-up, safe walking and cycling network across the region; and filtered, or low-traffic neighbourhoods. These priorities match many of our campaign interests.

Currently 30% of trips under 1km are still made by car in Greater Manchester, the equivalent of 15 minutes walking or five minutes cycling. A large proportion of these trips are school runs. In Netherlands, 50% of children cycle to school, compared to just 2% in Manchester.

Walking and cycling network

Beelines sets out to make walking and cycling the natural choice for these short journeys by creating a network, covering 1000 miles, that connects every neighbourhood and community.

The proposals include 75 miles of fully segregated cycle routes. But the majority of the network already exists, says Boardman. He points out that 80% of Manchester roads are already fairly quiet, with less than six cars per minute. The problem is that major roads act as severance points between them.

Crossings

Phase one of the Beelines project will put in dedicated crossing points, such as parallel signalised crossings and parallel zebra crossings, to get people walking and cycling across these major roads. Overall, the plans propose 1,400 new crossings that also include zebra crossings at every side road to encourage people to cross roads with priority and without fear. Continuous crossings such as these are essential for improving  the safety and experience of those on foot.

Boardman is also lobbying Government to change crossing and waiting times to give cyclists and pedestrians priority.

Low traffic neighbourhoods

In addition, the plans include 25 ‘filtered neighbourhoods’ that will not allow through motor traffic, but allow the movement of people and create more public spaces to sit, play and socialise.

He told The Guardian he was ‘“absolutely unapologetic” that the plans would take space away from cars and could make motor journeys slower in what is already a traffic-snarled region’.

Filtered_neighbourhoodManchester

Investment

The scale of the investment and projected speed of delivery are also impressive. It is estimated the entire network could be completed as early as 2023. This demonstrates an understanding that changes can and should be made quickly. London has set itself longer timeframes – for all Londoners to do at least 20 minutes of active travel by 2041.

The plans published today have a combined budget of around £500 million and represent a first step in the planned £1.5 billion investment. Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, has already allocated £160 million of the government’s Transforming Cities Fund to kick-start the project. This brings the total spend on cycling and walking in Greater Manchester to around £15 per head per year, almost the same as cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Chris Boardman said: “It’s not really about people using bikes and walking – it’s about making better places to live and work by giving people a real choice about how they travel. In doing so, we’ll make the city -region healthier and more prosperous.”

Call for EV charging stations off pavements

by David Harrison, Islington Living Streets and vice-chair of London Living Streets

IslingtonEV_lowresLondon’s pavements have long been an obstacle course. It is hard to walk more than a few feet without encountering a post or box or something larger.

Some street furniture is, of course, useful: lampposts and benches spring to mind. Some is useful but poorly sited: we need bus stops, but not where their footprint dominates the pavement.

Utilities take up a fair amount of space. Phone boxes have been increasingly installed as advertising sites under permitted development rights – which Ministers have failed to scrap despite pleas from councils. Things might get worse. The press has reported that the Secretary of State for Transport wants utilities to dig up pavements, not streets, so as not to slow down motorists.

Indeed, most of the clutter on streets is associated with the motor car. Long ago it was decided not only that cars would dominate the carriageway and own the kerbside for parking, but that pedestrians would have to suffer all the paraphernalia thought necessary for driving: giant road signs, the endless posts which record parking restrictions, and the machines for paying for parking.

Recently a new and even larger impediment has been appearing all over London. Electric vehicle (EV) charging points (point is definitely a misnomer) are making life even more difficult for pedestrians, especially wheelchair users and wheelers of buggies.

Of course, with almost 10,000 deaths per year in London due to long-term exposure to air pollution, and with motor vehicles the major cause of poor air quality, it seems a good idea to replace dirty diesels and petrol vehicles with clean electric ones. To do this the Government is encouraging local authorities and others to install an infrastructure of charging points, but it has given no thought to the consequences for pedestrians.

Some installations may also not be compatible with equality legislation, that requires anyone looking after the street environment, including private companies, to eliminate obstructions for disabled people.

From time to time, pious expressions are made about the need to reduce street clutter, but they are readily ignored in practice. My ward — Mildmay in Islington — has some of the worst new installations. St Paul’s Place is so wide that parking places are set at right angles to the pavement on one side, still leaving more than enough room for two large vehicles to pass. Even so, the charging points are on a narrow pavement. Round the corner, in Mildmay Grove North, the charging points are placed on an even narrower pavement though the parking spaces in the street are never full.

Like so much other pavement clutter, these installations are unnecessary. It is perfectly feasible to install them on the road. This is done in Paris, and there are a few places where this has been done in Islington. A diagram drawn by Susan Claris at Arup shows how it can be done.

Hierarchy of locations

There is some good news. At the recent, well-attended Islington Healthy Streets Hustings organised by Cycle Islington and Islington Living Streets, all the candidates committed to putting new charging points on the road. This included Councillor Webbe, who has once again been appointed the Cabinet Lead for the Environment and Transport. We must ensure both that the next wave of charging points is on the road, and that many of the recently installed ones are moved.

Even better, charging points could go in public car parks or locations such as supermarkets, shopping centres and petrol filling stations.

We suggest a hierarchy of locations for charging infrastructure. Pavements should be the last resort and only suitable if a minimum 2.5 metre width is left for sociable walking.

  1. Off-road locations such as car parks, supermarkets, shopping centres
  2. The carriageway
  3. The pavement if a 2.5 metre width remains

EV not a panacea

But even where charging points are on the road or car park, we must appreciate that electric vehicles are not a panacea. The electricity which powers them is not all generated by clean electricity. Streets will still be dominated by motor vehicles, and children unable to play or cycle in them. Pedestrian and cyclists will remain at risk, and still likely to suffer high levels of deaths and injuries. Sitting in an electric vehicle will do nothing to address the obesity epidemic and diseases associated with this and lack of exercise. Electric vehicles will not by themselves remove the vast amounts of unnecessary ‘black top’ which disfigures our public realm.

Finally, there is a question of equity. Government support for EV charging infrastructure and the purchase of electric vehicles is a large subsidy to the well-off who are buying them. Given that almost three-quarters of households in boroughs like Islington do not own a car, surely social justice demands that money be spent on the many, not the few.

At present, users of bike hangars are paying over £100 per year to park their bikes. There is also need for more zebra crossings and safer junctions in the borough. The money the Government is giving to subsidise the electric car industry might be better spent on any of the above or, best of all, on a few bollards to create low-traffic neighbourhoods, such as in Walthamstow where through-traffic is removed and streets returned to residents.