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.

Road Safety in Islington

Roads today are generally safer than they have ever been before. Over the last 15 to 20 years technology has been put in place to protect vehicle occupants. However, reduction of injuries to non vehicle occupants has been much smaller and there is evidence it may be rising.

In terms of national trends, according to Department for Transport provisional results 2019 across Great Britain:

  1. fatalities fell from 2006 to 2010 and from 2010 onwards remained flat, with year on year changes explained by one off causes or natural variation; and
  2. serious injuries declined from 2004 to 2010 and from 2010 onwards the decline continued but at a slower rate.

The overall trend is improvements in road safety have stabilised and any improvements are being made at a slower rate. There are concerns improvements are stalling.

Fatalities and serious injuries from road collisions in Islington have reflected the national trend, as can be seen in the table below.

YearTraffic volume in Islington all vehicles (million vehicles)1Islington reported total number killed or seriously injured2
2005277.290
2006280.181
2007279.2112
2008271.675
2009265.177
2010258.481
2011254100
2012248.7122
201324371
2014246.293
2015243.489
2016246.381
2017243.6125
2018237.2141

The figures for people killed or seriously injured in 2017 and 2018 are higher than previous years due to changes in the way police reported road collisions from September 2016. The previous reporting system was more subjective and is thought to result in under-reporting. TFL have adjusted pre-2017 figures to account for changes in reporting and prepared the graph3 below which shows Islington reflects the national downward trend of people killed or seriously injured in road collisions.

Continuing to Drive Improvements in Road Safety in Islington

With numbers of people in Islington killed or seriously injured in road collisions being relatively stable, bold progressive action is needed to ensure road safety continues to improve. This will be needed if TFL is going to achieve Vision Zero for London, that by 2041 all deaths and serious injuries will be eliminated from London’s transport network.

Historically Islington has taken a progressive approach to road safety. In 2002, Islington introduced its first 20mph zone. By 2009, 50% of roads in the borough were limited to 20mph. In 2010, Islington became the first borough in London to limit all residential roads to 20mph. In 2012, all roads controlled by the council were limited to 20mph. In 2018, remaining roads in Islington, controlled by TFL (for example the A1 and Camden Road), were limited to 20mph. As a pedestrian there is a massive difference being hit by a car at 20mph and 30mph. It is estimated at 20mph 1.5% will be killed and at 30mph 8% will be killed4.

In July 2020, Islington’s first Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) was put in place in St Peter’s ward. A Low Traffic Neighbourhood is an area in which “through” motor vehicle traffic is discouraged or removed. This stops rat running, improves air quality, reduces noise pollution and makes streets safer for people to walk and children to play.

Islington Council has plans to cover 1/3 of the borough with LTNs by the end of 2020. LTNs will be put into place on an experimental basis with both residents’ and users’ views being collected continually during the experimental period. Changes can be made, or the scheme re-thought, in response to observations at any time. After the 18 month experimental period a final decision is made. Using an experimental period provides for greater opportunity for consultation and views obtained are based on experience, rather than what a person thinks is going to happen.

Introducing LTNs across Islington is bold and progressive. Action like this is needed to make sure road safety continues to improve. Change is often met with resistance, but without change our roads would be no safer than they were 20 years ago. It is vital we show our support for LTNs in Islington to ensure they become permanent.

1Department for Transport Islington road traffic statistics https://roadtraffic.dft.gov.uk/local-authorities/96

2Department for Transport STATS19 records of reported road casualties in Islington http://www.travelindependent.org.uk/area_103.html

3http://content.tfl.gov.uk/2017-borough-data-factsheet-islington.pdf

420mph Zones and Speed Limits Factsheet, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, 2017

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.