Transition to what?

One of the concerns at the heart of the transition movement is climate destruction, so we should expect that our over dependency on fossil fuels to be a key subject for debate. There are many issues that need to be tackled on a global scale, such as flying or energy production. But since Transition is “a movement of communities coming together to reimagine and rebuild our world” lets reimagine one major factor that can be tackled locally – car usage.

So how are we ‘transitioning’ in Crystal Palace?

  • Here in Croydon one third of households don’t own a car
  • Younger people are increasingly not even learning to drive

On the other hand…

Croydon traffic has increased by 200,000,000 miles between 2010 & 2019.

Croydon traffic has increased by 200,000,000 miles between 2010 & 2019 Department for Transport

Where is all this extra traffic going? Residential roads have been suffering the most – an increase of 72% since Google Maps started diverting congested traffic from main roads onto residential roads.

Department for Transport

In London 49% of all journeys are less than 3km. And TFL inform us that Croydon is the worst borough in London for such journeys; or as Croydon Council put it optimistically, we in Croydon have the greatest potential to improve.

Croydon appears to be the worst place in London to have asthma, new analysis from charity Asthma UK has revealed.

It doesn’t look as if we are transitioning in the right direction.

Could our Low Traffic Neighbourhoods be the first step to a solution?

Like most London boroughs, Croydon Council has introduced many LTNs over the last few months. These LTNs have mushroomed to such an extent that there appears to be a strategic active travel network appearing from nowhere. For example you can now cycle between Crystal Palace station to the centre of Croydon on mostly traffic calmed streets.

Has CP-LTN been a success?

The purpose of LTNs is to provide:

  • Safe streets – with safe space to walk, cycle, scoot and cross on quiet, low-traffic streets in neighbourhoods
  • Healthy streets – where active travel is the natural choice for short journeys and air is clean enough for children to breathe

So under its own terms of reference it has been very successful, almost overnight reducing rat-run traffic from around 10,000 vehicle movements a day along Auckland Road to a mere trickle.

A further measure of its success is that there are far more people walking, running, cycling, going shopping on foot along Auckland Road. Also more children are walking and even cycling unaccompanied to Cypress School and there has been a mass transfer of Harris pupils from buses to walking.

Has there been any downsides?

Click to enlarge

The Crystal Palace LTN in particular has provoked the ire of the 8% who strongly oppose LTNs, who cite increased congestion and pollution on main roads. There are two consequences of significant volumes of traffic being pushed back to main roads which should be addressed.

  1. Occasionally, main roads cannot manage the increasing levels of traffic that they were never designed for. Those who want to drive their cars come-what-may, think that it is perfectly acceptable for residential roads to act as a pressure relief. The alternative is to find ways of reducing traffic and the most promising target is the 49% of journeys under 3km.

    One of the positive/negative aspects of sitting in traffic is the chance to ponder on whether it is a sensible choice to take a car when walking or cycling could be easier, quicker and more pleasurable. And the purpose of the government instruction for “local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians” was to encourage drivers to make this decision. If you do not provide safe passage for people who want to convert to active travel, they won’t do it.

    The question remains is what to do if insufficient people change their driving habits. It will have to be a combination of carrot and stick – make it more pleasant not to drive and impose sanctions on those that insist on carrying on, while providing support for certain categories of people who have no alternative to driving.
  2. Rat-run traffic finds other residential roads to travel on. The answer to that is simple – introduce Low Traffic Neighbourhoods on those streets too.

Why do we need to defend LTNs?

On their own LTNs do little to tackle our overuse of cars in Crystal Palace. They provide a safe, unpolluted and quiet neighbourhood for residents and a safe place for all local people to travel without a car.

The reason they come under frenzied attack is that LTNs are the first arena where society (government, DfT, Mayor of London, TFL, Croydon Council, the 57% of the population who are supportive of LTNs) has imposed restrictions on the use of motorised vehicles.

LTNs are the foothills. If we cannot protect our LTNs there is no prospect of us tackling the greater heights of:

  • Climate change
  • Pollution causing death and asthma
  • Vehicles causing deaths and serious injuries
  • Obesity and ill health due to lack of exercise
  • Just providing a pleasant city environment that is not dominated by motorised vehicles such as they enjoy on the continent.

What kind of world to you want to transition to?

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