Submission to Scrutiny & Overview Committee

Dear Committee Members

This email is on behalf of Shape Better Streets, a resident campaign for traffic reduction and active travel in the LTN area you will be discussing next week.  We broadly support Cllr Ali’s decision to reinstate the LTN in modified form.

Our position and the evidence to support it is set out in our detailed submission to the council’s consultation last autumn, supported by 11 local and London organisations and businesses supporting active travel and better environments.  So we are only making a few brief points by way of summary, cutting through the noise and misinformation which has, unfortunately, characterised much of the local debate.

Traffic in the LTN area has increased to intolerable levels over recent years

The LTN area has been a victim of the trend, set out in the officer report, for minor roads to become overrun by traffic, most of it just passing through. In 2019, up to 12,000 vehicles a day were recorded on the northern part of Auckland Road, over three times the level recorded just six years previously in 2013, and more than on the nearby main road Central Hill.  There can be no dispute about this level of traffic, it is recorded on a council monitoring device.  In summer 2020, obviously an atypical year, residents recorded over 6,000 vehicles a day on Sylvan Hill.  Auckland Road and other streets had turned into congested, polluted, relief roads for the local main road network, with appalling consequences for air quality, noise, and traffic safety.  The impact on residents is obvious, but the area also includes the main walking routes for students at the Harris Crystal Palace and Cypress Schools.  Traffic at these levels suppresses active travel, especially by children and older people: a number of us in the campaign would not have allowed children to walk or cycle on their own, or are middle-aged or older people who had stopped cycling because it felt too dangerous.

The impact of traffic volumes was made worse by driver behaviour.  On average, more than 80% of vehicles exceeded the posted 20 mph limit. The median speed recorded on the road was 26.4 mph–nearly a third above the speed limit.  Half of all vehicles drove faster than this.  The 85th percentile speed recorded was 33mph.  That is,15% of vehicles were being driven more than two thirds above the speed limit.  The highest speed recorded was 70mph, at about 8:50pm in the evening. Most hours of the day, at least one vehicle was recorded at over 45mph.

Despite the lockdown restrictions, the removal of the previous scheme has resulted in an increase in traffic on local streets.  Residents are again now subject to the air and noise pollution and traffic danger which was removed by the scheme.  Incidents reported to us include two instances of dangerous driving in proximity to child cyclists, and a woman cyclist being subjected to horn abuse, for no reason other than riding her bike along a public highway.  If the revised scheme is not swiftly put back in place, the gains made during the previous scheme in active travel will be completely lost.

The temporary LTN produced enormous benefits

The measures put in place in the spring and summer and removed last month transformed the local environment and residents’ travel choices.  Motor traffic, obviously, and by design, reduced significantly, restoring local air quality and tranquillity.  Over 200 residents of the LTN reported, in response to the council consultation, that they were walking and cycling more than before the spring lockdown, despite commuting continuing to be below normal levels.  70 respondents said their children have been walking and cycling more. Among other things, children are now cycling, some of them on their own, to Cypress School, something which simply did not happen previously.  A resident count in November, just three months after the completion of the LTN, showed a tripling of walking and cycling in Sylvan Hill compared with June.  Taken with the adjacent LTNs around Holmesdale Road and Albert Road, it is now possible to cycle fair distances on largely quiet streets.  This has enabled people in middle and later years to switch many journeys from driving to cycling.  This trend will surely strengthen if the LTN is reinstated: evidence from similar schemes elsewhere is that the full extent of behaviour change takes time.

Claims about adverse impacts are at best highly exaggerated

There clearly was some diversion of traffic on to streets in the Bromley Crystal Palace ward.  But, at worst, it was nowhere near the levels seen previously in the Croydon streets further south, and reduced further following the removal of the obstruction in Church Road over the summer and early autumn.  Hamlet Road, another Bromley street, benefited from significant traffic reduction.  If problems remain, Bromley Council could follow the guidance issued by the central government supported by its controlling group, and introduce its own measures to limit through traffic.  Claims of damage to the economy of the Triangle are even less plausible.  14 new businesses have opened in the Triangle in the second half of 2020 – in the middle of a pandemic.  At least three more have opened since the start of 2021.  85% of local businesses did not respond to the consultation, suggesting that among the very severe challenges many of them no doubt face at the moment, the LTN is not a cause of concern.

The proposals in the paper go a long way to meeting opponents’ concerns

Not only does the paper propose sensible changes, like moving the bus gate to improve access to the doctors’ surgery, it meets opponents’ original demands that residents should have better access through the LTN.  In fact, many of our members are concerned that the proposals to allow local resident access by ANPR gates and through the bus gate may go too far towards accommodating short private vehicle use again.  We are concerned this could lead to an increase in traffic, on Lancaster Road and Auckland Road particularly, which could start to suppress walking and cycling, especially by children and older people.  Far from disregarding the views of opponents, as they are claiming, the council’s proposals potentially compromise the council’s environmental objectives to give them much of what they said they want.

Our view on the proposals

We broadly back the proposals, subject to the careful monitoring proposed during the experiment, but would urge the committee to support three suggestions.

First, the monitoring should pay close attention to traffic levels at key points inside the LTN.  If motor traffic rises close to or beyond the 2,000 passenger vehicle units a day which is TfL’s yardstick for safe cycling routes without formal infrastructure, the concessions to local drivers should be reviewed.  More generally, we would emphasise strongly the importance of high quality and transparent monitoring.  The recent publications of monitoring reports by Islington and Lambeth Councils about their schemes has very helpfully addressed misinformation spread by scheme opponents, and provides a solid basis for moving forward with further schemes.

Second, better availability of car club vehicles offers potential to encourage more residents to give up individual car ownership. This should encourage active travel further since it will tend to limit car use to journeys for which there is no easy alternative.  We would suggest officers look into creating more dedicated parking spaces for car club vehicles.

Third, the council has not been making enough of the way the very welcome measures it has taken across the borough are making cycling safer and more attractive, especially for people beyond the stereotypical cycling demographic.  It should publicise much more strongly, for example, that it is now possible to cycle between Crystal Palace, South Norwood, Addiscombe, Selhurst and much of the way into Croydon along safe, quiet routes.  Our campaign and the organisations which support us would be glad to work with the council on this.

Action on the local environment is needed beyond the LTN

We believe the LTN is an important positive initiative, but it is not enough by itself.  More needs to be done to promote safe, active travel outside the LTN, especially in the town centres and other local main roads.  In particular, we hope the council will work with the new cross-borough Member forum to improve the business environment in the Triangle, including by making the area safer and more pleasant for walking and cycling. Our campaign and the organisations with which we work stand ready to assist with such initiatives.

There is currently a gap between the council’s declared high-level ambitions for the environment and active travel, and specific schemes such as that you are discussing next week.  Other boroughs, including Hackney and Haringey, have set out clear statements of intent, including plans eventually to make all parts of their boroughs low traffic. Of course, such ambitions can only be realised over a number of years, and as funding becomes available, but by setting out similar plans at this stage, with a clear rationale, Croydon Council could communicate better the reasons why healthy streets measures are right and address the sense of unfairness some residents feel about measures only being implemented in relatively small parts of the borough.

Thank you for your service to our community and all best wishes.

On behalf of Shape Better Streets

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