Did B&NES councillors get a sombre vision of a nightmare future at last night’s crowded public meeting in Bath where locals had gathered to hear more about introducing low traffic neighbourhoods?
Will they – in threatening to stop ‘pandering to the motorists’ and putting pedestrians and cyclists first – be faced with 500 people on the Guildhall steps armed with ‘No Berlin Wall’ posters and a mock coffin with the council leaders name on it?!
It was one image presented – in a PowerPoint presentation – to a crowded Banqueting Room audience by the Deputy Leader of the London Borough of Waltham Forest, Cllr Clyde Loakes.
His authority had been one of three in our capital city granted money by the then cycle-mad Mayor of London – Boris Johnson – to be spent on creating ‘villages’ – areas where rat-runs and environmental pollution was a major issue. It was all about ‘civilising our streets’ and giving the ‘ownership of them back to the residents.’
Cllr Loakes then showed the visuals of what he described as ‘ the biggest demo ever with 500 on the council steps’ complete with a coffin with his name on it and lots of ‘No to an Iron Curtain’ placards to go with it.
Slightly ironic he thought as swingeing cuts in monies for social services – that they were enduring – seemed to be a greater personal affront, but that situation had seen no protest.
A few years later and residents were basking in the new environmental figures that showed less air pollution, markedly less traffic on their residential streets and a new green and friendly atmosphere where pedestrians and cyclists were being put first.
Cllr Loakes had been invited to Bath – to give an expert briefing – by Lambridge Ward representative, Cllr Joanna Wright, who is cabinet member for Transport Services.
She has made no secret of her push for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods as being part of the Clean Air Zone package B&NES was introducing having declared a ‘Climate Emergency.’
Introducing our visiting London councillor, she said 29 per cent of Bath’s carbon emission problems came from transport and that 43 per cent of journeys across the city were 3 kilometres long – that’s under two miles.
‘This is no longer acceptable’, she said. Environmental issues existed on a bed ‘of politically shifting sand’ and she needed the ‘on-going support of our community of the next two years to introduce low traffic neighbourhoods across Bath and change the way people travel.’
Cllr Loakes admitted that his London borough – was just that – a part of the capital city. Bath, meanwhile, was a city in its own right and one with major traffic routes running through the middle of it.
However, he wanted to explain the significance of traffic-calming measures in residential areas where roads had not been built to take high volumes of traffic. This was a transformation that Bath could take on board.
‘Be prepared for demos,’ he said, ‘but all the evidence is on your side. It’s time to turn traditional arguments on their head to establish a different regime.’
Bath will have to get used to hearing the term ‘modal filter’ from now on. Cllr Loakes used it a lot. It refers to features used to limit access by certain modes of transport – to filter out some modes!
Despite our political break away from the mainland, this is a Dutch idea used to filter motor traffic and putting pedestrians and cyclists first. Now UK authorities are looking to adopt these ‘Mini-Holland’ schemes.
Cllr Loakes said local authorities had been ‘tinkering’ with the traffic issue for too long and it was time to stop ‘pandering to the motorist.’
There’s a huge variety in the types of ‘filters’ too – from simple rows of bollards to filters with cycle parking and planters.
Built into the schemes could be universal residents parking permits, timed closures of roads to external traffic, and road markings and barriers that put people, cyclists and buses first!
Visiting Bath for the first time – and almost overcome by the chandeliers in one of the city’s finest Georgian spaces – he said he was determined to get Waltham Forest’s winning message across.
He summed up his talk with three main points about where his authority (and others maybe) should go from here.
All highways and transport schemes are now seen through the prism of healthy streets and low traffic neighbourhoods. Whether a basic resurfacing or parking scheme, there are positive interventions to be made.
We need to lobby for 20 mph to be the Uk default speed in urban areas, with powers to enforce implemented and utilised by the police or local authorities.
Finally, to campaign for a 21st century Highway Code that has at its heart the embodiment and defence of healthy streets and low traffic neighbourhoods over the needs and demands of the private motor car.
‘Pedestrians and cyclists have a common challenge’ – he said – ‘and that’s the motorist!’