When the roads change, we need to wait a bit…
13:30 30 January 2020
London Cycling Campaign’s Simon Munk wants new road schemes to be given a chance.
Recent road schemes in north London have brought welcome changes to improve safety, cut motor traffic and get more people to ditch car journeys when they can. Given we’re in the midst of a climate emergency, you’d think people would be positive about these changes. And indeed, in general, they are. That positivity however seems in short supply when it comes down to our car, our street, our area.
The government’s National Travel Attitudes Study recently found 73pc of us thinks “for the sake of the environment, everyone should reduce how much they use their cars”. And that’s up over 10pc in just two years. Every London survey backs these results; Londoners are clearly aware of how unnecessary car use is creating crises of not just climate change but also childhood inactivity, pollution and road danger too.
We agree our roads need to change, we need to use cars less. Just not when it’s our street set for changes. Increasingly even fairly minor road schemes see the apocalypse invoked as the likely result by very vocal residents. These regular panic attacks threaten to derail progress on cutting emissions and saving lives. This then is a plea to do three simple things before you next take to social media, comment section of the local paper online, or start a petition going among neighbours because TfL or the local council say they’re going to do something in your area: Assess the evidence, ask the experts. We’re not all roads engineers or traffic modellers. And while they don’t always get it right, it’s not OK to just dismiss experts as idiots and their evidence as lies. We know where that leads – politicians that consider public approval as all-powerful and treat practitioners such as teachers and nurses as morons. It certainly doesn’t lead to good schemes getting better.
Wait for schemes to bed in. Every time a water main bursts, and a main road shuts down for months on end without warning, there’s one day of panic, then we all get on with being Londoners and having a quiet grumble. Yet, every time anyone trials anything even relatively minor (Crouch End, I’m looking at you) or a new scheme goes in (Highbury Corner) everyone decides in the first week, often even well before the scheme happens, it’s the end of the world as we know it. It isn’t but it can take months, even over a year, for traffic to adjust. Wait. Wait. Wait. Unless you’re wanting to highlight an urgent safety issue, such as with the pedestrian crossings at Tottenham Court Road that were seeing collisions, or the blocked pedestrian crossings at Highbury Corner right now.
Finally, accept change – even when it’s imperfect. We asked for it, we need it, and London changes whether we accept individual schemes or not. Our population is growing, more folks are using taxi and minicab apps, and asking for their internet shopping tomorrow. So what do we best do about this? Accept schemes that are progressive, even champion them. Stop saying “this scheme will turn my three minute car journey into a 30 minute one, and cause more pollution” (for starters, don’t drive three minute car journeys if at all possible) and start saying “we need a lot more of this, faster, if we’re serious about climate change”. And don’t make perfect the enemy of good – yes, engineers make mistakes and councils often don’t know how to talk to residents, but work to make OK schemes good, not fight to kill them off because they didn’t talk to you nicely.