Lewisham’s elected mayor has conceded that a scheme to boost walking and cycling in parts of Lee Green and Hither Green has caused increased traffic in neighbouring areas – but wants to make changes to the programme rather than scrap it altogether.
Barriers and bus gates have been put in place at 13 locations from Lewisham town centre to the boundary with Greenwich borough at Lee Green to stop traffic using residential streets to avoid the South Circular and other major roads, and to encourage people to walk or ride a bike for short journeys.
The scheme was first planned as a “healthy neighbourhoods” project last year, but a trial was rushed through in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown when government funding became available. Since the measures were put in at the end of June, traffic has dropped markedly in some streets – particularly immediately east of Hither Green station.
But people in adjoining areas not part of the scheme have complained of heavy traffic – particularly on Hither Green Lane, prompting a resident petition for the low traffic neighbourhood to be extended west of the station.
Persistent congestion on the South Circular – coinciding with a general increase in traffic compared with this time last year – have also worried residents. The situation was exacerbated this week by a burst water main on the South Circular, with traffic not allowed to cut through Hither Green to escape a road closure. Some residents believe the scheme has prioritised a more affluent area over its less well-off neighbours.
Apologising to residents, Damien Egan, who leads the council, said that while “the vast majority” of people he had spoken to supported the principle of low traffic neighbourhoods, “our scheme that was implemented in Lee Green is causing problems in neighbouring areas”.
“We are very aware of this and are working urgently to plan changes which we hope will see things improve,” the mayor said. “We will share those ideas with residents before implementing any more changes.
“All our measures are a trial. If we cannot make the scheme work, we won’t continue with it. But we should take the opportunity to try and make it work because if we can get it right, the benefits will be felt by thousands of residents.”
Egan said he was “sorry that people are experiencing problems and I understand why some people are feeling frustrated. I care deeply about our borough and I share some of that frustration.”
He added that the timeframe to obtain government funding for the measures was too short and had left Lewisham “playing catch-up as issues have emerged and it has taken longer than I would like to get them rectified”. But he added: “Investment from this government comes rarely and we’ve been eager not to lose the chance to get funding for our borough.”
The Lee Green low traffic neighbourhood was the largest in a series of schemes put in place in the wake of the pandemic to encourage more walking and cycling. Another temporary traffic measure – putting a filter on South Row in Blackheath to stop through traffic – only lasted a few weeks because of problems for service vehicles accessing almshouses at Morden College.
A number of London boroughs have installed low traffic neighbourhoods, which have aroused strong feelings in some. Weekly demonstrations against the schemes have been held in Islington. A small scheme around Royal Hill, west Greenwich has been hit by vandalism; an Ealing Council scheme in Northfields, west London, saw oil poured onto the road in an attempt to injure cyclists.
In Tooting, Wandsworth Council removed its scheme after just a month, saying changes that Transport for London had made to the adjacent A24 road had caused “confusion and long traffic queues”.
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