Plans to introduce a low-traffic neighbourhood in Blackheath and east Greenwich are “just the start” of a programme of schemes, Greenwich Council has said.
The council is consulting on plans to stop through traffic running down Maze Hill, Vanbrugh Hill, Halstow Road and Westcombe Hill in response to persistent jams in residential roads. Buses, emergency vehicles, walkers and cyclists will be able to use the roads as normal.
Maze Hill has been particularly badly hit since the upsurge in traffic following the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as similar traffic measures in west Greenwich and in Greenwich Park. Westcombe Hill is often used as an alternative to the six-lane motorway-standard A102, which runs alongside it.
Similar schemes across London – aimed at tackling a long-term increase in motor traffic in London, much of it borne by residential roads; as well as to make it safer for people to walk and cycle when public transport is restricted – have proved highly controversial, with often bitter campaigns for and against them. The west Greenwich scheme, which saw streets around Royal Hill and Hyde Vale blocked with planters, saw competing petitions both for and against the scheme and misleading claims that the ambulance service had objected. Two opposing campaigns have sprung up in Greenwich: Greener Maze Hill and Greenwich Gone Too Far.
This scheme will see cameras put in place on Maze Hill, Vanbrugh Hill and Westcombe Hill; planters will be installed on Halstow Road. One option mentioned on an online consultation is to make the measures only operate in the rush hour, with free access at other times.
While most schemes are clearly aimed at making back streets safer, many drivers will consider the three roads with cameras as main roads – particularly Westcombe Hill, which older motorists will remember as the main route to the Blackwall Tunnel until the late 1960s and is served by four bus routes.
Responses to the council’s proposals on its consultation website have been overwhelmingly hostile, although it is unclear how many respondents live within the affected area and how many are drivers from outside who object to the upheaval of taking a different route. In the Blackheath Westcombe ward which makes up the south of the area, 36 per cent of residents do not have a car – a figure that rises to 48.8 per cent in Peninsula ward to the north, which suffers the most from congestion.
One risk of the Maze Hill and Westcombe Park scheme is that traffic will simply move to another rat-run – Eastcombe Avenue and Victoria Way in Charlton. TfL analysis given to councils last summer indicated that Charlton and the western part of Woolwich was the area of Greenwich borough most suited to hosting a low-traffic neighbourhood.
Asked if the council had contingency plans in place if that happened, the cabinet member for environment, sustainability and transport, Sizwe James, said: “During the experimental period we would assess any impact on surrounding areas including the Eastcombe Avenue and Victoria Way routes. Schemes can be improved, and additional measures put in to reduce traffic on other residential streets.
“Due to funding arrangements, we cannot work on all areas at once, but we have got more proposals in the pipeline for other areas which we will be consulting on soon. This is just the start.”
He said the consultation was for “initial proposals” and added: “Any measures would be implemented as an experimental scheme with a full consultation forming part of this process.”
“Our proposals are based on traffic analysis and concerns about increasing traffic raised by local residents. We’re collecting residents’ views on traffic levels in recent years, whether levels have increased and how residents have been affected,” he said.
“If we don’t act now traffic will only continue to get worse. It has already doubled over the last decade in London and in our borough alone between 2014 and 2019 the number of miles driven on our roads increased by one hundred and thirty million.
“People who choose to drive through residential areas are disproportionately affecting everyone’s quality of life – due to air and noise pollution, speeding and illegal parking.
“The proposals would not stop anyone from using their car if they want or have to, but would direct vehicles on to the main roads that were designed to carry them in the first place.
“Why should the health of our residents and in particular our children be at the mercy of drivers who do not even live in the borough taking short-cuts through residential areas because that’s what their mobile sat-navs told them to do. It may even make people question what their first choice of transport is if they feel safer walking, cycling or wheeling because their streets are no longer dominated by heavy traffic.
“If we want to reduce the amount of people with heart disease, osteoarthritis and cancers caused by inactive lifestyles or asthma and respiratory diseases caused by car exhausts then we have to be brave and we have to begin somewhere. The gases from these vehicles are causing a third of all our emissions too – making the planet warmer and directly contributing to climate change.”
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