Cyclists should marshal school ‘walking buses’, Greenwich Council transport boss says

School sign
Campaigners should help parents get out of their cars, Merrill told councillors

Cyclists should give up their free time to help marshal “walking buses” for children to get to school, Greenwich’s cabinet member for transport has said.

Sarah Merrill, who scrapped a low-traffic neighbourhood in west Greenwich last week, complained that too many people lobby her on cutting car use in the borough, before getting in their vehicles themselves.

She spoke as Victoria Rance, a campaigner from the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition, asked her how the borough expected to achieve its climate emergency target of cutting car use by 45 per cent by 2030 if it continued to support the tunnel and had scrapped its only low-traffic neighbourhood. Rance suggested setting interim targets to monitor the council’s progress.

“There’s an awful lot invested in targets, but what everyone needs to do is get out of their cars,” Merrill told last Thursday’s council meeting.

“There are an awful lot of people who lobby me, and then they get in their car, and that can be said of all areas across the borough.”

Government targets for switching to electric cars would still lead to congestion, she said.

“I want to do proper measures, I want to include the community in that, and I want to I need the various lobbies, including the cycling lobby, to give me volunteer time to man school walking buses, for example,” Merrill – who is married to Neil Robertson, the co-ordinator of Greenwich Cyclists – said.

“I’m going to start saying to a lot of lobby groups – put your money where your mouth is. We need volunteers for these projects and we need to get these cars off the road.”

School run traffic – such as at Our Lady of Grace in Charlton – is a big contributor to congestion

Unusually, Merrill was pressed on this by a Labour councillor – Aidan Smith, who represents Greenwich West, where the low-traffic neighbourhood was scrapped. Labour councillors usually refrain from asking critical questions because of the risk of party sanctions.

“We’re removing an LTN that’s proven to cut traffic. You mentioned school walking buses, but what other measures will the council take to cut traffic by 45 per cent over eight years?” he asked.

School traffic was a “massive contributor” to congestion, Merrill said, “so I can’t belittle the importance of that, but I can only address it if I get a lot of volunteers.”

The council was also looking at dealing with freight traffic with “last mile” delivery hubs, Merrill added.

“At the end of the day, it’s incumbent on all of us in Greenwich to stop using our cars,” she said.

“Somehow, I’ve got to get communities to buy into that idea so they don’t feel so punished.”

While Merrill dismissed setting interim targets for cutting car use, Greenwich & Woolwich’s Labour MP Matt Pennycook called for just that in his response to the scrapping of the low-traffic neighbourhood.

“To relieve pressure on local arterial roads in the years ahead the council needs to bring forward, as a matter of urgency, a credible plan, with measurable interim targets, for achieving the 45% reduction in car use by 2030 it has committed to in its carbon neutral plan,” he said on social media.

He called for “clarity in relation to the precise reasons that the Council has opted to remove the scheme – not least because residents will want to know that the forthcoming alternative LTN traffic scheme for west Greenwich will be judged on the basis of objective criteria”.

Planters on Maidenstone Hill
Traffic restrictions on back roads in west Greenwich are being removed

“We need a firm timeline for the process of developing the promised alternative LTN traffic scheme for west Greenwich and undertaking a fair, accessible, transparent, and inclusive consultation with local residents about it,” he added.

“The risks associated with excessive traffic and dangerous driving in an area with many narrow streets that is home to two schools will return with a vengeance once the scheme is withdrawn. The process of developing an alternative solution cannot be kicked into the long grass.

“Any alternative LTN scheme for west Greenwich must form part of a wider traffic reduction strategy encompassing all the communities between the upper and lower roads, from Greenwich through to Woolwich.”

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