‘Greenwich’s politicians should commit to Climate Safe Streets this election’

Rotherhithe Tunnel cycle hire station
Hire bikes and more protected lanes would be a boost for Greenwich

COMMENT: The London Cycling Campaign is launching its Climate Safe Streets campaign today, ahead of May’s council elections in the capital. CHRIS KING of Greenwich Cyclists explains why he wants local politicians to commit to change when they ask for our votes.

We have record temperatures in Antarctica. Fuel prices are at all-time highs. High air pollution warnings have been issued for London. The message is clear: something has to change.

Why shouldn’t that something be our streets? The number of miles driven by vehicles on roads in the Royal Borough of Greenwich rose by nearly 130 million in the decade to 2019. The number of cars registered in the borough went up by almost 7,000 in the ten years to 2020. It is hardly surprising that many roads are struggling to cope with this surge, especially as cars are becoming so much larger while our streets remain the same size.

Greenwich Council is well aware of the climate crisis. Since declaring a climate emergency in 2019, the council has devised and adopted a carbon-neutral planwelcomed by the opposition – which sets out the need to reduce car use by 45 per cent by 2030. This is a bold ambition but one that is plainly achievable with enough political will. Especially as more than 40 per cent of households do not have access to a car.

Cycleway 4
Incoherent strategy: Cycleway 4 in Charlton has been a success – but has been closed for four weeks without explanation

Which leads neatly on to Climate Safe Streets. Transport generates 31 per cent of emissions in the borough and simply swapping all the existing petrol and diesel vehicles on our roads for electric ones will not be a magic bullet. We have to go further and reimagine the very way we get around. Greenwich Council is saying all the right things about the climate but words have not always been matched by action.

Insisting on annual targets to cut vehicle use, with steps outlined publicly and clear criteria for success and failure, is the only way to ensure action is taken in this critical decade for the climate.

That is why, ahead of the elections in May, we are calling on the leaders of all major political parties in Greenwich to commit to five asks aimed at creating Climate Safe Streets.

What might these look like? More attractive, for a start, with proper enforcement against pavement parking and unnecessary street clutter removed. Pocket parks that aid flood resilience in a borough where scientists warn many areas could be regularly flooded by 2030. Wider footways to make it easier to walk short journeys and more pedestrian crossings on roads where those on foot have for too long been an afterthought.

Invicta School school street
School streets can help protect children from drivers’ fumes

How about healthy school streets across the borough, protecting children from the fumes of idling engines as they walk, scoot or cycle with their parents? The average primary school run is, after all, just 1.6 miles – a distance that would take no longer than 15 minutes to cycle – and one in four vehicles on the road at the morning peak are taking children to school.

The council’s recent Healthy Streets report shows Greenwich falling behind the London average in improving the mode share of sustainable travel. In that report, councillors called for a heavy focus on healthy streets in Greenwich. Yes, that means some restrictions on vehicle access, but schemes such as this command support across the political divide.

But the primary means by which the council can achieve the 45 per cent reduction in car use is, unsurprisingly, by cutting the number of vehicles on the roads. Which is where e-bikes come in. A criticism often levelled at active travel campaigners is that not everyone wants to or can cycle. But e-bikes are a game-changer in this regard. In a borough with plenty of challenging hills, these enable people to get around with ease. The council was running a popular e-bike hire scheme before the pandemic and should restart it as soon as possible.

E-cargo bike
E-cargo bikes, such as the one used by Drings in west Greenwich, can help take vans off the road (Photo: Sharing Cities)

In the commercial sphere, e-cargo bikes can and should at least partially replace the fleet of vans on our streets, unlocking the roads for those who truly need to drive, such as people with disabilities. Abandoned car parks, disused warehouses and other industrial land should be transformed into last-mile delivery hubs, easing the pressure on the road network. A trial involving a Greenwich butcher’s shop reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 75 per cent. Just imagine what this could do on a borough-wide scale.

The patchy provision of cycling infrastructure also needs to improve. Greenwich has for years been crying out for a strategic cycle network that is protected, safe, well-lit and accessible. The borough’s public transport issues are well known, but creating routes between stations for people on bikes would help bridge the gaps, particularly with the imminent arrival of the Elizabeth Line in Woolwich.

Oh, and while we’re at it, we think Greenwich is a long overdue addition to the Santander Cycles hire scheme, especially now e-bikes are finally being rolled out.

Victoria Way
Fenced in: Many of the borough’s streets are hostile to pedestrians and cyclists

Change can be difficult. Many people feel scared about what they think they might lose and that prevents them from realising what they could win. The discussion around transport in Greenwich of late has been rather toxic and the cause of active travel has taken a knock. But we can have a greener, cleaner borough, with 20mph speed limits, more pleasant streetscapes, robust consultations on traffic schemes, zero-emission car hire programmes, more cycle hangars and parklets instead of metal gates.

You can expect to hear plenty more about this campaign over the coming weeks and we are planning a Climate Ride next month, so keep an eye on our Twitter account. I hope you will support our campaign by emailing the leaders of all major political parties in Greenwich and asking them to commit to adopting these policies. Time is running out but it is not too late to make a difference. Business as usual is not an option.

CHRIS KING is one of two Climate Safe Streets champions for Greenwich. To find out more about the campaign, visit the London Cycling Campaign website or follow its local group, Greenwich Cyclists, on Twitter

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