A council consultation on how to deal with the endemic traffic problems in streets around Greenwich Park closes this Friday. CHRIS KING from Greenwich Cyclists says locals should call for quieter, safer streets.
This time last year, we were urging the leaders of the four main parties to pledge to create Climate Safe Streets. This time around, we are asking something a little different. We want you to help shape a brighter future for the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Meaningful change is slow and often hard, but always worth it.
Very few people would suggest reopening Greenwich Park to through traffic. It is incredible that it was ever allowed. When the west Greenwich low-traffic neighbourhood was removed, the council pledged to consult on a replacement scheme in recognition of the strength of feeling in the local area.
Lessons appear to have been learned and a new consultation is open until Friday 31 March on potential measures that would cover both sides of Greenwich Park, countering one of the main criticisms of the previous low-traffic zone. This is where you come in.
We have an opportunity to reimagine the way we get around. To turn our streets into places where people want to linger, rather than rush through. None of the issues that prompted the West Greenwich low-traffic neighbourhood have gone away.
Crooms Hill is still full of drivers trying to avoid queues on the A2. Children are still afraid to cross the road in case they are shouted at. Cyclists are pushed to the kerb and close-passed on steep hills. Vans and lorries still squeeze round narrow bends.
On the opposite side of the park, children are reportedly told not to cycle on Vanbrugh Hill, where drivers speed past stationary traffic on the wrong side of the road, in order to cut down residential streets. Pupils and their parents shuffle along tiny pavements and the 386 bus, a lifeline for the least wealthy residents, waits behind a stream of cars.
There are other pressing reasons to act. Greenwich Council declared a climate emergency in 2019. The town hall has adopted a carbon-neutral plan, which includes a target to reduce car use by 45 per cent by 2030. Plainly, this is ambitious, particularly with Transport for London ploughing ahead with the traffic-inducing Silvertown Tunnel, but it is not impossible.
The vehicle ownership data is instructive. To the west of the park, 48 per cent of households do not own a car. To the east, the figure is 42 per cent. We know people drive when it is encouraged and made easy and when they feel the alternatives are unsafe or inefficient. The alternatives – walking, cycling and using public transport – often fall into the latter category in Greenwich precisely because driving is made so easy.
Transport generates 31 per cent of emissions in our borough. Anyone who has ever taken a walk in Greenwich will know the acrid taste of pollution. And electric cars are not a panacea. Without decent funding for scrappage schemes and other policy interventions, transport will make up only a slightly smaller proportion of emissions by 2030.
And yes, our trains are not the most reliable. Anyone cursing the cancellation of the 8.18 to Cannon Street would be forgiven for thinking: “I’ll jump in the car instead.” But in boroughs such as Hackney, the obvious choice would be to hop on a bike. That is because Hackney took the bold decision to create miles of streets where traffic is restricted, and people feel safe to walk and cycle.
Many of the typical distances covered by car are short. The average primary school run is just 1.6 miles – a 15-minute cycle or 25-minute scoot – and one in four vehicles on the road at the morning peak are taking children to school.
Greenwich has tentatively embraced protected cycle lanes but there is still a long way to go. In Deptford, along Creek Road and Evelyn Street people are discovering just how quick, easy and painless it is to get into the City by bike thanks to Cycleway 4. Or pop to the shops on a mobility scooter. Would it not benefit all of us to have this option for north-south trips, too?
This time last year, we were extolling the virtues of school streets, less cluttered pavements, illegal parking enforcement, wider footways, more cycle parking and a strategic cycle network. We are still extolling them. But time is running out to reach those 2030 carbon-neutral goals.
We know many people feel scared about what they think they might lose, which prevents them from realising what they could win.
But we have an opportunity to transform our streets for the better. Not banning cars, just rebalancing the scales a little. Making other journeys safe and efficient, so people have a genuine choice. We encourage you to fill in the consultation and consider what it might be like if we were bold enough to ask for more than business as usual.
The consultation, which closes at 5pm on Friday 31 March, is at greenersafergreenwich.commonplace.is
Chris King is the London Cycling Campaign‘s Climate Safe Streets champion for Greenwich.
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