Hackney Council has been forced to back pedal on a proposed trial closure of 13 junctions, designed to cut rat running and encourage more walking and cycling, following vociferous local opposition to the scheme.
Hackney Council was originally going to trial the scheme before consultation, so people could see the changes before making up their minds about it, but was forced to abandon this plan amid fierce opposition and will now consult on a number of options first.
The proposed three month trial closure of a handful of streets around London Fields, on what will become a quietway for cyclists, attracted coverage in national newspapers and hundreds of signatures for petitions on both sides, and became a flashpoint for residents, with some reporting sabotage and online trolling following their involvement in campaigns to support the scheme.
At a council meeting attended by road.cc and around 350 residents and campaigners on Monday, some local people complained of a lack of consultation from the Council while others said the scheme was biased towards cycling. Concerns were also raised over the threat cyclists pose to pedestrians and potential negative effects on the community of closing streets to through traffic.
Following the meeting Kim Wright, Hackney Council’s Corporate Director of Health and Community Services, told road.cc: “The Council had planned to trial a road closure scheme in the new year and consult residents at the same time. However, due to very strong feeling on both sides and the high levels of public interest, the Council will instead hold a full public consultation, starting in January, which will allow residents to have their say on a number of options, before any decisions are made.
“The data will be independently analysed by a market research organisation, to ensure that residents can have full confidence in the integrity of the analysis. We hope we can move forward in the new year with something that has broad public support.”
Attendees were angry about aggressive cycling in the area, and questioned why cyclists, a small minority of road users, were being given so much attention, while some failed to see there is a problem with traffic in the area to begin with.
In Hackney more people commute by bike than by car, and the Council has set a target that a quarter of all Hackney commutes are made by bike by 2024. It also wants to encourage more people to walk and cycle more, and to reduce air pollution, which more than 20,000 school children in the borough are exposed to.
The London Fields area under question, specifically Middleton Road, will form part of a Transport for London (TfL) funded “quietway” from Bloomsbury to Walthamstow, primarily along the existing London Cycle Network route, which has existed since the early 2000s.
Under criteria set out by TfL, in order for a quietway to feel safe for less confident cyclists the route needs less than 2000 vehicles using it per day. Hackney Council traffic count data shows Middleton Road has an average of between 3800 and 4600 vehicles along different sections of the route.
The trial 13 junction closures were originally planned to reduce some of this traffic, and now Wright says the council will put forward different options to meet TfL standards and one of its own key objectives, which is to “reduce non-essential private car journeys and reduce the impact of through traffic”.
Monday’s meeting was originally due to take place last month but had to be relocated to a larger venue following an unprecedented high turnout - normally Hackney Council ward meetings attract around 20 attendees. The council will use residents’ ideas and points raised to help shape the consultation.
Wright says Hackney Council recognises as more residents choose to cycle conflict, both real and perceived, will increase, and says it will seek to address these issues, adding “the safety and comfort of pedestrians and vulnerable road users is our highest priority.”