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“Extreme, undemocratic, and dangerous”: Council scraps majority of low traffic neighbourhoods – despite “overwhelming” public support for cycling and walking schemes

Tower Hamlets Council has voted to axe the traffic-calming schemes, after consultations showed that the majority of residents wanted to keep the measures

A residents’ group in East London has accused the local council of taking “the most extreme, undemocratic, and dangerous decision available”, after it voted to remove most of the borough’s low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) schemes – despite a series of consultations showing that residents are in favour of retaining the traffic-calming measures.

Last night, Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman, as a protest was staged outside the town hall, decided to scrap the walking and cycling initiatives introduced by the previous Labour administration in 2021 in Columbia Road, Arnold Circus, and Old Bethnal Green.

A similar Liveable Streets scheme on Canrobert Street, however, has been retained, while a bus gate restriction in Wapping was kept due to “exceptional” support in a consultation last year.

Rahman, whose Aspire Party won 24 of the borough’s 45 seats at last May’s local elections after standing on pro-car platform, has spent his time in office rolling back initiatives aimed at reducing motor vehicle traffic and promoting active travel, which he claims have increased congestion and contributed to more CO2 emissions in the area.

Last October, the council put an end to School Streets initiatives in the borough, designed to restrict the use of motor vehicles outside schools at drop-off and pick-up times, despite opposition from teachers, parents and pupils.

Chisenhale Primary 'School Street' protest (credit - Twitter, ChisenhaleRoad)

> Children take to the barricades to save School Street

And at Wednesday’s meeting, Rahman – whose previous spell as Tower Hamlets mayor was cut short when he was found guilty of electoral fraud and “corrupt and illegal practices” – claimed that he was scrapping the LTNs because they “divided communities” and provided one of London’s “most contentious issues”, and that the council would instead invest £6 million in unidentified “active travel” schemes.

“While LTNs improve air quality in their immediate vicinity, they push traffic down surrounding arterial roads, typically lived on by less affluent residents,” he said.

“They are also a barrier for families to get around in what is the most densely populated place in the country. The result is division.”

However, Rahman’s decision comes despite the results of three consultations showing that the majority of residents living in the areas where LTNs have been installed were in favour of keeping them.

According to papers published by the council’s cabinet last week, 59 percent of residents in Bethnal Green supported retaining the traffic-calming schemes, while 58 percent of those surveyed in Arnold Circus were also in favour of the initiatives.

Among the “key concerns” raised by residents opposed to Rahman’s plans in the consultation were the potential loss of a contra-flow cycle lane, the road safety and air quality implications of pre-scheme traffic returning to the area, the removal of public realm improvements such as wider pavements and planting, and the costs of scrapping initiatives which had already received significant investment.

The council report also confirmed that air quality and road safety has improved both within the areas where the schemes have been implemented, as well as on boundary roads.

Earlier this year, the Met Police urged the council not to scrap the Liveable Streets schemes, pointing out that they have led to a “noticeable” reduction in anti-social behaviour.

> Police urge against scrapping low traffic neighbourhood, saying it reduces crime

Following the council’s decision last night, the group Save Our Safer Streets in Tower Hamlets Coalition has pledged to launch a legal challenge against what it describes as a decision that ignores what residents want, as well as “making the air dirtier and making cycling and walking more dangerous at a time when people need cheap forms of transport more than ever”.

“Lutfur Rahman has taken the most extreme, undemocratic, and dangerous decision available to him this evening. He has decided to rip out all the walking and cycling infrastructure in Bethnal Green,” the group posted on its Crowd Justice page last night.

“This is not the end. We know we have public support for our cause and the overwhelming evidence too. With the advice of our lawyers, we will monitor the legality of what the council has done.”

Jane Harris, a campaigner with Save Our Safer Streets, also told the BBC: “We are utterly dismayed by the mayor’s reckless and dangerous decision. He has shown absolute contempt for the health of children and older people in the borough.”

Meanwhile, the London Cycling Campaign said: “The future of Tower Hamlets, London, the planet, is not enabling drivers to shave 30 seconds off their journey by cutting down residential streets. The decision last night risks putting cut-through driving above kids’ lungs and safety.”

Hirra Khan Adeogun, co-director of climate charity Possible, told the Evening Standard that “the decision to rip out LTNs is a disaster for the local community”.

The Tower Hamlets resident continued: “Despite three consultations showing overwhelming public support, a mountain of evidence showing the benefits of calmer roads, and a compromise option on the table, Lutfur Rahman has elected to bin the schemes which protected some of the most deprived Londoners.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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22 comments

Avatar
Global Nomad | 9 months ago
6 likes

As someone who lives a street away from Arnold Circus (main picture) and unfortunately has Rahman as our mayor and filled in all these consultations it is despairing to think how easily they can be ignored. We asked everyone and then did what we want anyway....this isn't democracy and having someone convicted of illegal behaviour being able to stand as mayor is bizarre. 

Avatar
Prosper0 | 10 months ago
2 likes

Need to be a bit careful with the whole, 'against the consultation results' thing as these aren't referendums, and the results are often the other way round. That said, 3 consultations to keep the LTNs is quite a strong headwind for the council to take the opposite. 

Avatar
brooksby | 10 months ago
11 likes
Quote:

However, Rahman’s decision comes despite the results of three consultations showing that the majority of residents living in the areas where LTNs have been installed were in favour of keeping them.

Isn't that because the people who want to get rid of LTN are the people who would usually be rat-running through the middle of them.  Not the people who actually live there?

Avatar
Car Delenda Est replied to brooksby | 9 months ago
1 like

It's true you need a wise and truly democratic leader like Rahman to act on behalf of the residents who don't live there..

Avatar
eburtthebike | 10 months ago
7 likes

“Extreme, undemocratic, and dangerous”

In tory-dominated Britain, that's the norm.  Ok, this guy might have taken it a little far, but after Sunak's speech cutting all the green crap and destining our children and grandchildren to inherit a crisp of a planet, not that much farther.

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to eburtthebike | 10 months ago
8 likes
eburtthebike wrote:

“Extreme, undemocratic, and dangerous”

In tory-dominated Britain, that's the norm.  Ok, this guy might have taken it a little far, but after Sunak's speech cutting all the green crap and destining our children and grandchildren to inherit a crisp of a planet, not that much farther.

As you bring up the subject, what really snapped my cranks was that the "delay" of greener technology will end up costing us a lot more over time, so Sunak is basically completely lying about his entire proposal. It's purely a political machination and it's completely against our best interests.

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 10 months ago
3 likes

Surely every political party* takes as a given the current system where everything operates on credit?  Isn't this entirely consistent with that?  Pay less now / pay later!

(This one's for accountants really but IIRC basing a system on debt / credit can have some good features aside from jam today and smoothing out financial bumps.  It could have the potential to encourage interdependence and may have the potential to make us think a bit more long-term.  On the other hand we might just max out the national credit card on shiny semi-trucks and good luck to our descendents...)

* Not sure what Count Binface's policy was here?

Avatar
eburtthebike replied to hawkinspeter | 10 months ago
4 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

...so Sunak is basically completely lying...

Boris in a mask?

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to eburtthebike | 10 months ago
3 likes
eburtthebike wrote:

Boris in a mask?

Well he seems to be going against Boris' (May's?) green policies without a mandate for it, so I think he's worse. The problem with Boris was more his lack of integrity than his ideas.

Avatar
Sriracha replied to hawkinspeter | 10 months ago
5 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

...what really snapped my cranks...

I think you've posted in the wrong thread!
https://road.cc/content/tech-news/shimano-11-speed-hollowtech-road-crank...

Avatar
Car Delenda Est replied to hawkinspeter | 9 months ago
2 likes

The Tories have become the party of short term thinking and failing get rich quick schemes which they're quite open about.

Avatar
ROOTminus1 | 10 months ago
13 likes
road.cc wrote:

Rahman – whose previous spell as Tower Hamlets mayor was cut short when he was found guilty of electoral fraud and “corrupt and illegal practices”

Then how the actual f*ck did this person stand for any position of responsibility. The man should be in prison

Avatar
mattw replied to ROOTminus1 | 9 months ago
2 likes

He got a 5 year ban, which he served and formed a new political party.

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Fignon's ghost | 10 months ago
6 likes

This is lunacy.

This must be appealed.

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wycombewheeler | 10 months ago
9 likes
Quote:

Earlier this year, the Met Police urged the council not to scrap the Liveable Streets schemes, pointing out that they have led to a “noticeable” reduction in anti-social behaviour.

Amazing because allegedly removal of cars would create crime hotspots and no go areas according to the drivers throwing tantrums.

Avatar
hawkinspeter | 10 months ago
17 likes

Who would have guessed that the anti-LTN position is associated with corruption and illegality?

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Miller | 10 months ago
8 likes

His Wikipedia entry is eye opening. I'm getting the feeling his votes don't actually come from anti-LTN policies.

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Sriracha | 10 months ago
3 likes

I guess this is just imbyism - opposite of nimbyism. Everybody wants their own street to be a nice calm zone free from through traffic. And since they presumably drive to/from rather than through their own street, their own LTN imposes little enough restriction on themselves. Whereas to everybody for whom the LTN is just another roadblock on their journey for zero personal benefit, things are very different. So you will get the "democratic" mandate you want depending on where you cast your net.

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chrisonabike replied to Sriracha | 10 months ago
5 likes

I guess this is just imbyism - opposite of nimbyism. Everybody wants their own street to be a nice calm zone free from through traffic. .../quote]

Exactly.  That's why car ads are as they are - effortlessly get from where you are to where you want to be.  There's either no other traffic or they use it to explicity convey our fantasies e.g. being able to fly over it / through it - with no restrictions.

I'd not expect a massive majority ahead of this kind of change anyway (depending on demographics) for the following reasons:

- The elite / upper end of the scale likely see no great advantage; they'll maybe see disadvantages.  Smarter folks in public office will be leery of things that become bogeymen (for whatever reason) to those less well off.  Don't want the masses to get restless.
- The poorest will just see another immediate problem / more restrictions being imposed from above.

Normally the most expensive properties are in the most "desirable" places.  So either already in quiet streets / cul-de-sacs OR in well-connected urban centres.  The latter being chosen by people who want amenities immediately to hand but who often expect to travel efficiently also.  So already the "smart money" (which has bought these properties) is where it wants to be.  We're alright, Jack.  Change could well make it more annoying to get about.

For those struggling in a difficult situation (lack of money, health issues, demands of dependents, ageneral chaotic lifestyle etc.) the horizon of the future often shortens.  At that point any change is unwelcome because almost any change causes more inconvenience first before you get to the good stuff.  That could be during the building works or while the "system" is adjusting to the new state.

As survey after survey shows though most people are positive about these changes - after a settling-in period.  Most things which quietly work well (roads, pavements, kerbs, drains ...) are invisible (until they don't).

Avatar
Brauchsel | 10 months ago
10 likes

Lutfur Rahman, "undemocratic"?

It was embarrassing that his ethnically-based corrupt machine politics was able to get a toehold in UK politics; it's beyond scandalous that he was able to stand for office again after being caught the last time.

But it seems that the only votes that count in TH are still those controlled by ageing Bangladeshi men: until they stop liking fast cars, nothing will change. 

Avatar
jaymack replied to Brauchsel | 10 months ago
3 likes

The only votes that really count are the ones that come in wads...as the Sex Pistols never quite sang.

Avatar
jaymack replied to Brauchsel | 10 months ago
0 likes

The only votes that really count are the ones that come in wads...as the Sex Pistols never quite sang.

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