An east London council could be the first in the UK to cut rat running traffic on neighbourhood streets in a bid to ease pressure on its parks and pavements, as part of emergency plans to help people walk and cycle safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Hackney councillor has “crowdsourced” potential locations from residents on social media, and the council is in the process of creating a shortlist - but they are 100% planning to “filter” a number of residential streets to protect people from a growing number of speeding drivers on the borough’s roads.
The council will use low-cost planters and bollards on selected streets to allow walking and cycling through trips, and access to key workers and emergency vehicles, but preventing people driving through – a process known as filtering. According to the government, traffic levels on London’s main roads have dropped by 63% during the crisis.
Hackney Councillor, Jon Burke, said: “By creating those temporary liveable, healthy streets we could also be reducing pressure on some of our green spaces, as we approach some of the warmer months. If we heavily restrict the vehicles on the public highway people will be able to walk in the middle of the road safely, while socially distancing.”
Burke wants to “use this as a teachable moment to see what’s possible around road closures”.
He said: “We haven’t got weeks to deliver it, we need to deliver it now, because this crisis is happening now,” he says.
The council will treat the changes like an “ongoing event” during the crisis, and after the restrictions on movement are lifted they will ask residents if they want the changes made more permanent.
“I think we can create healthy urban environments in this moment. We might realise, with the support of the public, which might be able to stay afterwards, when we return,” he says.
“This is in inflection point in our future, we are running around making sure vulnerable people have enough food but we aren’t doing something about the 40,000 people that are dying each year because of air pollution.”
Although other councils may be quietly considering similar measures, Cllr Burke is the first politician in the UK to announce any action so far. Temporary cycle lanes on main roads won’t be part of Hackney’s plans, however, due to concerns over emergency vehicle access.
There are also concerns over increased levels of speeding during the crisis. Cllr Burke says on 30mph roads across London, average speeds are now 37mph.
“We have noticed a significant up-tick in speeding on our 20mph roads,” he says.
“The kinds of speeds we usually see at night when the roads are empty, we are now seeing in the day.”
He says while “the responsible drivers have heeded the government advice”, many of those still driving are behaving badly. Burke argues there is a case to “heavily fine and remove licenses of those individuals”.
The council will create a shortlist of locations on Monday, and a final decision will need approval from the cabinet and Hackney mayor. Cllr Burke says they will have the final list on 20 April.
Burke adds: “I think we have just got to throw stuff up against the wall and see what sticks, adding there is a risk that otherwise, “by the time we have got around to doing this the crisis will be over and we will be back to business as usual.”
London’s walking and cycling commissioner, Will Norman, says there are no citywide plans to implement emergency cycle lanes during the crisis.
Norman said: “The Mayor and the Government’s clear message is that Londoners should stay at home to save lives. Our continued investment in walking and cycling over the past four years is making it easier and safer for critical workers to get to where they need to be and we’ve ensured that NHS staff, care workers and the police can use our Santander Cycles hire bikes free of charge.”
“Any temporary cycle lanes on TfL’s road network would not be effective at keeping people safe without major changes to junctions. These changes would need to be installed by a significant number of on-site workers and the Mayor has made it clear that construction workers – including those who were constructing new cycleways - should not be travelling at this time.”
He adds road traffic has halved, making it easier to take advantage of quieter streets to cycle.
“We would remind drivers that breaking the speed limit is dangerous and especially reckless during this time of national crisis. Robust action will be taken against drivers who put themselves and others at risk.”