Unfortunately, the nature of eventful, blogworthy weeks is that you don’t get time to blog them. So after the busy revolutionary week I was looking forward to in my last post came a week of half term holiday, which coincided with some freelance work that I didn’t feel I could turn down, and with Mr Suburbanite getting himself coshed in the ear with a close-range football which completely incapacitated him for the duration. (It goes to show that he must be helping round the house more than I give him credit for, because while he was out of action and in a rather large amount of pain I seem to have done nothing but housework. And work work, after the kids have gone to bed.)
So, from what I can remember, the fun began that week with the play street meeting in a café. The café owner had a last-minute stroke of inspiration regarding the arrangement of tables and chairs in the room we were renting from her, and all 30-ish people got to sit down. 14 streets were represented, and at the end everyone seemed very positive about setting up their own play streets. Two streets that I know of have since got some flyers printed to bombard their neighbours with, and once you’ve done that there’s no turning back, I reckon…
Then Tuesday saw the Quieter Neighbourhoods ‘design workshop’. This was for residents from a large residential area to tell the council how we want our neighbourhood to be more people-friendly, i.e. less dominated by speeding motor traffic. As it happened, the day before the meeting I noticed via Facebook that the Waltham Forest Mini-Holland bid had been voted through unanimously by the council. I looked up their plans via the very articulate Waltham Forest Cycle Campaign website, and because traffic engineering seems to be what gets me going these days (perhaps the menopause is approaching) it blew me away. Those crazy people in Waltham Forest have decided to create ‘villages’ out of three large residential areas in central Walthamstow by closing a large number of streets to any through traffic. Closing them! With bollards – planters – gates – or anything they can get their hands on, by the sound of it.
On quieter roads, let cyclists and pedestrians through, but reduce motor traffic access and speed. Road closures, pedestrian/cycle areas and speed reduction on quiet, residential roads (especially when clustered to eliminate traffic just driving through an area without stopping) are cheap and brilliant ways to not only enable cyclists of all abilities to get around in a safe, calm environment, but also make where we live “Living Streets” where kids can play out, where neighbours can chat etc. This is why we believe the council should not be designing residential streets to encourage through traffic onto them.
Can you imagine? Whole blocks of residential streets with no rat-running. Kids playing out in the sunshine, grannies chatting on the benches that would of course appear on pavements, flowers blooming in the wooden planters at the end of each street…basically world peace! The weird thing is that this has never occurred to any of us who have wrung our hands about rat-running and speeding and the lack of community on our streets. We’ve talked about closing our own road, because it’s such an extreme rat run right next to the town centre, but always with a sense of guilt – because of course it would just divert nuisance drivers onto neighbouring streets. It never occurred to us to take the stance that none of our residential streets should allow through traffic – close the lot, and keep all the traffic on the main roads.
Of course, the instant objection is that wouldn’t that make for horribly congested main roads…? I guess the answer, in theory, is that with better cycle infrastructure – segregated cycle lanes on the main roads, and a network of quiet streets to cycle through – some of that traffic would simply evaporate.
Overcome with this idea, and with a recent dose of Anadin Extra to deal with the tail end of a cold, I went to the Quieter Neighbourhoods meeting and wasn’t very quiet. We were put in groups of about 12 and given a large map of the area, along with a bunch of stickers in various shapes and colours to represent the changes we wanted to see. I turned into a road closure evangelist. We’d decided that red stickers indicated ‘closed road’ and I found myself offering these around the group like peanuts – ‘road closure anyone?’ – and when no one objected too strongly, I stuck them on myself. I closed every single road in the area with the exception of the bus routes and, when I understood the map a bit better, the railway line. It was pointed out by the council traffic engineer that you can only close a road if there’s room for a turning circle at one end, which might limit my schemes somewhat, but as a last resort there’s something called a ‘point no entry’. I’m still not entirely sure what one of these is, but the effect is meant to be that you can only access the street through one end without a physical closure. (If you’re a traffic engineer, you can explain in the comments.)
Each of the four groups fed back to the whole meeting. I’d raised the Waltham Forest ‘village’ model before our discussion at our tables, and in each group, it was the one thing no one could agree on. (Our group was the exception but I think I’d basically steamrollered everyone. Anadin Extra is powerful stuff, you know.) There was, however, complete unanimity about the desire to reduce through traffic and to reclaim the sense that we are a neighbourhood, not a route. I think those who baulked at closing roads were probably held back by what had stopped the idea occurring to us in the first place: that it’s not fair on the poor drivers. They have places to get to and mustn’t be delayed. I think somewhere at the back of our minds we have all been cowed into the notion that car is king.
I will end with the wise words of Waltham Forest Cycle Campaign, and finish reporting on my week another day:
The term “ratrunning” is not meant to be anti-driving. Many of of us (including most cyclists) drive a car. And if it’s very convenient to drive 2km to school, or to the tube, it’s hardly surprising lots of people do it. But we have to recognise enabling and encouraging that behaviour isn’t helpful overall. We need a lot more people to get out of cars for short and unnecessary journeys…The aim of the schemes isn’t to force people out of cars, it’s simply to slightly rebalance the convenience of car driving for some journeys with walking and cycling. The result we hope is more people who don’t really need to drive getting out and about on foot or by bike, leaving more space on roads for those who genuinely need to drive.
It’s a lovely idea, and I can dream.