Editor’s comment: Why I’m all for roadworks at Old Street

The road layout showing what Old Street roundabout will look like after the work is done . Picture:

The road layout showing what Old Street roundabout will look like after the work is done . Picture: TfL, ISLINGTON COUNCIL AND HACKNEY COUNCIL - Credit: Archant

I used this space last week to talk about compromise in a crisis. That column was about housing, but the same is true of today’s report about the Old Street one-way system.

I find it hard to believe anyone is particularly attached to the circle of hell that lashes the A501 to the A5201 via a complex system of lights, lanes and exhaust fumes, to say nothing of the roundabout’s design – which is kind of horrible.

But roadworks are inconvenient and it will take some people longer to drive around it once the work is done. I’m willing to bet all of us will hear someone in the next few years moaning about the work at Old Street, and a few of us will probably find ourselves doing it.

When we do, remember this: seven pedestrians and cyclists have been seriously injured at the junction since 2010, including most recently journalist Sarah Doone. And they aren’t the only ones it’s bad for: the air around Old Street is filthy (it averages nearly double the EU’s legal limit for nitrogen oxide, according to an independent monitoring project in 2016). Air pollution is damaging the lung capacity of Islington’s children and killing an estimated 9,000 Londoners prematurely each year. Our roads are in crisis.

And like the housing crisis, the problem won’t be solved by one piece of infrastructure. But shouldn’t councils and TfL spend the money available and do what they can so long as it doesn’t stop them pushing for the funding and power to take tougher action too?

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Air pollution and road safety should never be trump cards that gag the legitimate scrutiny of major projects – but doing nothing is not an option. If this project doesn’t cut traffic or injuries, the people responsible must put it right, and be held to account. But the common good often means inconveniencing some to save others, and that’s what we elected our leaders to do. We must let them have a go.

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