Upper Street blocked off by protesters against traffic measures
- Credit: André Langlois
Upper Street was blocked off on Thursday by protesters against Islington’s new “people-friendly streets” traffic measures.
Islington Council has introduced bollards, planters and cameras in St Peter’s and Cononbury East in a bid to make the streets easier to use by pedestrians and cyclists.
A website has been set up, on which residents can leave their thoughts on improving the roads, but a formal consultation will be held in 2021, when the measures have been in place for a year.
Though welcomed by many, the schemes have attracted objections from people who say there should have been a proper consultation, and that the measures are ill-conceived.
Cllr Rowena Champion, Islington’s environment and transport chief, said ahead of the protest that the council is taking a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to improve the streets.
“As well as creating a greener transport environment, people-friendly streets also come with a vast range of health benefits – making streets safer for children to play in, better suited for exercise, and bringing cleaner air for those with breathing difficulties,” she said.
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“The safety of our residents is an absolute priority, and that is why we have worked closely with emergency services before each people-friendly streets scheme is installed to make sure that they can continue to access every street. We continue to work with them to ensure that every crew is aware of the changes we are making.”
She said the council had offered to meet with organisers of the demonstration, which gathered outside the town hall, blocking the road before moving down Upper Street, towards Angel.
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A member of the organising group, Islington businessman Jody Graber, explained they turned down the offer because the council had not conceded to any of its five demands.
These are to remove bollards, signs and enforcement cameras, reopen the roads and halt the roll out of the Canonbury East scheme.
He believes the council is not willing to “listen or engage”: “There was no goodwill from the council - how can you meet with someone if there isn’t any goodwill?”
Window cleaner Craig Powell, one of the protesters, told the Gazette: “I get it - I want cleaner air - but there’s got to be more compromise for local residents, especially people who rely on their own transport to ferry kids to school and get to work.”
Craig lives in Prebend Street and said the changes around his home add time to his journey.
“For local residents who already own a car, who already pay their permit, I think there should be a little bit of compromise, so people who live in that area should be able to use it, but for anyone who’s commuting and cutting through then that’s fair enough,” he said. “I just think there should have been a little bit more compromise.”
He also has concerns about ambulances’ ability to access streets, and about motorists being fined because they have been caught on camera without realising there are restrictions.
Rebecca Kelly said the changes are not going to help the streets near her East Canonbury home.
“We’re not cabbies - I’m not even a motorist, I’m a cyclist,” she said. “Those roads in East Canonbury are big enough for everyone. I don’t think they need to be exclusively for cycles. There’s no problem with social distancing down there. They’re not congested roads but the roads around them are congested.
“Why not give residents access? We’re not a cash cow.”
Rebecca said it “isn’t about being pro-motorist and anti-cyclist”.
“It’s about pro-democracy,” she said. “We weren’t given a say. There’s no impact report, impact statement, about how it affects the needs of the community. It isn’t so simple for everyone to just jump on a bike.”
Joe Payne, from Islington, said: “I’m a London taxi driver and you just can’t get through any back streets any more. They’re trying to get us onto the main roads. They’re saying it’s to help cycling and walking - and the virus is the big point they’re talking about - social distancing. I feel it’s hidden behind that.”
Cllr Champion said TfL modelling shows that without action to improve streets, traffic will become worse than before the lockdown.
“Local people know their streets better than anyone else, and we are listening closely to the views and suggestions they have given us via our Commonplace webpage,” she said. “In addition, we will be consulting with local people 12 months into each people-friendly streets scheme to ask if they would like the measures to remain in place permanently.
Feedback on Islington’s streets can be left on the council’s website at https://islingtonpeoplefriendlystreets.commonplace.is/