Coronavirus: Islington XR activists call on council to make roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians

Islington XR activist used stencils to paint a new cycle lane outside Islington Town Hall in Upper S

Islington XR activist used stencils to paint a new cycle lane outside Islington Town Hall in Upper Street. Picture: Islington XR - Credit: Archant

Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists painted “pop-up” cycle lanes around Islington during a weekend of socially distanced protests.

Islington XR activist used stencils to paint a new cycle lane outside Islington Town Hall in Upper S

Islington XR activist used stencils to paint a new cycle lane outside Islington Town Hall in Upper Street. Picture: Islington XR - Credit: Archant

Islington XR is calling on the council and TfL to urgently make the streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians, as more cars return to the roads due to the lockdown being gradually eased.

Rebels painted cycle lanes in Upper Street, Blackstock Road and Liverpool Road to show there are “quick, affordable solutions” to improving road safety.

Scores of adults and children also took part in a socially distanced bike ride through the streets of the borough, calling for safer roads and cleaner air.

In an open letter to the council and TfL, Islington XR said: “If Islington Council is serious about it’s own declaration of climate emergency and pledge to achieve a net carbon borough it must take this opportunity now on increasing space for safe walking and cycling.”

The government has released a £250million “emergency active travel fund” aimed at easing congestion on public transport as lockdown is lifted by encouraging people to walk and cycle.

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New cycle lanes, wider pavements and low traffic neighbourhoods in residential areas are among the emergency measures already underway.

Helena Farstad, of Islington XR, told the Gazette: “We need to change our expectations of who the streets are for and how we use the streets. And, in order for us in London to get around safely, we can not just rely on cars for two reasons: firstly, there is not enough space, and it’s damaging to health and the environment.

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“We know cyclists and pedestrians and [people] scooting are actually taking much less space, it’s better from a health and environmental point of view. This action is just to really demonstrate that now is the time to change, repurpose how we use space in our streets.”

Islington’s sole Green opposition councillor Caroline Russell said: “Residents are now taking matters into their own hands. I’ve been jumping up and down with frustration at Islington Council’s silence on the urgent need to act to make space for walking and cycling as we live with the ongoing virus threat and the massive reductions in tube and bus capacity to allow for social distancing.

“Obviously it’s not actually allowed to decorate roads but even the deputy mayor for transport Heidi Alexander praised actions of grateful residents in Lambeth who had beautifully decorated a new massively widened pavement overnight last week to say thank you.”

Islington Liberal Democrat spokesperson Kate Pothalingam said: “They are right to demand our streets are radically redesigned to allow safe walking and cycling. We have seen how reduced car usage during the Covid lockdown has given us all cleaner air for the first time in decades. Now is the time to make changes, to build back better, and the council must get on with it.

“I joined for part of the XR cycle ride - it made its point emphatically and with constructive good humour - many people we passed along the way were happy to show their support.”

Islington’s environment and transport lead Cllr Rowena Champion said: “Islington Council is committed to improving conditions for walking and cycling during the Covid-19 emergency, as doing so helps our residents make essential travel around the borough in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly manner.

“The council has already started the process of adapting the borough’s streets in order to make it easier to socially distance while walking and cycling, and we look forward to announcing further measures in the near future.

“Our priority is the health of our residents and we are working hard to limit the spread of this virus, whilst paving the way for healthier, sustainable transport that contributes towards our vision for a net zero carbon Islington by 2030.”

Sam Monck, TfL’s head of investment delivery planning for healthy streets, said: “We’re working closely with London’s boroughs to rapidly create extra space for people walking and cycling in every part of the capital, as part of the Mayor’s world-leading Streetspace for London programme. Our plans will be the biggest ever rapid transformation of London’s streets, quickly building a strategic cycling network, changing town centres so local journeys can be safely walked and cycled and reducing traffic on residential streets.

“We’re committed to creating a safe network of walking and cycling infrastructure in Islington and have issued guidance to all boroughs, setting out details of how they can work with us to make changes to streets and access the funding needed to do so.”

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