Gazette letters: People-Friendly Streets debate: Unfounded fears or total misery?

Air-pollution busting pedestrian and cyclist priority on Downham Road, N1, off Islington�s Southgate

Air-pollution busting pedestrian and cyclist priority on Downham Road, N1, off Islington�s Southgate Road boundary. Picture: Nicola Baird - Credit: Nicola Baird

Polly Higgins, who lived in Islington until she moved to Stroud and died last year aged 50, was a campaigning barrister determined to make ecocide an international crime, writes Nicola Baird, Islington Green.

In 2015 she said: “Many of the laws in our world serve property - they are based on ownership. But imagine a law that has a higher moral authority. A law that puts people and planet first. Imagine a law that starts from ‘first, do no harm’, that stops this dangerous game and takes us to a place of safety...”

Could criminal law help the planet tackle the twin disasters of biodiversity loss and climate change? The answer is probably yes – sticks make big businesses change. But what alters community behaviour?

This summer Islington Giving challenged us to fundraise as we walk our borough’s 12.98-mile boundary. I cycled this half marathon in the heat, taking about 2.5 hours with one sweaty stop on Highgate Hill. Walk the Line isn’t really showcasing the best of Islington, as our borough’s spiritual heart is surely the people (and histories) of Clerkenwell, Angel, Highbury, Finsbury Park and Archway, not busy roads. But my #WalkTheLine was to help me think about how public space, especially roads, is changing.

Driving your own car is as last century as corsets and record players. That’s because we have a new ‘show in town’ – active travel. Walking and cycling are especially good for Islington because they sort out our fitness without polluting our neighbours or the planet. If that’s not suitable for you, there’s also public transport.

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If like Polly we are trying to introduce changes that will keep our planet healthy enough to be a fit home in the not-so-distant future, stepping out of a fossil-fuelled car is hardly painful. A change is going to come, so why not be a positive part of it?

I am writing to put the point that the Islington residents affected by the People Friendly Streets road closures should have been consulted more widely, and a range of options developed and voted upon. Kindly note that I am not arguing for no change, writes Craig Thomson, Canonbury, full address supplied.

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Other options might include:

• only 50 per cent of the roads being closed/camera controlled - with a change over every 12 months so no set of streets are disadvantaged over time.

• better use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) to allow resident access through camera-controlled road entrances (perhaps even carers/relatives who live outside Islington but visiting Islington disabled/elderly residents could apply for permits to enter and exit through the camera-controlled street barriers).

Following the St Peter’s and Canonbury East People Friendly Streets road closures, I am concerned if the further rollout of access-controlled streets in Canonbury West, Nags Head and Highbury force more vehicles to use Highbury Corner.

I don’t think Highbury Corner in its new configuration could cope with even more vehicles (especially the St Paul’s Road approach).

The Highbury Corner alterations are an improvement for cyclists, created a nice pedestrian space outside Highbury Station.

However, the very useful 277 bus service no longer serves Islington and the increased lines of stationary traffic waiting at the lights to negotiate Highbury Corner may have a pollution effect.

I hope there are robust contingency plans if traffic accidents or emergency roadworks block Upper Street, Essex Road, New North Street, Southgate Road and Holloway Road.

Hackney Council are closing/part-closing several streets near Newington Green, despite a majority of residents voting against the closures in two counts - 62.2 per cent (2,321) of respondents were against the proposals, with 36.2pc (1,350) in support.

I hope Hackney and Islington councils have liaised to conduct traffic modelling to assess the impact of when the displaced traffic using Balls Pond Road/Essex Road/Southgate Road meets the displaced traffic from Hackney N16 forced to use Newington Green Road and roundabout.

Please involve local people in decisions that affect them, put forward a range of options, and hold a vote on which options have the most support.

We have seen further protests on Upper Street this week against installation of model filters in the borough to prevent cut-through motor traffic, writes K Fallon, Islington, full address supplied.

There is much misunderstanding of the nature of motor traffic, with widespread fears of congestion, gridlock, etc.

We should remember that only 26 per cent of Islington residents have access to a car and those that do are predominantly wealthier, while poorer residents are disproportionately affected by road danger, toxic air and the ill-health including deaths that result.

If short journeys by car (>40pc of the total) are less convenient than walking or cycling, then those car journeys may not take place.

Predictions of gridlock are false because people have a choice. Let’s help them make the right one.

I am writing to complain about all the road closures adjoining my road. I live at Oakley Road and every road leading up to Essex Road has been cut off, wrote Christina Messaoud, Oakley Road, Islington to Cllr Richard Watts:

I am a carer for two disabled members of my family. One who has memory loss, cannot walk, has a mechanical heart valve and is on warfarin.

I am having to take my sister to numerous doctor/hospital and other medical appointments, which I have to attend with her.

I do my sister’s shopping and help at her home. Now you have blocked all the roads off around my road. You have created total misery and caused my journey back and forth to my sister’s home a nightmare.

A 10 minute journey now takes 30 minutes as I can only use one road in and out of my road, Southgate Road, which has increased in the volume of cars using it and has caused a bottleneck of traffic, noise and pollution.

You have made the people of Islington’s lives a living nightmare.

I am a true Islingtonian with many generations of families born and bred in the borough. You state the people of Islington want these changes but this is lies. We do not.

You have not considered us and especially the disabled and elderly. We cannot ride bikes. All you’re interested in is more space for the cyclists. Well let me tell you that you should be forcing them to get registered and insured and moreover making sure they learn the Highway Code. Can I ask you what car you drive? Do you live in Islington? Have you actually spoken to the real Islington people or the ones passing through who no doubt own country homes or work in the city?

Please do not say the roads will be less polluted. You have now created more in the roads we are forced to use which will of course filter through to all roads.

It’s unclear what business Jody Graber is in (Upper Street blocked by protesters against curbs, writes Meg Howarth, Ellington Street, Islington.

‘It’s about pro-democracy. We weren’t given a say’, August 6), but it’s clearly not diplomacy - or irony. The group’s refusal to meet with council bosses is because the council hasn’t agreed to any of its demands, he says. “There was no goodwill from the council - how can you meet with someone if there’s no goodwill?” How indeed?

His and his fellow organisers’ grasp of local knowledge appears slim. Don’t they realise that less than 30 per cent of Islington households own or have access to a private vehicle - that’s to say, more than two-thirds, the overwhelming majority, do not? Car-ownership in the borough has been declining steadily for a number of years.

Islington cab-driver Joe Payne puts his finger on the crux of People Friendly Streets when he complains that “I’m a London taxi driver and you just can’t get through any back streets any more”.

That is precisely the point of the experimental schemes Islington is currently introducing - just one of several London boroughs rolling out what are elsewhere known as low traffic neighbourhoods, or LTNs. The back streets to which Mr Payne refers are the residential roads where locals, including children, live. Does he really object to reducing the volume of traffic along what have long been rat-runs?

The government has asked all UK local authorities to introduce emergency transport schemes to facilitate safe, socially-distanced transport links (particularly walking and cycling) to help restart local economies. Mr Payne and Mr Graber are both businessmen. Surely they can have no objection to such an aspiration?

Introduced under experimental traffic orders (ETOs), Islington’s LTNs will be consulted on after 12 months, giving residents a democratic mandate on whether they should become permanent or be removed.

As a resident who supports the schemes, I’d be happy to meet them to try and understand their objections further.

What more goodwill do the protestors want?

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