Acrimonious town hall meeting highlights divisions over traffic policy

Image above: Participants in the Chiswick Area Forum, Tuesday 22 November

Council officers try and answer questions against a barrage of abuse from residents

A bad-tempered meeting at Chiswick Town Hall on Tuesday night showed just how divided Chiswick residents are over LB Hounslow’s transport policy.

Chiswick Area Forum, organised by Chiswick’s Conservative councillors, invited Tim Hurley, Operations Manager for Hounslow Highways, and Sabeel Khan, Head of Highways PFI at Hounslow Council, to give a report and answer questions on Cycleway 9, the A4 roadworks and the general upkeep of the roads.

Jefferson Nwokeoma, Assistant Director of Transport, Parking and Environmental Strategy, and Cllr Katherine Dunne, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Transport, took questions about Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, focusing mainly on the traffic restrictions in Grove Park and Strand on the Green.

It was hard to hear at times for the barrage of catcalls and derisive laughter from the public. A woman two seats along from me kept a loud sweary commentary all the way through the three hour meeting about how the effing council were useless and disgusting.

“You’re not listening” she shouted, apparently without irony, and “you don’t know what you’re on about” as the officers tried to explain what they were trying to achieve and why some measures had now become permanent while others had not.

Blocked drains … increased journey times … penalty fines

Blocked drains, roads slippery with fallen leaves, traffic jams, increased journey times, people receiving fines because they were confused about where they could and couldn’t drive … the Council’s officers fielded a torrent of complaints from residents, several of whom said they’d lived in Chiswick for decades and the traffic problems had never been this bad.

Each comment or question from the audience met with loud applause.

It seemed the meeting was unanimously against everything the Council had tried to do to promote cycling and reduce the flow of commuter traffic through residential areas – not only against it, but angrily hostile, unprepared to accept anything the officers said, insisting they were making up data.

Until that is, a woman stood up and said her life and that of her children was much improved by the introduction of the traffic restrictions in Grove Park. The reduction in traffic meant her neighbourhood was now quiet and peaceful and she and her children could cycle around it safely.

“It’s not just me who feels like this” she said, “I speak for the silent majority who welcome the changes”.

Grove Park now a “much nicer place to live”

Another woman then said before access to the A4 from Harvard Rd was closed off there were huge traffic jams in the surrounding streets and she could always tell how bad the traffic was when she woke up in the morning by the effect it had on her breathing. All that had changed and her quality of life had improved as the quality of the air had improved. It had also had a hugely positive impact on the young children at Falcon’s pre-preparatory school, she said.

Both these residents’comments received equally loud applause. A doctor thanked the council for the brilliant cycle lane which meant his kids could cycle safely to school by themselves and a professor of engineering noted the reduction in traffic and corresponding  improvement of air quality in Chiswick High Rd.

The doctor, Ed Seaton, got a laugh when he described the One Chiswick campaign group as “One-tenth Chiswick”, to say they did not represent the views of most people in Chiswick.

“I speak on behalf of the hundreds of people who think the cycle lane is brilliant and the thousands who think it’s ok or at least don’t have a problem with it.”

The professor of engineering, Tom Pike, told the meeting:

“The air has never been cleaner. We have about half the amount of traffic we had in the early 2,000s. Cycle lane usage peaks at about 4,000 a day and we have half the number of cars we used to in Chiswick High Rd. We should make decisions based on data, not on comment.”

Image above: One Chiswick members present ‘cheque’ for £10 million

Cllr Mushiso “Turn It Off” order picked up as a chant

There was a surreal ten minutes or so during which the chair, Cllr Ron Mushiso, insisted the meeting hear about a petition started two years ago which had gathered 19 signatures. There was thunderous applause for a man who said it meant Chiswick was being divided into “ghettos” until Cllr Gabriella Giles firmly put the argument to bed by explaining the petition was obsolete as the proposal it was set up to oppose had long since been dropped.

Rob King, chair of the Grove Park Group, said the Council had dismissed their suggestions for improvements to the traffic scheme in south Chiswick out of hand. He was interrupted by two women who unfurled a huge cheque for £10 million, claiming that was the sum raised by the council in fines in just six months.

The Conservative chair Ron Mushiso kept the meeting largely under control but he himself shouted down the Labour Deputy Leader Cllr Katherine Dunne, demanding that she stop speaking and ordering her repeatedly to turn off her microphone after she had already stopped speaking, which was quickly picked up by the audience as a chant, “Turn It Off, Turn It Off.” Reminiscent of the Make America Great Again lot shouting “Lock Her Up” at Hilary Clinton.

What did we learn? Not a lot. The work being carried out in Chiswick High Rd on the cycle lane is ahead of schedule, will stop for a few weeks over Christmas and be finished in January.

The number of cars going through Grove Park and Strand on the Green has dropped hugely and air quality has improved both south of the A4 and on the High Rd but confusion remains over who can drive where without being fined and there is a great deal of frustration about how long it takes to get anywhere in Chiswick by car.

See also: Strikes in November and December: mail, rail, tube and bus services face disruption<

See also: Bird poo stops bridge opening

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