Boris Johnson says we should walk or cycle to work where possible. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan says the same. Both fear a mass decision to jump into our cars to avoid using public transport as we return to work. The impact of that would be ‘Carmageddon’. The need to introduce traffic management measures to stop Chiswick being in continual gridlock has become more urgent as the lockdown eases.
There were already changes afoot in the bloc of residential streets between the A4 and the River Thames before the Covid-19 emergency. LB Hounslow held a consultation on how to spend money from the Mayor of London in making this area a ‘Liveable neighbourhood’. Sam Hearn, one of the councillors representing Riverside ward, who leads on Transport for the Conservative group of councillors, tells The Chiswick Calendar that we should hear in the next couple of weeks what the council has in mind.
‘We have an opportunity to improve our communities with these new measures’
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has called for more journeys to be made by foot and bike. On Friday he told regional leaders that they should be encouraging commuters to make this switch. Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, has announced that £2bn has been allocated to initiatives designed to boost walking and cycling. Even though the lockdown will only be relaxed gradually there are major concerns that the roads of big cities such as London will become gridlocked as commuters abandon public transport, where capacity is much reduced because of social distancing, and take to their cars.
It is sensible therefore that Chiswick, and the rest of the borough of Hounslow, should play its part in enabling what is known as active travel. Announcements have already been made that temporary schemes have been brought forward under emergency powers suspending some parking on certain streets to enable pedestrians to maintain social distancing. Other temporary cycling schemes are being introduced including the road closures in Dukes Meadow, and Wellesley Road and Stile Hall Gardens. Cycling in these areas will become more attractive and residents’ quality of life will be improved.
The consultation phase of south Chiswick’s Liveable Neighbourhoods scheme, part-funded by TfL, is progressing well. Officers hope shortly to issue detailed plans, based on a consultation survey and public workshops setting out various options that could significantly reduce rat-running along residential roads. This would make cycling and walking a more attractive prospect for example for school journeys and would reduce the risk to pedestrians crossing at certain junctions. Unfortunately, TfL’s weakened financial position is likely to delay the rolling out of some big-ticket items (Grove Park piazza) unless alternative funding is made available. The Government is providing £250 million of immediate funding but this will only cover temporary schemes.
Council ‘cutting corners’
Hounslow Council has launched a public consultation entitled the COVID-19 Transport Response. The aim is to improve our road network thereby protecting those travelling to and from work as well as residents simply using their local streets to visit local businesses and neighbours. If you wish to comment click on the link below to share your views haveyoursay.hounslow.gov.uk
Some residents might, for example, like to highlight where Cycleway 9 will reduce the width of the pavements of Chiswick High Road making social distancing impossible.
The situation we find ourselves in is subject to change at short notice. When changes are implemented at such an unprecedented rate it is almost inevitable that mistakes will be made, and even good schemes can be improved. We believe that because of the imperative to deliver a rapid response, corners are being cut. The benefits in more normal times derived from democratic oversight and due process are being lost.
It is vital that all decisions, no matter how urgent, are properly explained to residents and are capable of being challenged and reversed. This is after all public money that is being spent. No temporary measure should be allowed to become permanent without a full review (as the Government has said) and including all interested parties. The anticipated short-term to medium-term changes in traffic volumes and profiles should not be allowed to dictate long-term policy. Whilst there is anecdotal evidence that more cycle journeys are taking place there is no guarantee that this will be sustained if and when a vaccine is widely available, when residents return to work and schools have re-opened, let alone when bad weather and short hours of daylight return in the autumn.
Image above: parking bays coned off on Turnham Green Terrace to allow for pedestrians to exercise social distancing
We agree with ministers that temporary cycle lanes should be properly separated from other road users so as to reduce the risk to cyclists from motor vehicles and to protect pedestrians; painting lines on the road will not be sufficient. We also agree with the Government that Hounslow Council needs to properly protect the interests of businesses, including ensuring they have access for deliveries (and for collections in some cases). Local shops have taken a huge hit because of the lockdown and we must not make it more difficult for them to trade as the lockdown comes to an end. We must also ensure that there is sufficient parking for those for whom it is essential.
The pandemic has caused so much heartache and misery but the unexpected improvements in air quality and reduction in traffic noise are welcome. We have an opportunity to improve our communities with these new measures but we all need to engage in the process so that the resulting changes have the support of residents and businesses.
Cllr Sam Hearn is the transport spokesperson for Chiswick’s Conservative councillors
Read More Stories on The Chiswick Calendar
See also: Avoiding ‘Carmageddon’
See also: Keith Richards: My Corona Blog