Street Walkers in Waltham Forest

Guest blog by Michael Robinson

Back in March I wrote a blog post “Can Chiswick be a ‘Liveable neighbourhood’?” for Chiswick Calendar. This was shortly after the announcement that TfL had awarded funding for a Liveable Neighbourhood project targeted at Chiswick south of the A4.

Since then, Hounslow launched a website to collect feedback from residents who have submitted over 600 comments by the time the survey closed in November. Hounslow has also done extensive traffic measurements in the area. This data has yet to be published.

My blog post was all about the theory of reducing traffic in a Liveable Neighbourhood project, but what about the practice? Following a chat with Cllr Sam Hearn and some other residents, I suggested a visit to the London Borough of Waltham Forest to see the implementation there.

Waltham Forest received TfL funding back in 2014 from the programme that preceded Liveable Neighbourhoods so their initial implementations are well bedded in. Waltham Forest offers guided tours of their improvements and to date has hosted over 200 groups from local authorities and elected representatives from all over the UK and beyond.

After consulting a map to find out where Waltham Forest actually is (answer: the northern end of the Victoria line), a couple of weeks ago Cllr Hearn, three other Chiswick residents and myself spent three hours on a guided walking tour of the area around Blackhorse Road and Walthamstow Central tube stations.

“It was really valuable to visit an area where a serious attempt had been made to keep commuter traffic away from residential streets” said Cllr Hearn.

“There are winners and losers with any scheme as radical as the ones implemented in Waltham Forest. However the prize of safer, less-polluted streets cannot be ignored simply because the process is inevitably complex and can in be controversial”.

Photographs above: Waltham Forest ‘Mini Holland’

We just walked where we liked

Like any profession, traffic engineering has its own impenetrable jargon: modal filters, filtered permeability, blended crossings, sinusoidal humps, ANPR and more. Walking the streets and seeing what these terms actually meant helped to make sense of them. And walking in the street is what we did – right in the middle of some roads. “This street used to have 3,000 cars a day” said our guide.

Without really noticing, we’d subconsciously adjusted to the fact that there was hardly any traffic, so we just walked where we liked. This is what modal filters mean – measures to block motor traffic driving through residential areas while permitting walking and cycling. The filters ranged from fairly crude bollards, to “parklets” with planters and bedding to create new, green public spaces.

Where traffic enters residential streets, blended crossings slow down vehicles, give pedestrians priority across side roads and try to convey to drivers that they are entering a residential area, not just another road. Even with substantially reduced traffic, a small number of speeding cars can destroy the quiet atmosphere so there were still quite a few speed humps. If you can remember school maths, the speed humps have a sinusoidal profile – shaped like a sine curve so the gradient increases gradually. This means the humps are easier to cycle over while still slowing down motor traffic.

Of course these interventions can mean longer detours for some existing journeys. However additional traffic from detours was small compared to the volume of traffic that previously used to drive straight through the areas.

‘Increase in footfall’ for shops

We visited a café on Orford Road, a pleasant shopping street (think Devonshire Road but with no car parking and no cars driving through). The only traffic during the day was a bus every 30 minutes. Traffic restrictions were enforced by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras. Our guide told us that some shopkeepers who initially had vehemently resisted the changes, in private, now admit they were wrong because of the resultant increase in footfall.

In the New Year we should see analysis of the feedback for South Chiswick, the traffic data and then proposals for measures to address the issues caused by traffic. The lesson we heard from our guide in Waltham Forest was while the council needs to diligently engage and discuss plans and options with residents, ultimately anything that changes driving and parking will arouse opposition, even if the effects will be beneficial for a majority.

Behavioural economics has shown that many people place more value on losing something than gaining new benefits. It will be interesting to see how many people value losing the current shortest route for some car journeys compared to gaining a leisurely walk or cycle through quiet streets with hardly any traffic.

Cllr Sam Hearn added:

“Our guide from Waltham Forest was very up front about the mistakes that they had made with their own consultation processes. The schemes that we saw had been developed in holistic chunks so that as far as possible “through traffic” was diverted on to main roads and not simply re-routed into other residential streets. The opportunity had been taken to plant street trees, create flower beds and upgrade the street furniture all of which I think would go down well in Chiswick Riverside. As the Liveable Neighbourhoods project progresses we can certainly learn from what has been achieved in Waltham Forest. My main concerns would be that residents opinions must be listened to and that nothing that is introduced should be irreversible.”

Image above: Consultation area for south Chiswick’s ‘Liveable neighbourhood’

Michael Robinson is the borough coordinator of Hounslow Cycling Campaign

See his previous blog: ‘Can Chiswick be a Liveable Neighbourhood?’ March 2019

See our story on the announcement of funding for a Liveable Neighbourhood in south Chiswick and the introduction of a consultation on it: Have your say on traffic management in south Chiswick September 2019

See our story: Hounslow council promises environmental action plan by December October 2019