Can Chiswick be a ‘Liveable neighbourhood’?

Guest blog by Michael Robinson

Transport for London recently announced £53.6M of funding going towards their Liveable Neighbourhoods programme with “South Chiswick” (Chiswick south of the A4) being one of the recipients. Initial attention was on the more eye-catching aspects of the announcement – a footbridge at Barnes Bridge and piazza for Grove Park – but other points mentioned – links to Cycleway 9, school streets and low traffic neighourhoods – may actually be more significant for the everyday lives of people in the area (and cost less as well).

“New cycle connections to the upcoming Cycleway 9”

Yes, our superhighway is now a common or garden cycleway. Of course the design hasn’t changed, it is still a bog standard bi-directional protected cycle track but the branding from the Boris Johnson mayoralty has been un-hyped. The next stage will be local routes connecting into the CW9 backbone. These will be delivered through programmes like the borough Local Implementation Plan and Liveable Neighbourhoods. The A4 cuts Chiswick in two and many people hope the Liveable Neighbourhood programme will try and reduce this severance through better links for people walking and cycling across the A4. Anyone mentioning an underpass should be given a cargo bike with two unruly 5 year olds (or their equivalent weight in loose potatoes) and asked to navigate the hairpin turns, barriers and gradients of the existing underpasses.

Images above: the junction of Sutton Court Rd with the A4

“School streets”

“School streets” is a programme already implemented in several London Boroughs including Hackney and Camden. Non-local motor traffic is banned in streets around the school during drop-off and pick-up times during school terms and this enables more parents and children to walk and cycle to school. Voluntary restrictions on motor traffic have been found to be ineffective so School Streets schemes are generally enforced by Automatic Number Plate Reader (ANPR) cameras with fines for drivers violating the restrictions. Residents in the school streets are able to drive during the restricted times and this has been based upon cars registered for Controlled Parking Zones in the area.

Images above: Traffic signs in School Streets; a promotion for School Streets in Hackney

“Low Traffic Neighbourhoods”

The “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” programme reduces traffic through residential streets to improve the quality of life and health of people living there. Motor vehicle traffic cutting through streets has a serious impact on people’s health and quality of life – too much traffic, travelling too fast, creating too much noise and too much pollution. Technology such as sat-nav apps like Waze and Google Maps, or services like Uber, increasingly route cars off main roads and onto residential streets to shave 30 seconds off a journey. Less apparent, however, is the impact upon the social fabric of the neighbourhood. Children’s “roaming” distances have fallen as motor traffic has increased. Children are driven to school rather than walking or cycling. Ironically, their parents contribute to motor traffic because they are afraid of motor traffic. Fewer children play in the street. There are well researched studies showing there are fewer social interactions between neighbours on streets with more traffic.

Areas where through traffic and non-local motor traffic has been removed or reduced, are great for people living there. Traffic is limited to access by residents, deliveries and services. Quieter streets mean children playing outside, more interaction between neighbours and they enable people to walk and cycle more. There is a systematic approach to create a Low Traffic Neighbourhood that has been applied in many other countries and more recently in the London Boroughs of Waltham Forest and Hackney. The basic principle is the definition of a group of residential streets bounded by at least one main arterial or distributor road. A key principle of a Low Traffic Neighbourhood is that non-local traffic should be on main arterial or distributor roads rather than travelling through residential streets. To achieve this, “modal filters” are implemented that make it difficult or impossible to drive through the area from one boundary to another.

Examples of modal filters are physical barriers such as bollards, benches, planters, “parklets” or rain gardens and traffic restrictions such as no entry for motor vehicles or banned turns. There is nothing new about this and there are already examples in Chiswick. For example, it is difficult or impossible to drive between boundary roads in the area bounded by Turnham Green Terrace, Chiswick High Road, Goldhawk Road and Bath Road/Stamford Brook Road. However, modal filters have usually been implemented in a piecemeal, reactive fashion in response to residents’ complaints about rat-running, while the Low Traffic Neighbourhood approach produces an overall plan for an area.

Image above: the low-traffic neighbourhood bounded by Turnham Green Terrace, Chiswick High Rd, Goldhawk Rd and Bath Rd

Every location in the Low Traffic Neighbourhood can still be accessed by residents, services or deliveries using motor vehicles, however as a result of modal filters, certain journeys will require detours compared to a “High Traffic Neighbourhood”. It is still possible to reach all destinations by motor vehicle, but that does not mean the route is as easy as possible. Residents still have the choice of using motor vehicles, but there is more choice to walk or cycle with reduced danger, fear and intimidation from higher volumes of motor vehicle traffic.

Image above: the junction of Prebend Gardens with Chiswick High Rd; Thornton Avenue, showing where access to Turnham Green Terrace is blocked off

The Liveable Neighbourhood programme objectives are clear that quieter and safer streets for residents are more important than some car journeys being slightly longer for some people. When these schemes are proposed there is invariably knee-jerk reaction they will mean traffic chaos and gridlock but traffic is nothing more than the sum of individual human decisions and people can and do adjust. Try proposing removing existing modal filters in Chiswick just so drivers may save a minute or two by driving along residential streets and see what the reaction will be from residents. What are candidates for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in the Grove Park area? One example could be closing off access to the A4 from Harvard Hill Road to stop drivers cutting the corner between Sutton Court Road and the A4 through residential streets.

The Liveable Neighbourhoods announcement was really just the first stage of the process and only includes funding to do more detailed design work with another review milestone later in the year. Indeed, there are three such review milestones of more detailed designs and costings before “shovels in the ground”. If a project doesn’t meet the programme objectives then it doesn’t get funding to proceed to the next stage.

Quieter streets more important than shorter journeys

The Liveable Neighbourhoods programme objectives to reduce motor traffic in favour of walking and cycling are clear, hence the importance of links to CW9, school streets and low traffic neighbourhoods. Projects which are only about aesthetics rather than longer term change to transport habits may not survive the milestone reviews.

Michael Robinson is a member of Hounslow Cycling Campaign