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Remembering Robert Molteno

Robert Molteno, co-founder of Wandsworth Living Streets Group and a long-term campaigner for better streets for people, sadly passed away on 31 January.

Here Aisha Hannibal, our Engagement Manager, shares memories from just some of those who were fortunate enough to work closely with Robert during his time with Living Streets.

Robert Molteno

Image c/o May Molteno

There are so many ways to remember Robert who was a dedicated campaigner for Living Streets not just in Wandsworth but across the capital.

We can tell stories of time shared with him, what we learnt, what we laughed about and what led on from these discussions.

We can demonstrate the impact of his life and work through continuing to bring the same grace and diplomacy to our own campaigning efforts. We can simply step out of the door and look around us to see the impact of his actions.

If you press a button on a crossing in London and you don’t have to wait as long as you used to – that is Robert.
If you walk along a street in Wandsworth and see 20mph signs and road traffic sticking to it – that is Robert.

If you benefit from a school street in your area to encourage and support families to walk to school and reduce traffic at the school gates – that is Robert.

If you read his coherent note taking, shared his strategic vision and heard his clarity about Healthy Streets, walkable neighbourhoods and active travel forums – you had a sense of what was needed, how it related to yourself and others and the steps get you there. And that was Robert.  

In short, he is alive in the changes he made in our streets, he is alive in the distance we travelled in our minds to reach a shared understanding, and he is alive in the challenges we navigated in our hearts to keep going, keep at it and stay focused.

Tributes from friends and colleagues

Susie Morrow, Wandsworth Living Streets

Robert Molteno and I co-founded Wandsworth Living Streets in autumn 2010, galvanised by the prospect of pedestrian crossings being removed as part of the then-Mayor's 'Smoothing Traffic Flow' initiative.  Robert had that rare skill of being able to produce timely notes of meetings and phone calls - his superb records providing a fantastically valuable basis for collaborative campaigning. He knew that it was essential to build relationships; people sensed that he was trustworthy and he respected their trust. A warm and genuine person, there was no 'side' to him. More than many people, Robert recognised that, when it comes to campaigning, polite persistence (and patience) pays.
Robert had astute political judgement and was a source of wise counsel - to me, to other campaigners, the general public and politicians equally. He was passionate about making a practical difference to our streets especially as experienced by people on foot.
Poring over a large scale map of Wandsworth in November 2021 and highlighting School Streets, mode filters, cycling infrastructure, and al fresco streets, provided a moment to pause and realise how much we had achieved - even if, like all campaigners - we knew there was still much to do.

I shall remember his punch on the arm or conspiratorial nudge in response to comments, often from politicians, at public events and meetings; his impressive ability to roll his 'Rs'; his African shirts at summer parties, his uniquely 'Robert' time zone, but most of all his decency and steadfast friendship.

Caroline Russell, Member of the London Assembly

I first met Robert when he set up Wandsworth Living Streets with Susie Morrow in 2010. I was chair of Islington Living Streets and we worked together with others, pushing Transport for London (TfL) under Mayor Johnson to reprieve pedestrian signals that were deemed to be slowing the flow of motor traffic and to reduce danger on streets across London. We raised awareness about the devastating toll of death and injury amongst Londoners walking to work, the shops and even to school and had long conversations about how to make more inclusive streets.

 I remember poring over maps of redesigns for dangerous junctions with Robert and his sensible, thoughtful and practical comments that took serious account of the way people behave on foot and hugely improved our feedback to TfL. I will miss seeing Robert at campaign events and vigils and will always be grateful for having known him and campaigned alongside him.

David Harrison,  Islington Living Streets

What a lovely man, what a remarkable life. We will miss him so much. He had the wonderful gift of disagreeing without causing rancour. He had an infectious smile and was a pleasure to be with. He clearly was able to motivate people to join him in his Campaigning. He worked so hard in coordinating the crossings campaign and gently cajoled us into joining him.

Nicola Grant, Executive Director, Positively Putney

Robert had a sensible approach to improving infrastructure for walking and cycling which was  refreshing and made working with him easy. He was also a kind person and he will be greatly missed for his positive input in meetings.

Sarah Williams, former London Campaigns Manager, Living Streets       

Working with Robert was always a pleasure. Someone with a heartfelt belief in the power of community to make a positive difference to the world. A pragmatist with a great sense of humour. My condolences go to his family. I am sure they are proud of a man with a life filled with value.

Fleur Anderson, MP for Putney & Roehampton

Robert was a wonderful campaigner and a leader in achieving the 20mph speed limit amongst many other changes to our streets. He was always so charmingly forceful, warm, endlessly positive and a pleasure to be with.

Mike Grahn, Crossings campaigner London Living Streets

I shall always remember Robert as a steadfast friend – unfailingly optimistic and indefatigable in making things happen.  An enduring memory is of the way he’d laugh and punch me on the arm when we’d come up with some devious new way to persuade the authorities to act.

When we had the idea of measuring the impact of shorter pedestrian wait times at ‘green man’ crossings Robert cheerfully took on the task of finding and marshalling dozens of volunteers for 45 survey sessions scattered all over London to interview thousands of crossing users.  It was an amazing, herculean task that enabled us to prove that simple improvements can make a real difference for pedestrians. Transport for London are now reviewing every crossing with the aim to reduce wait times.

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, Shadow Cabinet Member for Mental Health, Labour MP for Tooting

Robert was a passionate advocate for communities across Wandsworth. From fighting for the soul of our high streets to making our roads safer for everyone through 20 mph speed limits, Robert's energy and sense of public duty was boundless, and will be sorely missed. My memories of Robert from the Tooting Bec and Broadway Neighbourhood Forum are ones of kindness, generosity, and laughter and it is my sincere belief that these virtues will forever be Robert's legacy.

Peter Hartley, Westminster Living Streets

He was a gentleman with such sensible and reasonable arguments which always went to the heart of an issue. I join everyone with sending my condolences to Robert’s family.

Emma Griffin, London Living Streets and Footways

A kind, intelligent, generous, and meticulous man. I owe Robert so much. I met him on a Living Streets walking tour in the Barbican by chance, we got talking and from then he dedicated so much time encouraging me to get involved. Robert was kind, collaborative, meticulous and dedicated to his ambition to create people-friendly streets. He will be greatly missed.

John Locker, Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning & Transport, Wandsworth Council

I got to know Robert incredibly well over the last 10 years and we regularly met for coffee to discuss issues and of course about ways of working together on new active travel initiatives. He was a mine of useful information. What stands out though is Robert's kindness and enthusiasm. He was someone I could always turn to for advice and test out ideas on. I shall greatly miss our catch-ups or simply bumping into him on one of his walks along the Thamespath when he would always find time to stop and have a chat. 

Stephen Edwards, Chief Executive, Living Streets

Robert was a wise, strategic campaigner who understood why and how we need to improve our streets, but also possessed the emotional intelligence to argue his points in an articulate and friendly manner that made every discussion with him a real pleasure. Robert was also very kind to me personally when I started at Living Streets, and I will always remember his kindness and wisdom, and will miss our conversations immensely. London and Living Streets is all the poorer without his passionate advocacy for better streets for everyone.

Jo Rigby, Labour councillor for Earlsfield

Would Robert feel that he created change in Wandsworth?  I think he felt frustrated at how slow the pace was, and he'd probably say no.  The reality is that he brought enormous change to hearts and minds at the council.  He was our unofficial Healthy Streets officer, showing a better way of using our spaces.  It is up to all of us now to continue his work and do it in the spirit of Robert: kind and polite, but never a push over.

Tom Platt, Director of Operations and Advocacy, Ramblers

Robert was a lovely man and a great campaigner for people friendly streets in London. When I first knew him he had recently co-founded the Wandsworth Living Streets group and he used to joke about how far they had to go catch up with some of the other boroughs in London on issues like 20mph. But bit by bit, his hard work has made a real difference to streets both locally and across London, to the benefit of us all.

Toby Hopkins, Wandsworth Cyclists

In lockdown, in Robert's latest campaign to help Wandsworth schools roll out school streets, I bumped into him as I was arriving at my local school one early morning.  Robert had spent weeks walking all over the borough to visit more than a dozen schools, meeting the staff and volunteers  - but within a couple of minutes he had made me feel really important and special for just managing to volunteer a little at my local one. 

When he gave me his smile and his encompassing, invigorating laugh, restraining himself from a hearty handshake - having not seen them since before lockdown, they were a massive lift, a reaffirmation of humanity as much as of campaigning purpose.

I said I'd email my fellow volunteers with the news and request he passed on. "Call them," he told me, earnestly. "This is important enough, man, you know what people are like, make sure you speak to them.

Margo Turner, Principal Transport Planner serving Richmond and Wandsworth Councils

Robert was a key stakeholder in many of the walking and cycling projects with Wandsworth Council over the last few years as part of his work with Living Streets. He was part of our Healthy Streets Forum, was on our working group for the development of the Wandsworth Walking and Cycling Strategy and gave up many hours of his time to traipse up and down Wandsworth’s streets with both myself and other officers, providing constructive ideas for how we can improve our neighbourhoods. We will very much miss working with him, both for his local knowledge and his charm.

Will Norman, Mayor’s Walking & Cycling Commissioner

Robert was a passionate and committed campaigner who worked ceaselessly to make London’s streets safer, healthier and more pleasant places for people. 

Robert would regularly write or meet with me to point out things that needed changing, suggesting new ideas and improvements, and was always urging me to deliver schemes faster and better.

But Robert was as charming as he was persistent. The combination of these two attributes made him very hard to say no to. His campaigning worked. Robert, with other members of London Living Streets, collaborated with TfL engineers to improve pedestrian crossing times, saving people thousands of waiting hours and making crossings across the capital safer as result. His push for 20mph streets has now become mainstream, with over half of London’s roads now having these safer speed limits. School streets are now common across the city, enabling thousands more children to walk to school safely, breathing cleaner air.

There is no doubt that London is a better and safer place thanks to Robert Molteno. He was a lovely man; I was honoured to know him and it was a pleasure to work with him. He will be much missed.  

Rod King, Founder and Campaign Director for 20’s Plenty For Us

Robert was one of our most amazing campaigners whose influence was not only felt in Wandsworth but across London and beyond.

After forming 20’s Plenty for Wandsworth to join our growing number of campaigns in 2010 he was indefatigable in his support for 20’s Plenty and people friendly streets. In 2017 he and Susie Morrow jointly won our 20’s Plenty Campaigner of the Year Award. And even after Wandsworth went 20, he was working with campaigners and authorities to enable it to work even better in the borough and also across London. I will miss Robert - one of the best of the best of our campaigners.

Jeremy Leach, London Living Streets

As always I had been working with Robert on a number of projects and it seems inconceivable that he is not be there to carry on with them in the way that we had for so many years. I had known Robert since 2010 when I began to be aware of the wider pro-pedestrian movement across London and our group in Southwark was starting to forge links with other campaigners such as Robert and Susie in Wandsworth.

We became more closely involved as Wandsworth Living Streets became established and around the campaign for a 20mph limit across Wandsworth. It was there that I started to learn of just how skilled a campaigner Robert was - fabulous with words and leaflets and documents and strategy and detail and organisation! The campaigning involved councillors from all political parties and senior officers but just as importantly included talking to parents outside local schools at the start and end of the school day. With everyone, Robert was always the same – charming, interested, well informed and scrupulously fair.

In 2016, we set up London Living Streets to provide a more unified voice for pedestrians across London. Robert was involved from day one driving forward policy but also prepared to get involved with the trickiest projects that needed his tremendous organisational skills. Most obvious amongst these was the project to look at pedestrian signal timings across London which required more than 50 people all getting to the right place at the right time to a huge variety of locations across London over a number of weeks.

As new groups were being set up across London, Robert would always go the extra mile to help them get started and be welcoming to them. He was particularly keen to support new groups in Outer London and offer tips and suggestions for working with administrations where pedestrians might not always be at the top of the pecking order.

More recently Robert helped London Living Streets formulate policy in the critical area of Road User Charging which will be vital if London is to meet its air quality and emission targets. Our group will be an altogether different one without Robert. We will miss his warmth, experience, knowledge and enthusiasm and a friend who could always be relied on when you needed to work through a knotty problem.

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