Cllr Rowena Champion, Executive Member for Environment and Transport at Islington Council, on how People-Friendly Streets are making Islington cheaper, greener and healthier.
While the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns have highlighted the benefits of quieter roads and more active travel, the conditions which have led to Islington’s People-Friendly Streets have been many years in the making.
With mapping technology making it easier than ever to take short-cuts through residential neighbourhoods, traffic on London’s local streets has gone up by 72% in the past 13 years. As it happens, 2008 was also the year when ownership of smartphones became widespread, with 78% of UK adults owning a smartphone now, compared to 17% in 2008, according to Ofcom. This is not a coincidence. There is no indication that levels have peaked so if we do nothing we are likely to see more traffic on our main roads and local streets, making them more congested for people who need to use cars to get around and making people feel that it is even less safe and attractive to walk, cycle and wheel.
Islington residents never voted for an additional 24.3 million miles driven on their roads between 2013 and 2019, nor did they vote for the 72% increase on local streets. They did, by a large majority, vote for a manifesto in 2018 which promised to “close certain roads to through traffic to prevent rat-running, make neighbourhoods more liveable and improve cycling routes”. Changes which the Council is now enacting.
Our People-Friendly Streets can benefit everyone. Enabling more active travel leads to people living healthier lives, reducing traffic will mean improved air quality, safer streets can mean fewer accidents and clearer roads will lead to quicker journeys for those who cannot travel in any other way.
We can all benefit from cleaner, healthier and safer streets, no matter what our individual circumstances or daily routines look like. People living healthier lives can reduce obesity levels and improve mental health among our residents. Improving air quality is a key goal for the council and it’s estimated that the equivalent of 40,000 lives are lost each year in the UK because of the polluted air we breathe. We need safer streets because sadly, the most common cause of death amongst children aged 5 – 14 in the UK is being hit by a vehicle. And clearer roads means quicker journeys for emergency services, buses and those who are unable to travel any other way.
This all contributes to another key part of our People-Friendly Streets programme, which is our rapid roll-out of school streets across the borough. We close off roads outside schools at morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up and parents, teachers and children love school streets as they provide a safer, cleaner and healthier streets outside the school gates. We now have 35 school streets in Islington, covering 36 schools, with the commitment to rolling them out to all primary schools possible by 2022.
The pandemic highlighted how quiet our roads can be, but this work started long before that. We are determined to rebuild a fairer Islington and that cannot include a vast increase in motor vehicle use as fewer people use public transport.
We’ve all witnessed more people walking, wheeling and cycling around our borough in recent months, enjoying the sights and sounds of Islington and we, as a Council, are determined to create a cleaner, greener, healthier borough to make that a more pleasant experience for all.
Walked round Highbury’s new people friendly streets today.— Mary Creagh (@MaryCreagh_) January 17, 2021
4 girls racing each other down the road, 2 on bikes, 2 on foot.
3 children sat in the (closed) road, drawing with chalk.
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