For the past 232 years, residents of Dulwich, a tree – lined suburb in south – east London, have been patient without any complaint that is now the only toll road of the capital.
However, a recent move to restrict traffic in the area has sparked bitter debate.
Dulwich was one of 89 areas in England that installed car-free zones last year. To qualify for the Conservative government “Emergency travel fund”, schemes had to be set up within twelve weeks, and like many, Dulwich’s were set up quickly.
“It was incredibly divisive,” said Hazel Broadfoot, owner of Village Books and a member of the Dulwich Alliance, which opposes the local government initiative. “Even the Brexit was not so bad.”
Premier Boris Johnson, a keen cyclist, is committed to introducing more traffic-free zones to encourage cycling and walking, despite the government’s somewhat contradictory decision last year to boost spending on roads by £ 27 billion over five years .
The government has already allocated £ 2 billion to projects that promote ‘active travel’ over the next five years. It also forced the capital’s transport authority to spend £ 100 million on walking and cycling schemes as part of the recent financing agreement.
But just as the placards, wooden plants and license plate recognition cameras to create the zones were erected, the protest posters were also in a pattern seen across the country. One of the main roads in Dulwich is lined with green ‘Stop the road closures’ signs.
The UK is not the only country to put in place ambitious measures to encourage cycling and walking and reduce pollution in their cities. Paris is moving faster than London, with plans to create a low-traffic neighborhood throughout the city center, remove half of its street parking space and by 2024 ban all diesel cars from the city.
But for Broadfoot’s bookstore and the other local businesses, the effects of the restrictions, which prevent cars from entering the center of the area northwards between 08:00 and 10:00 and 15:00 and 17:00, were ‘disastrous’. Turnover on weekdays, even with the pandemic, decreased by 30 percent and consequently one local clothing store had to close, she claimed.
Like most people opposed to the scheme, Broadfoot is also concerned about the impact on the surrounding roads, some of which would have to take more traffic. According to her, a recent trip from Tulse Hill – 3 km away – took an hour. ‘It should have taken 10 to 15 minutes. I can not see how I reduce pollution. ”
Outside the store, however, the bustle of bicycles and children at school delivery indicates that the initiative at least encouraged cycling to school.
According to the Dulwich and Herne Hill Safe Routes to School partnership, a local campaign group, the improvement supports their view that “when roads are safe, people choose to walk, kick and cycle”.
Anna Goodman, a lecturer in population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and an associate of the Consult for Transport for Quality of Life consultation, said there had been a 71 per cent increase in cycling in Dulwich since the scheme in June was introduced last year. to her research.
Half of the people on the bike were women and children; unusual for London where almost three-quarters of cyclists are men. Goodman’s latest research in London also shows that the number of traffic injuries in the low-traffic areas dropped by half between 2020 and December 2020 compared to the rest of London.
But the Dulwich Alliance argues that these measures, far from protecting children, create dangerous polluted air in nearby roads that are open to traffic.
Richard Aldwinckle, a spokesman for the Dulwich Alliance, said the plan “creates clean air and safer routes for some children, but dirtier air and more dangerous travel for others”.
Despite this, Anthony Laverty, a lecturer at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said the emerging evidence suggests that these schemes not only displace traffic but reduce car use.
The best evidence comes from north London’s Waltham Forest, which has had traffic-free schemes since 2015. Car ownership fell by 7 percent in the third year of the scheme, even taking into account factors such as the lower driving rates of young people. There is also evidence of reduced governance and increased walking among residents of new neighborhoods with little traffic in outer London.
In addition, the modeling study by King’s College London estimates that residents of Waltham Forest have an average of six weeks of extra life expectancy due to improved air quality due to the car-free zones, combined with greater measures such as maintaining speed limits the capital’s ultra-low emission zone .
“For me, this broader perspective is the point,” Laverty said. ‘We must not only focus on neighborhoods with low traffic in isolation, but must follow a whole range of sustainable transport policies. This is how we make cities that can be better for everyone. ”
Contrary to the fears of some people, crime has fallen into LTNs, Goodman said. And the reaction times of the London fire brigade did not deteriorate.
The DFT said its research shows that nearly two-thirds of people support the redistribution of road space to encourage ‘active travel’.
However, the Dulwich Alliance said the door-to-door survey shows that the vast majority of residents live in the area with low traffic and want adjacent roads to reopen the area.
Born in Dulwich, Goodman is not sympathetic to the problems these measures cause some people. “People organize their lives to be able to manage in a certain way, and then it’s hard to change,” she said. “But you have to set it against the great damage caused by the high use of motor vehicles, especially for children and other vulnerable groups.”
‘I want London to keep up with Paris and catch up with Amsterdam. Catching up is maybe a 40 year process, and I would say we are currently about 20 years old. ‘