Push comes to shove: COVID and active travel on Harringay Green Lanes

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GreenLanesTrafficMay2020

The lack of safe space for cycling on Green Lanes, the imposition of rat-run status on Wightman Road, the tortoise pace of buses on Green Lanes … all are due to two things: parking and loading on Green Lanes, and traffic going in and out of the Arena Shopping Park (Sainsburys/McDonald’s/Homebase).

There is now a recognized need for quick creation of a safe cycling network as the COVID lockdown eases: people are afraid to ride buses or trains, there’s not space on the road for more cars, and many people – most people, in Haringey – don’t have cars anyway. Plans are mooted for emergency cycle tracks, some of which could be made permanent. Is it going to become safe to cycle on Green Lanes?

A ray of hope comes from Transport for London’s Analysis on Temporary Strategic Cycle Network, part of its larger Streetspace for London package. There’s a map there showing existing cycle routes, and proposed new ones; the new ones are colour-coded to show Highest-, High-, and Medium Priority. There are two new routes shown in the borough of Haringey which get the Highest Priority rating. One of those routes comes over Couch End Hill from Kentish Town via Archway; the other is Green Lanes.

Green Lanes has, despite truly fearful traffic and no cycle tracks, become a major cycle route anyway; to the north, Enfield has installed a segregated cycle track on Green Lanes; to the south, Hackney is preparing one. Will the missing link through Harringay and Wood Green now be found? You can register your views by adding a comment, or a “like” on existing comment, on this great map the Council has posted.

Please do it, and also contact the councillors in your ward: it’s not to be taken for granted that the Council will solve the Green Lanes problem. Consider: on 2nd June Haringey Council followed up TfL’s announcement with its own on Active travel to aid social distancing. Go to that link and, towards the bottom of the page you’ll find a positive note from Councillor Kirsten Hearn, Cabinet Member for Climate Change & Sustainability (her portfolio includes Strategic Transport), telling us

… we are working in partnership with TfL to provide more active travel options through temporary walking and cycling facilities in Haringey as part of a funding bid … We will also aim to bring forward east to west and north to south cycling routes, so that more residents can be confident that cycling is a safe, clean and efficient way to get around and have also identified low traffic neighbourhoods to discourage use of cars.

Hearn’s message is excellent, though general. What worries me is what is included in (and what is missing from) the specifics at the top of the page, in the unsigned announcement from Haringey Council. The announcement mentions three particular cycle routes, but neither of TfL’s Highest Priority ones. They mention improvements to CS (“Cycle Superhighway”) 1, which meanders more or less parallel to Tottenham High Road; the proposed CS2 from Tottenham Hale to Camden Town, which the TfL document gives High (not Highest) Priority; and “Quietway” 10, which goes from Finsbury Park, over the rather steep hill between Stroud Green and Crouch End, and on to Bowes Park. All are worthy, but why are TfL’s highest priorities left out?

Now, in the past, in the bad old days, Haringey Council promoted Quietway 10 as the alternative to a cycle route on Green Lanes or Wightman Road. Anybody who rides a bike and considers both the topography of Quietway 10 and the paucity of places to take a bike across the railway knows that this is not serious, and that anybody who does propose Quietway 10 as a substitute for a Green Lanes cycle route either is not well informed or is taking the piss.

Thus the Council’s failure to mention Green Lanes worries me. It does not surprise me, though. The Haringey Council has long been institutionally reluctant to face up to the problems created by traffic on Green Lanes. A few years back it spent a large sum on a study of the problem and in the end found that all solutions were impractical. Times do change, and I am confident that at this point there are mixed views of the question both among elected members of the Council, and among Council officers. But the failure to mention the most obvious and important route while still name-checking Quietway 10 says to me that this battle is far from over. Hence, my pitch to you here.

Green Lanes gets heavily congested in the stretch between Manor House and St Ann’s Rd. Beyond the general sea of motor traffic in which we live, there are two specific reasons for this congestion. One is that some years ago the Council allowed the construction of a traffic magnet in the form of the Arena Shopping Park – Sainsburys, McDonald’s (complete with drive-thru), and a collection of other chain stores. All of these chains are operating on business models which require surrounding neighbourhoods to subsidize their corporations by bearing the burdens of traffic congestion, road hazard and bad air produced by people each driving their ton of steel to pick up a few groceries, or a single burger. This is not the best way to get groceries or burgers to people in a place as dense as Haringey, and it should be shut down when and if possible (permits or leases or something do expire in the not terribly distance future, I hear); in the meantime, the Council and TfL should get tough on the traffic flows. For instance, they could:

  • install a southbound bus lane ouside the Arena Shopping Park;
  • eliminate the left turn exit lane from the Shopping Park which now feeds cars right into the bus stop outside Homebase (that’s not to say no left turns, just sharper left turns, crossing quickly over the bus lane);
  • forbid right turns by motor traffic from Green Lanes onto Endymion Road; and
  • filter Wightman Road to stop through motor traffic (and thus rat runs between Green Lanes and Wightman along Ladder roads)

That’s half the problem, but only half. The other half is parking and loading on Green Lanes itself: loading and parking needs to be moved onto side streets or – in the case of loading – given very restricted hours.

Most people travelling along Green Lanes, and most customers of the businesses there, go by foot, bus or bike. Buses sit in traffic, cyclists take their lives in their hands – or, in most cases, just don’t ride. It’s beyond a joke. The space required to solve these problems will not, cannot, be obtained without getting parking and loading off of that road. (It’s more complicated, actually, than just space: drivers pulling in and out of roadside parking spaces, or driving slowly looking for spaces, slow things down a lot.)

You might say “but why Green Lanes – couldn’t we just put the cycle route down Wightman Road?” Well, we could – it’s not quite as good, both because of hills and because it doesn’t meet up with the Green Lanes route used by Enfield and planned by Hackney, but it would be better than what we have. The problem: to make Wightman a good cycle route you would need to filter it to take the through motor traffic off of it, and doing that puts extra traffic onto Green Lanes; not much, but in its present state  Green Lanes already has more traffic than it can accomodate. To filter Wightman without making Green Lanes worse, we need to sort parking, loading and the traffic from Arena Shopping Park, anyway – there’s no getting around it.

The merchants of Green Lanes have always protected parking and loading on Green Lanes itself. It is of course well established that merchants over-estimate the share of their customers who do come by car; there are plenty of cases testifying to the attraction, to customers, of places less dominated by cars. Parking on a side street gets you as close to the shops as using a car park gets you to a superstore or shopping mall. Still, it’s a frightening a risky change to make.

Provision of parking on the side roads would also be opposed by some residents, who see parking supply already exhausted. To address this, the Council should reduce parking demand by raising resident parking permit rates in the Green Lanes area, and then rebate the increase to households as a credit on rates – i.e., residents would pay more if they parked, but get the rebate whether they had a car or not. (There may also be a case for separate CPZs East and West of Green Lanes; I’m told that some people from the East side of Green Lanes drive the short distance to the Harringay and Hornsey rail stations and park on the street there before get the train, something we can do without.)

Both sorting the traffic outside of the Arena Shopping Park, and sorting the parking and loading on Green Lanes, would be big steps, and politically difficult. Whoever writes announcements like the Council’s “Active travel to aid social distancing” knows that. That, I expect, is why, despite TfL’s rating of Highest Priority for an emergency bike route on Green Lanes; despite the actions of Enfield to the north and Hackney to the south, which make us the missing link; depsite the growing Green Lanes cycle traffic which occurs despite the congestion and evident danger; despite the pathetically slow buses; despite the geography which makes this such an obvious route both for cycle commuting and for cycling to local shops, services and schools – despite all of this, a Green Lanes cycle route is not mentioned by the Haringey Council at this time.

We should be able to cycle safely, to work or to school or to go shopping. And people riding on buses should not have to sit patiently in traffic so that a few people can park right where they want. This has long been an pressing problem – for reasons of air pollution, diseases of inactivity, carbon footprint and so on. Now, as we emerge from the COVID lockdown, it has become an unavoidable one.

San Francisco, New York, Washington: Iron Triangle of Rent

This map show where the higher paid jobs in the USA were concentrated in 2016.

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Transitioning to desert

Carr-fireWe were back in California for a visit last year. It was the end of a road trip, across the US in June. There were fires in New Mexico and Colorado as we passed through, but it was California that was a shock. We crossed the Sierra Nevada at Mamouth to visit Devil’s Postpile, and immediately we were in smoke an ash from a fire in the John Muir Wilderness a short way away. Helicopters, fighting that fire. We saw the great postpiles…

Devil-postpile

Devil’s Postpile: worth seeing

then walked, through smoke and a drizzle of ash, across the scar left by the Rainbow Fire of 1992. There was a forest here before that fire; will there ever be again?

Rainbow-fire

In the midst of that scar, we came to Rainbow Falls, from which the fire got its name. Still worth a visit.

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The next day, we crossed Tioga Pass and headed across Yosemite into the Central Valley. From the western boundary of the park, for the rest of our visit – another month – we were in smoke and haze, rarely seeing fire but knowing that there were active fires in every direction.

Much is made of houses and even towns burning, and of the problem of houses built scattered in woods on the urban fringe. Yes, that’s a problem: the fire damage is greater, both because houses burn and because the priority of protecting houses can compromise that of minimizing the spread of the fire; insurance companies, the state legislature & local planning commissions will need to sort it out. But, for the houses amidst the trees, we can miss seeing the bigger picture: we are watching the creation of deserts. These Mediterranean climates, which have always been warm and dry, are now getting drier, and hot. The vegetation, live and dead, which had before been part of a healthy landscape, is now just fuel. Mature deserts don’t burn so much, because there’s not much to burn. These places will keep burning, year after year, until there is nothing left to burn.

 

Malicious protagonists

A nice pair of evasive narrator-villains: in Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead, Mrs. Duszejko, an old woman who lives in the forest and attributes a string of murders to vengeful animals, seeing them (retrospectively) in the stars. Philip Bowman in James Salter’s All That Is: we see through his eyes a lifetime of bad luck in love and money until in the end we see that we’ve been listening to a man who does not know himself, who can shock us but not himself. Salter’s slow reveal of all this is astonishingly well controlled. Duszejko is differnt – it turns out she’s just lying about events, and the interest in the book is more her perceptions of the people and place around her than either mystery or narrative performance.

Unreliable narrators are a dime a dozen, and my pairing these two in particular may just show that I don’t read enough. Or more to the point, didn’t pay much attention to fiction I read in my first fifty-odd years.

I’ll double down on this arbitrary match-making by claiming to see a family resemblance between Duszejko, Bowman, and such psychopaths as Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley, and Mary Katherine Blackwood in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The latter cases are different in that, from early on, we know the characters for what they are; what they are, though, is so strange to us that an excellent story can be made from their continued ability to shock us by simply responding, in character, to new developments.

 

Your town center needs a public market

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San Benedetto Market, Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy (Google it, then click Images). This 8,000 sq metre market is the largest of four municipal markets in a city of just 150,000 – less than a London borough.

Traditional markets for fresh foods – fruit and veg, meat, fish, cheese, baked goods, local specialties, plus a few places to eat or get take-way, with many stalls in one place, can be beautiful and welcoming public places, a value to the community. They can provide channels by which small local producers can get their products to market, and also opportunity for a number of small traders.

In some places such markets thrive, but there are fewer and fewer, many of them faded and many being pushed out by new development. Is the public market an obsolete model, or are we just doing something wrong?

Public markets are not an obsolete model; in fact, they are one of the best ways we have of bringing life back to our town centers. They are killed off by two things. One is that it is in the financial interest of town councils, property developers and large retailers to kill them off, even when they provide great benefits to both consumers and producers. The other is that good market management doesn’t happen automatically – it’s something the market vendors and the local government need to work together to maintain.

A good public market creates value by bringing many consumers and many producers together in one place. Marketplaces in towns have done just that for thousands of years. But, as with any other market, there are people who can benefit from taking control of the marketplace, raking off some rent. Once upon a time that would have been a king or a feudal lord; today it is superstores and shopping mall developers, who bring a single space under one ownership. This can be a profitable business because, once you are there, having parked your car or gotten off your bus, the business controlling that space has a kind of monopoly on your business.

(Notice that this happens with virtual marketplaces as much as with material ones: twenty years ago, the World-Wide Web seemed a place where anybody could freely connect with any business, and sages actually worried if it could ever be made profitable, or “monetized”; now we can’t figure out how to prevent Amazon and Google from monetizing our every move).

In Britain as in much of the world, public markets have been allowed to decay, shrink, and often disappear altogether, replaced by these privatized spaces. In many places, we see evidence of a community’s thirst for public markets from the persistence of street markets. Consider that many of these persist despite the logistical costs of requiring vendors to set up and break down their stalls and move all their goods daily, and to operate without plumbing or refrigeration. Cities around the world long ago solved this problem by creating indoor markets with stalls, electricity and plumbing. Similarly the proliferation of farmers’ markets, which get custom despite being high priced, exposed to the weather and open just once a week, show how much we miss a real marketplace.

Why do local governments allow this? One reason is that the privatisers of the prime town centre space – the superstores and the shopping mall developers – can offer more, because of what they will earn from their monopoly control of that little space. Councils are short of money, and the property developers will give them a price.

The other reason is that, all too often, it is easy for developers and local governments to kill markets, because many are poorly run.

The management of a public market is not simple: many traders depend on it, but all have their own businesses to run. And, the interests of a single vendor often conflict with the interests of the market as a whole: if I am, say, the one butcher in a thriving market of greengrocers, and a stall becomes vacant, I would probably say that it should go to another greengrocer because we already have plenty of butchers (i.e., me). The grocers are likely to think there are plenty of grocers already – nobody really likes to have more competitors. Perhaps the butcher-greengrocer disagreement will be settled by letting the stall go to somebody selling cheap luggage instead. You may be able to picture markets – once, thriving fresh food markets – which have gradually degenerated in this way. Similar issues arise with the maintenance of quality standards, and with finding traders and community members who are willing to devote some time to market governance. Technically, this is what economists call a collective action, or free-rider, problem. The world is full of such problems – you get similar problems in the use of parks and streets and libraries and public toilets and stopping global heating: in each case, if the community wants a public good (in this case, a well run marketplace), it needs to ensure that good management is maintained.

We see town centers dying, and think they’re being killed off by Amazon and other Web vendors. That’s part of the story, but they were already wounded, often mortally, by supermarkets, the privatizers of the public marketplace. Regular food purchases create foot traffic, and bring customers for other businesses. Put substantial indoor public markets with a good selection of fresh food and other daily necessities, in good central locations, and they will serve as the best anchors for thriving town centers.

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Here are some good information sources:

Municipal Institute of Barcelona Markets Website (English version) of the governing board for Barcelona’s municipal markets. Shows a bit how it’s done.

Urbact Markets: markets are the heart, soul and motor of cities. This is the report (2015) of the Urbact Markets European project to promote urban markets, in which several cities and regions took part: Attica (Greece), Dublin (Ireland), Westminster (United Kingdom), Turin (Italy), Suceava (Romania), Toulouse (France), Wrocław (Poland), Pécs (Hungary) and Barcelona.

Understanding London’s Markets. Mayor of London (2017)

Saving our city centres, one local market at a time. Julian Dobson, The Guardian (2015) This is an excerpt from his book How to Save Our Town Centres.

Gonzalez, S., and G. Dawson. 2015. “Traditional Markets under Threat: Why It?S Happening and What Traders and Customers Can Do.” http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/102291/.

 

Clawing bigger bits of green back from the asphalt

Parklets, plus.

Lots of people are doing parklets these days – re-purposing a single on-street parking spot as a garden or seating area, usually right in front of their own home or business. But what about places where roads or parking spaces are whittling away larger existing green spaces? You can, unfortunately, find examples of this almost anywhere – here are a few from the London borough of Haringey.

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This bit of Oulton Road (above) cuts diagonally across what would otherwise be a green square, within a densely populated residential area and just behind Seven Sisters Primary School, London N15. A completely unnecessary piece of tarmac, there’d be space here for more trees, a basketball court … lots of options for better use.

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This little patch of trees is Graham Green (above), a short way from the Turnpike Lane underground and bus station (N22). It’s got parking on all three sides, with parking permits extended to nearby businesses as well as residents. Replacing the parking with planting could extend the green area by a couple of metres on each side – a lot for this small green. Nearby parking structures have surplus space – business parking could move there.

Going now to the other side of the tracks: on Crouch Hill (N8), we find Crescent Road. The road is filtered – bollards preventing through motor traffic to or from the A103. The great walking/running/cycling route of Parkland Walk sits on one side; on the other are one end of Coleridge Primary School and of the strip of greenery between the school and the A103. Joining up green areas can be important for biodiversity – surely this is a bit of tarmac and spaces that could be sacrificed for trees.

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A short way off, at the other end of Crescent Road, we find Avenue Road Common. As the name suggests (and see map), it’s more road than common: a tiny bit of grass and trees, paved footpath and then parking all around.

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The UK government’s CO2 target calls for far more trees than the country is actually planting; too many street trees, squeezed between footpath and roadway and close to houses, are smallish ornamentals which are anyway not allowed to grow big (and thus not allowed to provide shade or impound carbon) because insurance companies fret about foundations. It is time to join with those who would make London the first “national park city“, by seizing on places like those shown here to push back the asphalt, and let the trees advance.

Why I care about freedom of movement in Europe

160 days until our EU citizenship and freedom of movement turn i

Note (1st October 2019): The post below was written in April.  Today at the Conservative party conference, Home Secretary Priti Patel smirked while she declaring she will “end the free movement of people forever” as if that were driving a stake through a vampire’s heart. The Labour party, on the other hand, has made some progress, the party conference voting overwhelmingly to support free movement; yet Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott makes clear that the leadership doesn’t feel bound by that – so, despite the appearance of progress, my plague-on-both-your-houses must stand.

The original post: It pains me to see the leadership of the UK Labour Party doubling down on its opposition to continued freedom of movement between the UK and the other 27 countries of the EU. A few impressions:

Westminster politicians don’t understand this issue, because they are typically more inward-looking, less international, than their constituents. British political careers famously begin at university and of course continue within the UK, with the MP being somebody who has devoted years to getting the support first of party members and then of voters, almost all of them UK citizens. The upper levels of the civil service are likewise extremely British. Contrast that with work in most sectors of business, education, or the health service, where an international cast of both co-workers and customers/clients/students/patients is the norm, and where careers often include opportunities for work abroad. My guess is that, relative to other Britons of the same age and education, most Westminster politicians, whatever the party, don’t have a clue of the extent to which freedom of movement within Europe has become a part of the lives – and the identity – of many of their constituents.

The university where I teach, a mile and a half from the Palace of Westminster, might as well be on a different planet.

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