I’ve just had the pleasure of reading the London Borough of Haringey’s Transport Strategy 2018: Draft for Public Consultation, and also the final report for the borough’s Green Lanes Area Transport Study. Friday 22nd December – tomorrow – is the last day to comment on the draft Transport Strategy. What’s to be said?
The Strategy is full of worthy goals – improved public transport, better walking and cycling environment, reduced traffic, cleaner air. Gotta love it for that. These are all stated in extremely general terms, but a load of implementation plans are promised: a Walking and Cycling Action Plan, a Parking Action Plan, a Sustainable Transport and Travel Action Plan, and a Local Implementation Plan. Given all the virtuous aspirations expressed in the Strategy, one is tempted to sit back and wait for equally virtuous, but more specific, Plans.
This reverie of a green and pleasant Haringey lifts quickly on reading the Green Lanes report where, to pollute that image, the rubber hits the road. Let me say at the start that the Green Lanes report does propose a number of good minor measures for walking, cycling, and reduction of traffic congestion, some of which could be done by the council in the short run and others of which require consultation with various stakeholders over a longer period. I’ll address the details of the report in another post.
On the big questions, though, the Green Lanes report is everything that seemed inevitable in the later stages of the consultation, as discussed last April in my post Deference to Traffic. By that point in the consultation, most of the straightforward options for filtering – bollards, basically – to stop local streets from being rat runs, had already been dropped: further consideration of filtering the 19 rungs of the Harringay Ladder was explictly ruled out, as was the filtering of the N-S roads between West Green and St Ann’s; filtering of Hermitage Road as it approaches St Ann’s was not even mentioned.
That left two big questions in the last round of the consulation – what to do with traffic on Green Lanes, and on Wightman Road. The final recommendation was to do essentially nothing about either. Details of the Wightman Road story can be found on the Living Wightman site.
Behind the council’s unwillingness to act on any of these measures is a fatalistic attachment to the idea that private motor vehicle use will never be reduced. The Green Lanes report reproduces the above figure from the Draft Mayor’s Transport Strategy.
The figure shows projections for changes in travel mode in London over the next quarter century. The mayor’s transport strategy, like the Haringey Council’s, promises the growth of public transport, walking, and cycling. These modes are predicted to rise sharply, while car journeys within London will… only rise a little bit. (Projections in the Mayor’s strategy actually show a bigger rise in car trips for Haringey – the all-London figure shown here is lower because the planners expect car trips in central London to fall substantially. Not for the likes of us here in the suburbs, it seems.) Where all of these buses, bikes and people walking are going to fit if car traffic keeps creeping up is not clear: this strategic projection is actually a recipe for a perpetual thickening of congestion.
Traffic is not a natural phenomenon beyond our control, like sunlight or the tides: we make traffic, and we can reduce it. A big wodge of our road traffic is quite local, for purposes of shopping and the school run. Much of that traffic could be replaced by walking, cycling or bus trips if these were made a bit more convenient and a bit safer, and if driving were made a bit more round-about. That doesn’t mean everybody needs to stop driving – it’s just a question of tipping the scales a bit to encourage other modes and discourage driving. The neighbouring boroughs of Waltham Forest and Enfield are both doing that through their Mini-Holland programmes, and overall traffic is falling there as a result. As you can read in the Green Lanes report (p. 9), during the 2016 closure of Wightman Road, local car trips – trips originating or terminating in the Green Lanes study area, shown on the map below – declined by 11%: that’s from one unplanned filtering of a single road.
Treating road traffic as natural, as a tide which only ever rises, is convenient for politicians because the reduction of traffic, and indeed the managment of traffic, require politicians to solve collective action problems. Nobody likes breathing toxic air, or being afraid to let their kids ride bikes, or making all the frugal and sensible folk who took the bus wait and wait in car traffic, or contributing to global warming; but, making choices as individuals most do go on using cars because it is more convenient for them. Similarly, high streets and small local shops are devastated by traffic – once in a car, most shoppers head for the superstore with a big car park – but plans for bike lanes and bus lanes and closing of rat runs often founder on the preservation of a few parking spaces and all-hours loading on busy roads (one of the big obstacles to filtering either Wightman or the Ladder rungs was congestion on Turnpike Lane, which slowed the buses there: observe traffic, parking and loading on Turnpike Lane, and you’ll see the problem).
The fundamental job of politicians is to break such vicious circles, bringing people together to develop consensus, and rules, to solve such problems. Often, they don’t, and Haringey’s politicians have certainly not been doing so. All I can say in response to the about the Haringey Council’s transport strategy consultation is this: it is a wonderful strategy, if it can be believed. Show us that it can be believed.