Seema Chandwani and the Low Traffic Neighbourhood

Councillor Chandwani is a member of the Haringey Council cabinet – in fact, the cabinet member for “Welfare, Customers + Public Realm”, the last item of which includes many aspects of streets. So by publishing her response to a public council consultation about streets and traffic which covers her own ward (the low traffic neighbourhood [LTN] proposal for Bruce Grove and West Green), she is sending a message – she’s an insider, but is positioning herself on the outside of this process. She states “I am elected to represent the residents of West Green and it’s incumbent on me to advocate their concerns to help reshape these proposals” – which sounds right in general, but oddly placed since this is her contribution to a public consultation, the whole point of which is to canvas those concerns. In that context, it is hard to tell to what extent her statement is meant to represent her constituents’ views, and to what extent it is meant to position her in intra-cabinet debates on the future of LTNs. It is notable that at no point in her statement does she say whether or not she supports the LTN proposal – she has not shared that part of her consultation response.

What follow are my comments on the points Chandwani makes.

Disabled drivers. She says “in my view it is unacceptable that Haringey has not chosen to exempt Blue Badge holders from LTN restrictions like Ealing, Hackney, Lewisham, to name a few. This would resolve the issue immediately.” Her recommendation: “Ensure all Blue Badge holders are exempt from LTN restrictions.” This sounds big – impossible, in fact, if (as planned) many of the LTN restrictions are fixed physical barriers. But when I then look at Hackney’s policy, it is quite narrowly drawn: “Blue Badge holders will be able to drive through traffic filters on applicable bus routes in … low traffic neighbourhoods”. Reading further, we see that Hackney’s policy is qualified further: “The exemption would see residents [meaning Hackney residents? LTN residents? doesn’t say] with companion badges – which register a specific vehicle number plate to a Blue Badge – exempted from low traffic neighbourhood restrictions on classified roads with bus routes that are managed by the Council.” If that’s the approach Chandwani is talking about, the main issue it raises is whether the technology used to allow buses through Haringey’s modal filters, would also be suitable for detecting number plates with companion badges. I don’t know the answer to that – I expect it has something to do with cameras vs bus gates. But I also don’t know which Chandwani is doing: making an attack on all fixed physical barriers, implying that every one of them should be replaced by an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) camera; or saying that (resident?) blue badge drivers should be able to go through bus gates. There’s a big difference.

Disabled children. West Green ward has two special needs (SEND) schools. As specialist schools, they draw from a larger area, and many parents drive their children to these schools. Chandwani says

“It is vitally important for those parents that they can still access the school using any mode of transportation that they feel is conducive to the needs of their child.”

which on the surface doesn’t mean much at all, since the Haringey LTN proposals do not restrict access by any sort of vehicle to any address – you can still get there in your car, but sometimes you have to go around to do so. (With the school streets proposals you would have trouble driving to a school’s front door, but school streets rules can presumably take into account special needs assessments, if not always the subjective judgement of each parent). What comes next, however, is:

“To give an example, one parent of a child at The Grove informed me of her concerns a slight change of route, timing or duration would have on her autistic child.”

Perhaps this example is just poorly chosen. I hope so, because in the case of this particular parent “mode of transportation” seems to have morphed into “following a certain precise route”, and the only way to meet Chandwani’s first condition (“which they feel is conducive to the means of their child”) would seem to be for the council to never do anything ever that would change traffic layouts and routes (for an LTN or any other reason) anywhere between this child’s home and The Grove. So I am left wondering whether Chandwani’s intervention here means nothing (yes, you can still drive to the school, but we knew that), or everything (all special needs parents must be able to take exactly the route they think best, regardless of the traffic controls which otherwise apply).

Belmont Rd. Belmont Road is the southern half of the B155, running north from West Green Road to Lordship Lane. There it crosses to The Roundway, which in turn connects to the A10, which brings a lot of traffic down from the North Circular. As it stands now, Belmont Road runs through the Bruce Grove/West Green LTN, but is not part of the LTN plans. By cutting certain other rat runs, the LTN may increase traffic on Belmont (it’s hard to say, because the neighbouring St Ann’s LTN could reduce traffic on Belmont, especially if Option A is chosen). Many residents of Belmont have, understandably, asked that through traffic be removed from their road, by installing an additional bus gate.

Now, I’m an LTN maximalist, and think this would be a good thing to try. It would probably increase traffic on Westbury Avenue and congestion at the Turnpike Lane junction, but you can’t have everything. Eliminating through traffic on Belmont Road would certainly reduce traffic on West Green Road and might – it’s impossible to know without trying – also mitigate the traffic increase anticipated on Philip Lane. So I would agree with Chandwani’s call for a “Solid written and funded commitment to install a bus gate should the traffic increase and remain at over 10% increase after 90 days”, as a commitment to try such a gate under those circumstances. I say “try” because all aspects of a scheme like this need to be regarded as experimental – some LTN measures will work better than others, and all sorts of adjustments may be needed later.

Broadwater Farm Safety

Chandwani notes that the consultation documents do not include feedback from the emergecy services, which “have made clear…that they will not support any designs which create hard physical barrier to their access.” She then argues that proposed fixed filters near Broadwater Farm would not provide adequate emergency access. She concludes by recommending that “all hard physical borders which restrict the movement of emergency services in West Green ward are removed from design proposals in line with the requests from our emergency services.”

It’s hard to interpret this without having seen the emergency services feedback, or whatever discussions may have gone on between the emergency services and the council. I also don’t understand how the problem suddenly grew from a specific one about Broadwater Farm, to the entire ward. Obviously, care must be taken to provide ample emergency access. It needs also to be said, however, that the spectre of increased emergency response times is a standard anti-LTN talking point; it would be good if councillors who were raising such points also made clear that research has found no such problem in LTNs in other London boroughs.

Physical barriers vs cameras

Notice a theme in Chandwani’s interventions on disabled drivers, on parents of special needs children, and on emergency services: if there’s a problem to be solved, the solution seems to be to replace physical barriers (from which no one is exempt) with some sort of smart enforcement, which in practice means ANPR cameras. Now this sounds nice if the exemptions don’t get to be so many that traffic on the neighbourhood streets remains a problem for air quality, child safety or active travel.

The trouble with cameras, though, is that cameras make trouble. A physical barrier may annoy some drivers for a few months but soon comes to be seen as just another cul-de-sac. Many drivers, though, have ongoing antagonistic relationships with cameras. No cul-de-sac was ever on the receiving end of the kind of vitriol – or sabotage – directed at the average speed camera. Also, by creating the possibility of exemptions, cameras invite ongoing arguments over who is exempt; there will always be some residents who like the idea of exemptions for everybody living in the LTN (yes, that’s a thing in some local authorities); if you go down that route, the LTN keeps out rat runners but does nothing whatsoever to reduce car trips by its own residents – it keeps others out but imposes its own traffic on others, the perfect NIMBY intervention.

I’m not suggesting Chandwani wants to see such conflict, or wants all residents to be exempt – just that in my opinion having a lot of cameras would create a setting in which such conflict is likely. To reduce conflict and make the scheme work, keep it simple; cameras have their place, but don’t use too many of them.

Broadwater Farm Construction, and Philip Lane Primary

Chandwani’s suggestions here seem quite reasonable.

Inter-LTN movement

Nothing to see here: some people didn’t understand the map, the division of the LTN into cells (which is what makes it work, in fact), we need to be clear…

Women’s safety

In the end, all Chandwani is calling for under this heading is a safety audit, which is certainly sensible; she also notes that she herself uses a car at night for reasons of personal safety – fine, but as we know you can drive into and out of LTNs, so though her trip may be slightly longer her safety is unaffected. What, then is to see here?

Just this: the safety concern Chandwani says “women residents have expressed” certainly does get expressed – I’ve heard it myself in connection with these same LTN proposals; it is in fact a standard anti-LTN talking point. It has been propogated most conspicuously by the Labour MP Rupa Huq who has documented her enthusiasm for ripping out LTNs in Ealing in an article for the Daily Telegraph, and who took to the floor of the House of Commons to use the murder of Sarah Everard – who had in fact been kidnapped by a policeman while walking along the busy South Circular – as a reason that, for women’s safety, all streets needed plenty of car traffic.

Of course the street-safety specifics of the LTN design need to be attended to – hence the need for the safety audit Chandwani proposes. But overall, the claim that LTNs make streets less safe for women walking at night flies in the face of the actual research, which finds that street crime (and especially violent and sexual crime) fell in Waltham Forest LTNs, relative to otherwise similar places in London (why Waltham Forest? Because some of their LTNs have been in place for a few years, so there’s before-and-after data to study). It would be nice to have the actual evidence noted when the councillor responsible for the public realm is raising the issue.