Published in the Hampstead & Highgate Express
Residents told us they want Hampstead safe and walkable, so alternatives to cars became one of the main aims of the Neighbourhood Plan.
The plan has measures to make cycling accessible to more people, and calls on Camden and TfL to discourage through traffic. We imagine Hampstead village and South End Green one day as low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), no longer dominated by cars.
This fits both Camden and TfL’s transport strategies. Before the pandemic the city’s roads and railways were loaded. Only active travel – walking and cycling – can keep the growing city mobile.
When the pandemic slashed bus and train capacity, highway authorities took emergency measures, knowing the lost journeys could not be replaced by cars. Whitehall told Camden to dig out plans for active travel, and re-allocate road space under experimental traffic orders. Try first, consult later.
The immediate result, moderated by lockdown, was congestion on narrowed main roads, and overspill into residential streets as drivers with satnavs tried to outflank the queues. Hence the LTNs, creating “traffic cells”: drive in and out, not through.
Popular with their residents, LTNs have still met fierce opposition. Objectors point to congestion on through roads and its pollution. They are not wrong, but they miss the point.
More active travel has long been the official strategy; the authorities have no better way to keep us mobile. But progress had been snail-like, because it makes our cars less useful.
Stevenage shows why. Chief engineer Eric Claxton built a superb network of cycleways, off the road network. But the town would not limit parking. Driving is more convenient so Stevenage is dominated by cars. The cycleways are empty.
That’s us: we take the easy way! So the strategy is walking and riding become easier, driving less so. Already we are shopping more locally. We can’t have some agency deciding for us, so we are working out ourselves which, if any, of our car journeys we’d rather make another way. While we are all doing this, expect the main roads to stay congested.
It’s not the plan gone wrong. It is the plan.