“Be brave and ambitious” when developing plans for people friendly streets, said Will Norman at last week’s Liveable Neighbourhoods conference. London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner urged councillors to take the lead in transforming their streets. “You have real power. Tell your officers what you want to see, and don’t accept it if they say it’s too difficult,” he said.
“Traffic, road danger and pollution are not inevitable. They are the consequence of people’s choices. Communities, councillors, officers and professionals across London have the power to change how people make those choices. The more ambitious the proposals the more likely we are to fund them.”
The London Mayor’s Liveable Neighbourhoods programme is awarding councils funding over the next five years to improve streets by making it easier to travel on foot and bike and to use public transport. The first round of funding was in 2017/18, with £89m awarded so far.
Liveable Neighbourhoods builds on the Mini-Holland programme, which awarded around £90m to the outer London boroughs of Enfield, Kingston upon Thames and Waltham Forest in 2014.
“Your decisions about the way streets are used has the potential to transform public health,” Norman told delegates. “You can clean the air for your residents and stop another child being hit by a car on the way to school. Ambitious Liveable Neighbourhoods schemes are how we are going to solve these major challenges that are facing our city.”
Each morning 250,000 ‘school run’ car journeys are made across the capital, said Norman. “We need less traffic on our residential streets. We need junctions that are designed not just to move cars but also to safely move people riding bikes. We need protected space for cycling and safe crossing for pedestrians on busy roads, and that is what we have seen in the three Mini-Holland boroughs.”
Norman welcomed the growing popularity of Play Streets, where residential streets are closed to traffic one day each month. “This allows kids, families and neighbours to get outdoors and socialise on a regular basis. It brings people together. But doing this once a month is not enough - we need to see these benefits every day.”
The event was hosted by Haringey Council at Alexandra Palace and produced in partnership with TfL. It was the first opportunity for councillors, officers, practitioners, suppliers and activists across the capital and beyond to discuss the Liveable Neighbourhoods programme.
Truly inclusive schemes
So far, 18 councils have been awarded Liveable Neighbourhoods funding, among them Haringey, which is drawing up plans to reallocate road space and close some sections of roads to motorised traffic in Crouch End.
Kirsten Hearn, Haringey’s cabinet member for environment, said that local activists were pressing her to get on with Liveable Neighbourhoods improvements. “I don’t mind this at all – it keeps me focused. But I want to make sure the people who live in the area are taken along with us positively rather than dragged. That way lies terrible opposition, and life is too short.”
In the autumn, trials are due to start in Crouch End, Hearn announced. “We are going to bring in temporary measures to see if they are going to work. You can’t just put in things as there could be unintended consequences. We may have to do things in slightly different ways.”
Liveable Neighbourhoods should be designed to meet the needs of disabled people, older people and children, said Hearn, who is blind. “How much do you engage with the people we are designing for? People are against change, frightened they might not be able to cope with new things. Do we remember this when we are consulting and engaging in scheme designs?”
The problem of “transport poverty” can result in people being cut off from work and health care, socialising and maintaining family contacts “because of the cost and unsuitability of transport and the environment and the lack of alternative accessible transport”.
She added: “Some older and disabled people have told me they can no longer find their bus stop because it is somewhere beyond the cycle route or they can’t use their bus stop as there is nowhere to sit. They have stopped going out because they are also unlikely to have access to a car or be able to afford a taxi, even a subsidised one. From here it is a short ramp to social isolation.”
Having access to smartphones may help to combat this, Hearn suggested. “How can we harness this to be a digital companion to us in the Liveable Streets environment? We need to find ways to work with users to understand that it is not only possible to create an environment that welcomes all users, it is economic, innovative and humane to do this too.”
That is why it’s so important that Liveable Neighbourhoods are accessible and inclusive, she said. “We need to be part of the decision making, and not just people experimented upon in the course of designing a scheme. Why don't we factor in one-to-one usability support, teaching people how to use the space? This will remove a lot of opposition to change. Orientation and wayfinding support during and after construction is as important as painting lines on the road.”
In response to concerns raised by disability groups, TfL is to install zebra crossings at all its floating bus stops, said Ben Plowden, TfL’s director of strategy and planning, surface transport. “We need to make sure there is a pedestrian right of way to connect the footway to the bus stop,” he said.
TfL will also monitor if changing priorities towards walking and cycling has had an adverse impact on bus journey times and reliability, said Plowden. “Buses can get caught up in traffic queues, so you can provide some mitigation like a bus gate or a bus lane, if the consequence of the walking and cycling investment might be a change in the traffic patterns at a junction or on a corridor. We need to make sure the bus network remains universally available and reliable.”
Plowden estimates there are eight million car trips in London each day that could be walked or cycled. “There is a huge reservoir of trips that are potentially switchable from private car use to walking and cycling. There has been significant investment in the public transport network, but we do need continued investment in inner and outer London as that is where the greatest road shift potential resides.”
He told delegates: “We need to work with you to bring about this switch from private car use to walking and cycling. If you invest in the right things in the right communities you can encourage that mode shift.”
Who are the champions?
The final session of the day discussed how to develop Liveable Neighbourhoods Champions. The panel included Clyde Loakes, Waltham Forest’s deputy leader and cabinet member for transport and the environment, who stated: “If anyone tells you what was done in Waltham Forest cannot be done in your patch they are lying. If people tell you that what has happened in Waltham Forest and Enfield is simply not true and there is a manipulation of the figures then they are lying. They have not been to see the levels of transformation that have been achieved.”
Waltham Forest’s Mini-Holland programme has improved the air quality, reduced the amount of private car movements and has improved health outcomes “in a way that no public health scheme has ever done in Waltham Forest”.
The programme has also “reinvigorated” shopping streets in Waltham Forest. “This isn’t just a highways scheme, this is a transformation scheme.”
Loakes praised the “fantastic group of officers” at Waltham Forest “who I could trust with my political future”. He said: “These officers were empowered because finally they could do stuff they really wanted to do rather than just sticking yellow lines down and filling pot holes. They could finally change things for the better.”
He also praised local activists who were “prepared to defend councillors and officers and go into those places we couldn’t to fight the case and win the arguments.”
Another Mini-Holland champion, Enfield’s former deputy leader Daniel Anderson, said that Liveable Neighbourhoods schemes require a “clear vision” if they are to succeed. In Enfield’s case, there were three principles: to transform high streets and town centres; promote more active travel; and create safe and secure cycle lanes.
“With each of those it is about having a narrative,” he said. “It helps shape what you are doing and gives you a structure to build on.”
Challenging the dominance of the car will never be “plain sailing”, warned Anderson. “There are people who will be vociferous and nasty about their objections. They will get very personal, make formal complaints and try to stop you. But you have to be stoical. Ask yourself; why are you doing this? If it is on shaky foundations, then you will falter.”
Anderson referred to his close collaboration, and occasional rows, with Richard Eason, the council’s programme director. “We were like Lennon and McCartney. But once we were clear and had thought through all the arguments we knew we could take on the opposition. I had to deal with the same protestors turning up time and again, but we just kept the line. We were consistent - we knew why we were doing it. You carry on. You may get some nasty emails but it has to be water off a duck’s back.”
Anderson told delegates to beware of the possibility of being caught up in drawn-out and futile consultations. “We spent two years on the A105 consultation when the actual bid said four weeks. We tried all different avenues but the people who opposed it opposed it even more.”
The majority of local people do not to get involved, and tend to be neutral, “if slightly cynical”, said Anderson. “If you are trying to engage with the most negative and angry local people you are wasting your time. The doomsayers are not the people you need to influence - it is the vast majority who are quiet, so you focus on the vision. You do what you need to do and continue to engage with those people and, over time, people will see what you have done and will they’ll be content.”
Brian Deegan from consultant Urban Movement took a more nuanced view on consultations. “If you are talking about main corridors then, yes, you have to get on with it. When you are finding more space for cycling and walking you have to be bold. But if you are talking about liveable neighbourhoods you need some kind of community involvement, and the more collaborative planning techniques you can do the better.”
He pointed to his work in Greater Manchester where community workshops allowed local people to feed in their own ideas, helping to shape plans. “You are then defending their ideas to others who don’t like those ideas. When you are doing area-based treatments there is a case for planning for the change you want to see.”
Starting the conversation
Joe Irvin, the chief executive of charity Living Streets, said volunteers and activists have a part to play in connecting with resident groups, faith associations, sports bodies and people from particular ethnic backgrounds. “You need to start by understanding peoples’ perceptions about their local area. Have a genuine conversation, be open and take ideas from people. It’s a good thing to aim for a co-design of a scheme as this will produce a better outcome as well as carrying people with you. Use the right communication skills and build support by emphasising the wider community benefits.”
Irvin said that even if people do not like rat-running through their area it does not necessarily mean they will welcome more people cycling through either. “But if people think the changes are about improving their streets they will buy in. Ordinary people can become leaders in their local area and if they are plugged in they will be the best champions you can have.”
Fran Graham, campaigns coordinator, at London Cycling Campaign, said: “Most people think cycling has a positive impact, and most people want less air pollution, they want to feel safer when they are walking or cycling about. The issue comes when you talk about it happening on their road or next door to them. That is when people get nervous about change, and that is where the mindset has to be brought along on this journey.”
Graham said it was important to understand who the key stakeholders were across the community and find out what they would like to see happen. “You don’t consult on whether or not you are going to do to the scheme but on how to do it. It is about taking on-board feedback and bringing that forward for design. There are examples of schemes across London that didn’t do this and have fallen down as a result.”
Event photography courtesy of Ruth Wheeler
The 64-page Liveable Neighbourhoods Guide is out now. Register here to obtain your free PDF of the guide
No is not an option, this is your moment - your decisions have the potential to transform our streets @willnorman brilliant opening words to #liveableneighbourhoods19 @cmdkenyon
From bicycle taxis to lively debate on how we can make our neighbourhoods more liveable and loveable - the first Liveable Neighbourhoods Conference challenged us all to make where we live healthier and happier @haringeycouncil
It's nice to see the great plans Tower Hamlets has for traffic reduction and improvements to community spaces being presented at the #LiveableNeighbourhoods19 @BetterStreetsTH
Chatting all things funding at #liveableneighbourhoods19 - thinking strategically and bringing together different funding streams can provide significant pots of Also, use of e.g. routine maintenance funds for footway repair can make a huge difference for #walking @becksmoo
Great tour of Crouch End #LiveableNeighbourhoods19 from @ProjectCentreUK to close the Conference hosted in Haringey today @robzowski
@haringeycouncil leader at #liveableneighbourhoods19 makes v important point that LN is about social justice and that we need to ask questions about long held assumptions about social norms relating to cars and how social housing is developed @CityStrategist
Thank you to everyone who made the inaugural #LiveableNeighbourhoods conference such a successful event! It was a hugely enjoyable day and it was really nice to see so many familiar faces as well as new people from across the UK @HassanMohamad85
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