Reducing the need for travel is key

Transport experts have long talked about a ‘roads hierarchy’ and we need to act quickly to meet the challenges, says Siân Berry

Thursday, 21st May 2020 — By Sian Berry

Sian Berry

Siân Berry, co-leader of the Green Party

HOW to share out the space on our streets and in our transport system is the puzzle everyone is working to solve, right now, and thinking about space has always been the key to getting transport policies right.

Those of us focused on the environmental and health benefits of good transport have made the efficient use of space a plank of our campaigning for many years.

Right back to complaints I was making 15 years ago about the extra bulk of 4x4s, through successful Space for Cycling campaigning from the London Cycling Campaign, to the bold traffic reduction target announced in February in my campaign to be mayor, fairly distributing space on the roads has been a real obsession of the green movement.

But now there is a difference: Londoners also need this space to be shared out fairly because we need it to protect our health, those around us and the NHS from the risk of passing on coronavirus.

Transport experts have long talked about a “roads hierarchy” – policies that should be invested in first are those that reduce the need to travel, and then assist the most space efficient modes of transport.

The hierarchy puts walking above cycling, and public transport above private vehicles, based on efficiency and fairness.

In a crisis we have to look at the best principles and act quickly to meet the challenge.

The roads hierarchy is now a firm plank of public debate, and I am pleased finally to see the Mayor of London and Camden Council taking action to create more space on our streets for walking and cycling in safety, particularly now that public transport usage must be limited.

In Camden Council’s case, the plans are also incredibly good value.

Five new “phase 1” schemes from Kilburn High Road to Kentish Town for wider pavements, healthy streets and neighbourhoods without through traffic are costing just £60,000 between them.

The Mayor of London’s pavement and safe cycling lanes on the “red routes” under his control are weeks later than I would have liked. I was on Holloway Road with my phone camera pleading for this as soon as lockdown started.

But again these are bold and good-value changes. However, we must never forget the principle at the very top of the hierarchy, which is the best value and safest of all: reducing the need to travel.

With many workers at home, and workplaces temporarily out of action, this is currently being tackled through the lockdown regulations, with unnecessary journeys limited more or less by law. But as we gradually relax the rules we need to be thinking more and more about this priority.

Reducing the need to travel will mean positive change for Camden’s communities. The goal of a “15-minute city” where every home can meet almost all its needs within a decent walk or a short cycle ride is something I and other green-focused politicians have been pushing for years.

A more local economy is the vision we need for the future of London, a future resilient to climate and economic change, and resilient to further waves of this pandemic; one where our key jobs, including offices and entertainment as well as shops and services, aren’t concentrated only in a central zone that everyone travels to every morning, but located closer to home throughout the city.

One where media too are more locally focused, like the Camden New Journal, on where to find what we need within our area, advertising local businesses and services, and building a sustainable community with strong ties and support networks.

We have shown in this crisis that we can adapt and support each other locally to help weather this deadly storm.

We can do the same to build a stronger shelter from the next one too.

• Siân Berry is co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and a Camden councillor for Highgate ward.

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