A residents’ group in East London has accused the local council of taking “the most extreme, undemocratic, and dangerous decision available”, after it voted to remove most of the borough’s low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) schemes – despite a series of consultations showing that residents are in favour of retaining the traffic-calming measures.
Last night, Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman, as a protest was staged outside the town hall, decided to scrap the walking and cycling initiatives introduced by the previous Labour administration in 2021 in Columbia Road, Arnold Circus, and Old Bethnal Green.
A similar Liveable Streets scheme on Canrobert Street, however, has been retained, while a bus gate restriction in Wapping was kept due to “exceptional” support in a consultation last year.
Rahman, whose Aspire Party won 24 of the borough’s 45 seats at last May’s local elections after standing on pro-car platform, has spent his time in office rolling back initiatives aimed at reducing motor vehicle traffic and promoting active travel, which he claims have increased congestion and contributed to more CO2 emissions in the area.
Last October, the council put an end to School Streets initiatives in the borough, designed to restrict the use of motor vehicles outside schools at drop-off and pick-up times, despite opposition from teachers, parents and pupils.
And at Wednesday’s meeting, Rahman – whose previous spell as Tower Hamlets mayor was cut short when he was found guilty of electoral fraud and “corrupt and illegal practices” – claimed that he was scrapping the LTNs because they “divided communities” and provided one of London’s “most contentious issues”, and that the council would instead invest £6 million in unidentified “active travel” schemes.
“While LTNs improve air quality in their immediate vicinity, they push traffic down surrounding arterial roads, typically lived on by less affluent residents,” he said.
“They are also a barrier for families to get around in what is the most densely populated place in the country. The result is division.”
— London Cycling Campaign (@London_Cycling) September 20, 2023
However, Rahman’s decision comes despite the results of three consultations showing that the majority of residents living in the areas where LTNs have been installed were in favour of keeping them.
According to papers published by the council’s cabinet last week, 59 percent of residents in Bethnal Green supported retaining the traffic-calming schemes, while 58 percent of those surveyed in Arnold Circus were also in favour of the initiatives.
Among the “key concerns” raised by residents opposed to Rahman’s plans in the consultation were the potential loss of a contra-flow cycle lane, the road safety and air quality implications of pre-scheme traffic returning to the area, the removal of public realm improvements such as wider pavements and planting, and the costs of scrapping initiatives which had already received significant investment.
The council report also confirmed that air quality and road safety has improved both within the areas where the schemes have been implemented, as well as on boundary roads.
Earlier this year, the Met Police urged the council not to scrap the Liveable Streets schemes, pointing out that they have led to a “noticeable” reduction in anti-social behaviour.
Following the council’s decision last night, the group Save Our Safer Streets in Tower Hamlets Coalition has pledged to launch a legal challenge against what it describes as a decision that ignores what residents want, as well as “making the air dirtier and making cycling and walking more dangerous at a time when people need cheap forms of transport more than ever”.
“Lutfur Rahman has taken the most extreme, undemocratic, and dangerous decision available to him this evening. He has decided to rip out all the walking and cycling infrastructure in Bethnal Green,” the group posted on its Crowd Justice page last night.
“This is not the end. We know we have public support for our cause and the overwhelming evidence too. With the advice of our lawyers, we will monitor the legality of what the council has done.”
Jane Harris, a campaigner with Save Our Safer Streets, also told the BBC: “We are utterly dismayed by the mayor’s reckless and dangerous decision. He has shown absolute contempt for the health of children and older people in the borough.”
Meanwhile, the London Cycling Campaign said: “The future of Tower Hamlets, London, the planet, is not enabling drivers to shave 30 seconds off their journey by cutting down residential streets. The decision last night risks putting cut-through driving above kids’ lungs and safety.”
Hirra Khan Adeogun, co-director of climate charity Possible, told the Evening Standard that “the decision to rip out LTNs is a disaster for the local community”.
The Tower Hamlets resident continued: “Despite three consultations showing overwhelming public support, a mountain of evidence showing the benefits of calmer roads, and a compromise option on the table, Lutfur Rahman has elected to bin the schemes which protected some of the most deprived Londoners.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.