Camden shouldn't ignore residents, but we need low-traffic neighbourhoods
John Chamberlain, coordinator, Camden Cycling Campaign
- Credit: Martin Breschinski
Why is cycling being used by some as a political football currently?
Does anyone imagine that not delivering cycling schemes, or delaying them, will help deal with our climate crisis? In the Ham&High Cllr Steve Adams suggests Camden Council has “rushed” traffic schemes, and says a “£1.3m” cycle track on Prince of Wales Road has not significantly increased cycling levels and that he’d have spent the money teaching “several thousand children to cycle” instead. Cllr Adams concludes “measures must be evidence-led and publicly-supported”. We agree on that, but Cllr Adams should heed his own words.
Cllr Adams’ own Conservative government mandated rapid roll-out of trial schemes last year, with consultation during or after the trial. The Prince of Wales Road scheme, according to the latest publicly available data, has seen circa 75% growth in cycling and cost half of what Cllr Adams says it did.
On where money is best spent, Cllr Adams is also evidentially wrong. Of course teaching kids to cycle is great. But doing that alone doesn’t keep them cycling into adulthood. You need to provide safe, direct cycle routes for that – low-traffic neighbourhoods and cycle tracks. Which Camden Council is doing, in line with evidence from London and globally; evidence that contradicts Cllr Adams’ approach.
On public support, of course the council should work to deliver popular schemes. But consultations are not designed to be, nor should they be, referendums.
We know Londoners (including those in Camden) back more cycling, fewer cars, more action on air quality and climate. Every survey going shows it, and we’ve just elected a new mayor partly on that basis.
The government, mayor, council and most of us accept the urgent need to reduce unnecessary car use to cut emissions. But being asked to change habits now, here, can be scary.
Being asked yes/no on a new cycle track at the end of our road tends to lead to noisy, scared, angry residents. That reaction doesn’t help make Camden better, nor does it deliver good outcomes to cancel new schemes because people are a bit upset.
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Of course, Camden shouldn’t ignore residents. It should monitor, gather evidence, and ask locals what works and doesn’t, then modify schemes to work as well as possible. Which is what it is doing. The alternative is years of delays and inaction on climate, pollution, inactivity and road danger that surely no one really wants.
John Chamberlain is coordinator of Camden Cyclists, a branch of the London Cycling Campaign.