Environmental view: We need a ‘just transition’ towards cleaner roads

Maya de Souza says Safer Streets need to consider all needs.

Maya de Souza says Safer Streets need to consider all needs. - Credit: Archant

The challenge is apparent in the ongoing efforts by councils on safer streets. The problems from traffic are well-known: noise, road accidents, air pollution, carbon emissions. Some 30,000 people die in the UK annually because of air pollution. A Dartmouth Park survey shows that the vast majority appreciated lockdown side-effects - cleaner air and calm. With Camden’s 2030 commitment to Net Zero, action on transport, 17 per cent of emissions, is also vital, and public commitment to acting on climate change is high.

Yet transport reform, though widely supported, leads to vocal action in opposition: death threats by taxi drivers to the mayor on the congestion charge to full mailboxes to councillors when suspected to be considering action. Low-income households, rarely the losers from safer streets, as a smaller proportion rely on cars, can see the change as a middle-class thing. The result is stagnation.

So how do we build this trust. I’d emphasise co-creation and deliberation – developing a clear vision of an area with the facts and figures on the table. The Better Archway Forum led excellent sessions that ultimately, resulted in a lovely “town centre” replacing a traffic-ridden gyratory. Increasingly, we see examples of fact-based deliberative forums that respect people as intelligent adults.

We need to recognise that there may be losers from solutions as we transition to a new approach to transport. And avoiding this necessitates a range of policies – an integrated approach that works well for as many as possible, for the essential worker trying to drop kids off at school and get to work on time, the young commuter, and the older person walking to the shops.

Working jointly is so important, bringing in people of all classes and backgrounds, inviting people on board, to work towards a “just transition”, avoiding negative impacts on the poorest.

In this way hopefully we can together, even if we don’t have all the answers, take small steps and willingly trial and experiment to build back better.

• Maya de Souza is a former Camden councillor and is co-convenor of Dartmouth Park Talks, a platform for discussion on issues facing our local and global community: dptalks.org