'If your strategy aims to increase pollution and congestion, it’s wrong'

Children need safe streets to ride their bicycles

Children learning to ride a bike - Credit: PA Images

It’s rare that columns say the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet. But that was certainly the case with Stephen Taylor’s searing honesty last week, when he said that when it comes to transport, “congestion is the plan”.

He wrote that making journeys “slower and more polluted” is not a negative side effect, but a positive ambition. In turn, he says, this deliberate gridlock forces people to stop using cars, taxis, or buses.

Yet if your strategy aims to increase pollution and congestion, it’s wrong.

In response to 69 per cent of residents opposing the Haverstock Hill cycle lanes, Belsize councillor Steve Adams and I proposed an alternative route for the cycle lanes, which would be better for both cyclists and other road users.

Cllr Adams is the keenest cyclist on Camden Council, having biked for charity in dozens of countries. He noted at the meeting that approved the Haverstock Hill scheme his infuriation at the ambition to pit cyclists against drivers, bus users, and pedestrians.

Cllr Oliver Cooper called for a "root and branch" review. Picture: Cllr Oliver Cooper

Cllr Oliver Cooper says road users need to be empowered by having more choice - Credit: Oliver Cooper


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The aim should not be to narrow down people’s options by making roads unusable for current users, but to empower people by giving them more choice.

It means teaching cycle skills to all pupils in all schools. Right now, the biggest factor in whether you cycle is whether your parents did. That makes real change impossible.

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It means more electric vehicle chargers. EVs create a third as much air pollution and a third as much CO2 across their lifetime as petrol cars – yet Camden has a third as many charge points per person as Westminster or Kensington & Chelsea.

It means making it easier to use e-scooters on roads and in bus and cycle lanes. Ongoing trials will work out how best to regulate them, but it’s better for users and pedestrians than having them on pavements.

It means looking at the evidence of policies’ impact honestly. Camden refuses to publish forecasts of the impact of traffic schemes – so it’s impossible to assess whether they’ve worked.

For a year, Camden backed TfL reducing Finchley Road to one lane of general northbound traffic outside the O2 Centre. This bottleneck caused gridlock and rat-running, but Camden didn’t object – it appeared that congestion was the plan.

Instead, we should empower all residents by giving them a choice in how they travel. That means making changes only when they lead to less congestion and pollution, not more.

Oliver Cooper is Conservative councillor of Hampstead Town ward and leader of the opposition at Camden Council

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