Cancel ‘barmy’ TfL lane closure in Finchley Road, say commuters

Fears have been raised over congestion and pollution

Fears have been raised over congestion and pollution. - Credit: Polly Hancock

The “barmy” closure of a lane of traffic outside the O2 Centre in Finchley Road must be reversed, say councillors, commuters and residents.

In May, Transport for London (TfL) widened the pavement on Finchley Road – and closed a lane of traffic – to provide extra space for social distancing during the pandemic, and to encourage walking and cycling. 

However the Streetspace scheme – for which no formal consultation is required unless it is made permanent after 18 months – has increased congestion, rat running, journey time, pollution and traffic as far as St John’s Wood, critics claim.

TfL, which says the temporary measures will be reviewed this week, has been lobbied by three Labour ward councillors to reconsider the scheme in the stretch running between Canfield Gardens and Blackburn Road.

Commuter Ben Lazarus described “unspeakable traffic” and said it often took him over an hour to drive from Swiss Cottage past the O2 Centre.

Traffic brought to a standstill

Traffic brought to a standstill - Credit: Polly Hancock

He said the scheme had caused “untold stress” and called for an end to the “short-sighted, panic-driven policy”.

Dan Adler, who has commuted through Finchley Road for 15 years, called the scheme a “nonsense” and said that pedestrians only use the original 2.5m-wide pavement, with the extended section now adopted by delivery bikes for parking.

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Lucy Findlay, a member of the Combined Residents Associations of South Hampstead, said the increased rat-running and congestion had created queues of traffic in nearby streets such as Broadhurst Gardens, Greencroft Gardens and Fairfax Road.

She warned cyclists’ safety is being put at risk by the narrowed road and that families and children are suffering pollution from idling cars.

The scheme could be made permanent after 18 months

The scheme could be made permanent after 18 months - Credit: Polly Hancock

Research from University College London shows pavements should be at least three metres wide to enable safe social distancing.

Prabhat Vaze, chair of the Belsize Society, said that creating extra space for pedestrians is “understandable” but that the rise of congestion and pollution demanded a rethink.

“We know Camden and TfL have been working hard to deliver appropriate Covid-related changes, and we have seen them make further changes when things don’t work or where they become inappropriate.

“Removing road space outside the O2 Centre for vehicles should be high on any list of lockdown measures that now need to be reviewed and changed.”

The widened pavement being used by delivery motorbikes

The widened pavement being used by delivery motorbikes - Credit: Polly Hancock

Cllr Adam Harrison, Camden’s transport lead, said the council has been “pragmatic” in asking TfL to change or remove unsuccessful traffic measures, such as on Parkway, and that he was in talks with the London authority over the Finchley Road scheme.

Cllr Harrison added: “It remains the case that ‘congestion’ is a synonym for ‘too many cars’, and so our communities still desperately need fewer people to drive and more to walk, cycle, and take public transport if they can.”

Cllr Shiva Tiwari (Lab, West Hampstead) said he and his two fellow ward councillors “agreed” with residents that the Finchley Road measures are causing “unnecessary and unhelpful traffic jams, while also worsening air quality”. Cllr Tiwari said they had lobbied TfL to reconsider the scheme.

TfL says the widened pavement improves social distancing

TfL says the widened pavement improves social distancing - Credit: Polly Hancock

Cllr Oliver Cooper, the Tory leader of Camden Council’s opposition, said: “The pavement outside the O2 Centre is one of the widest pavements in London, and it is the most barmy place to restrict traffic.

“It’s vital that it be reversed to alleviate the pollution crisis that it has created in South Hampstead and Swiss Cottage.”

A TfL spokesperson said: “Our temporary Streetspace measures at busy locations in London, like the widening of the pavement at Finchley Road, are creating extra space and helping people to maintain a safe distance from others as they return to their everyday activities.

“They are vital to help London’s streets cope with increased numbers of people walking and cycling so that we avoid a damaging car-led recovery from coronavirus, which would increase congestion, damage our economy and make our air dirtier – impacting public health.”

TfL said the scheme would be monitored “closely” and changes made if necessary, but that the number of people using the extra walking space met its “threshold” to continue with the measures.

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