Answering “The Horrified Cyclist”

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Local cyclist, environmentalist and Labour member Matthew Snowling, (those are the words he uses to he describe himself, by the way) recently wrote a piece for One Lewisham, attacking the LTN’s. I read it.

I’m so fed up of unsubstantiated, poorly evidenced attacks on any attempts to reduce car use and finally decided I just couldn’t ignore this one. Especially as it’s from a cyclist and someone who claims to care about those less privileged than himself.

if you want to read the original, it’s here.

I took it point by point and have quoted the sections I really took issue with and explained why. I wrote it as an answer, hence the use of the pronoun you throughout.

  1. “Statistical wake-up call” This was a kind of headline to your piece. Really. Yet no real statistics to back up what you say which is largely anecdotal. Nothing wrong with that, people’s testimonies are important and can form part of certain types of data. But, here it has no more value, I would argue than my anecdotal evidence about the area, which is very different.
  2. Using publically available statistics, it is quite clear that a more affluent, higher car owning area is being rewarded with the LTN at the cost an area with lower affluence, lower car ownership and, in places, already serious pollution. I find this totally unacceptable.” You claim you found evidence somewhere that proves the LTN is a scheme to reward rich people who own cars? No, in reality what you mean is, you believe the LTN moves motor traffic from the filtered streets to the designated A roads in the area. Well yes, you may have a point there, that’s what the short term results of these schemes can be. But to extrapolate from this the outrageous claim that this is some kind of deliberate attempt to reward the rich at the expense of the poor would be funny if it wasn’t so unpleasant. First and foremost, LTN’s are an attempt to begin reducing motor traffic on our roads. Mostly the private car journeys that people are able to do by other modes of transport. And yes, to remove those drivers taking shortcuts through smaller streets which were never designed to take through traffic. The ultimate and over riding aim is to reduce motor traffic everywhere, reduce pollution for everyone, reduce congestion, make our whole community better for everyone. And there is lots of evidence to show that happens. Secondly, even if it were true (I can’t believe I’m giving it that much credibility!) why would a good reward for car owners be a restriction on where they use their cars. That’s just ridiculous. Not a very good reward. Almost, a disincentive rather than the opposite, wouldn’t you say?
  3. “ the scheme deliberately seeks to push traffic onto other residential roads.” No it doesn’t “deliberately seek” to do that. Your choice of words encourages divisiveness and diverts attention from what the real aims of LTN’s are. It may be a temporary side effect. But the overall aim of LTN’s is to reduce motor traffic everywhere, encouraging behaviour change, by making people who don’t have to use their cars think very carefully about the journeys they make by car and making different transport choices wherever possible. Reducing car journeys, reduces pollution overall. Which you say is important to you.
  4. These residential ‘main’ roads are not wide and purpose built like the North circular. In fact, my ‘side road’ is far wider than Brownhill Road, where buses now sit in constant traffic from Catford to Burnt Ash Hill, making them pointless to use. “
    This depends on which side roads you are talking about and which sections of the main roads. There are narrow roads in the LTN which suffered huge volumes of traffic throughout the day before implementation. The data is there to prove it, in traffic counts. So you don’t live on one. Lucky you.
  5. “With no sign of promised ‘evaporation’, the project is at best flawed and at worst socially unjust.” Your opinion. You’ve a right to it, I guess. But it’s a seriously flawed and unjust opinion. You haven’t made a case for it as far as I can see. And, “no sign of promised evaporation” . Well, we are only weeks into this project, and it’s only one area. We’ve had over forty years of increasing traffic, pollution, noise etc and after a few weeks you want it all sorted. Added to which, we have came out of lockdown and lots more people seem to have got into their cars. Ok, this could have been predicted you might say. Well it was, and it’s actually another reason we need more LTN strategies, not less. And why central government funded these initiatives. We cannot sustain a car based recovery from Covid, whatever community we are from. If we don’t start doing something right now to stop it, pollution, congestion, noise, road danger we will all see more of it. LTN’s are a beginning.
  6. “The Council states that traffic will reduce in time, but offer very weak evidence that it will ever do so. It is clear they are not interested in the least in this.”
    You really think the Council have done all this because they are not the least interested in traffic reduction? For goodness sake, by all means criticise their communication, planning, implementation, probably a whole load of things they could have done better in this project, but that is frankly a ridiculous accusation without any foundation at all. I’m not even going to discuss the “very weak evidence” bit. There’s loads of it out there. That’s why loads of LA’s are putting them in, that’s why these particular interventions were suggested by the government
  7. “I have cycled the area for years and have never seen such traffic.” Ok, anecdotal evidence again, which I’ve already agreed can have a place in these discussions. However, I’ve also cycled the area for years, work on the bike frequently in the area, use the South Circular several times weekly, and you know, I have seen bad congestion on the South Circular, many many times. Lockdown was such a huge contrast, its really hard to say over the course of a day if overall volumes are greater. There has definitely been a change in the timing of the congestion. I find early morning rush hour is quieter than before and then there is a buildup throughout the afternoon. But, this is a phenomenon occurring all over London post lockdown. If you think it’s all a result of the LTN you are wrong. If you think it’s going to get significantly better by removing one LTN, you are also wrong. Look at Wandsworth, where they have just removed their LTN. But what it will definitely do is set ourselves way back on the hard road to achieving better, less congested and polluted roads for us all in Lewisham, across the whole borough. All of us will suffer, more and for longer.
  8. “I believe we have got to where we are because of a relatively small group of people, including councillors, lobbyists and, quite frankly, NIMBYs. I believe some are hiding behind environmentalism for their own personal benefit while others are blindly follow a belief system along the lines of religious zealotry.” Councillors and lobbyists. Of course. You’re lobbying yourself. But the rest of the very nasty stuff there? Frankly just rude and unjustified. That kind of comment has no place in a measured and balanced critique of something you may well have legitimate concerns about. Just a blatant and ridiculous attempt to discredit people you disagree with. And relatively small number? Well, that’s a meaningless statement in itself, isn’t it.? All I know is that there are many many people who want better streets for everyone. There are many residents in the area itself who want the Lee LTN to stay and there are many of us in other parts of Lewisham who want this to be the first of the roll out across the borough and know that if our council and our Mayor in particular had the courage and foresight to see it through it would be the beginning of a better Lewisham for everyone. No one I’ve met and worked with in forty years of campaigning for safer streets for cycling and for active travel has ever met the description you’ve cooked up, based, I would guess on your own personal prejudices and values. You should have the courage and grace to withdraw it and apologise.
  9. “As a commuter cyclist it is now far worse, we use the ‘main’ roads as they are more direct with less junctions and now have to breath on the increased pollution from cars at standstill and get around them, I have noticed drivers are becoming more aggressive and so it is more dangerous.
    I’ve been riding around London all my life. I use all roads. Main roads have always held more pollution. And yes, we need interventions on main roads. But main road schemes and LTN’s aren’t mutually exclusive. They should work together. But just because half the interventions aren’t there yet, no reason to stop the other half. An LTN isn’t a cycling scheme per se. It’s not for people like you and me. It’s for the families, the disabled riders, the older riders, the less experienced riders, people who won’t use the main roads to ride a bike. It’s to persuade more people to leave cars at home more often, or, hope of hopes, even some people to get rid of their cars, and make more journeys walking and cycling, improving their health in the meantime. Including these comments about cyclists facing increased pollution and danger on main roads in your LTN piece and using the word “now” to imply that this may be linked in some way to LTN’s is a completely unsubstantiated extrapolation.
  10. anyway it ( LTN in Lee) was always quiet outside of rush hours.” More anecdotal stuff. Well, here’s my anecdotal riposte. No, it wasn’t. Depends which roads you’re talking about. Maybe in your wide leafy tree lined boulevard it was. Who knows. However, I’ve worked on most roads round here at all hours of the day. Some may have become quiet outside of rush hour, but others like Ennersdale and Leahurst (hardly wide tree lined boulevards full of rich wealthy white residents are they) most emphatically did not. They remained busy, unpleasant and dangerous all day.
  11. “The Catford part of the South Circular has eight times or more pollution than WTO limits!” We all know the SC is an awful road in drastic need of interventions of its own. Lewisham Cyclists is actively campaigning on improving it. We have recently met TfL about it. Campaign for those interventions as well. Don’t remove one intervention designed to reduce motor traffic, the primary cause of this pollution, just because you’re unhappy with the progress of campaigning on the South Circular. There is not even any evidence that I’ve seen yet that pollution is significantly increased by the LTN anyway on the SC. So why choose this particular strategy of removing an LTN to reduce pollution? Makes no sense.
  12. “We need radical change to reduce traffic in the highest pollution areas first, then only later we can look at localised projects.”
    Really? Why? Where is the evidence this will work any better? More to the point, where’s the logic in that statement? The fundamental problem is too much motor traffic. Depending on the type, location of that traffic there are many interventions and changes we need. EV public transport. Smarter, rationalised delivery systems which reduce numbers of vehicles and need for larger vehicles to enter built up areas, transferring goods at delivery hubs to EV vehicles. Road pricing, restrictions on polluting vehicles. Restrictions on through traffic on roads not designed for them. These are just a few of the things we need to start doing. LTN’s is one of them. To improve the overall situation it’s totally illogical to start rolling back one measure you’ve begun on, spent money, time, energy on, just because you haven’t yet started on the others. Get started on it all. That’s what you’d be campaigning for if you really mean to reduce pollution in the worst affected areas. Not wasting your time and energy getting the first bit of a plan that will improve things for everyone, taken out.
  13. My road is one of the widest in the area with rows of huge trees along its long length, it easily accommodates the traffic that avoids Catford from Brownhill Road to the Bromley Road and vice versa at rush hours.” I’m very happy for you. Not everyone in the Lee LTN is that lucky. It was likely the only way to properly protect all the narrow poorer streets in that LTN from the pollution, road danger and congestion they get, and to keep the flows properly managed, was to filter your road too. But to salve your conscience you would like the LTN removed so they get all that pollution, the noise, the congestion, the road danger they suffered, back once more. Really?

If you really are interested in improving the roads for everyone, carry on campaigning for all the stuff that’s needed to improve Brownhill Rd. and other main roads in Lewisham. There’s way too much polluting traffic on it, you’re right. But, the fact you seem to be devoting so much energy to removing an intervention which is actually designed eventually to reduce polluting traffic, seems odd to me. And if you really believe it’s prioritising the needs of some wealthier more advantaged groups over those of the less advantaged, campaign for more of the same for those more disadvantaged areas too. But, as you say elsewhere in the piece, the Lee LTN is a fairly large area. And there are plenty of less advantaged people living in it, who’ll suffer if it’s gone. Why punish them for our council failing to do as good a job of communicating, planning and implementing the scheme that they could have. Campaign for more schemes, more interventions, and better. And do it now. Stop wasting time getting stuff that can only do good, removed.