Campaigners urge Newham Council to seize ‘opportunity’ to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists
PUBLISHED: 07:00 12 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:27 12 May 2020
Campaigners have urged the council to make walking and cycling safer.
Newham Cyclists members argue the virus pandemic has exposed a lack of balance between the needs of drivers, pedestrians and bicycle riders.
The group called for more energy or “political impetus” from town hall staff in the face of “entrenched” opposition to active ways of getting about from the borough’s “motor car lobby”.
Arnold Ridout, Newham Cyclists’ co-ordinator, said: “The current Covid-19 crisis has shown that it is possible to improve air quality in Newham, to improve the health of its residents by having a culture of active travel and improving the public realm.
“The message from the council should no longer be that the motor car is more important than walking or cycling.”
He added in a letter to Cllr James Asser, Newham’s transport cabinet chief, that “sound” ideas from the council have not been translated into improvements on the ground, claiming the borough “remains some way behind best practice”.
The group wants measures to be introduced in order to ensure safe social distancing. These include wider pavements, temporary cycle lines, shorter pedestrian crossing waiting times and filtering streets.
Neighbourhoods where measures could be brought in include areas around East Ham and Upton Park Underground stations.
The group also wants a schools street to be reintroduced in Cheering Lane, East Village and warns that as lockdown is eased, more people will use vehicles for journeys which could be made on foot or by bike, making routes congested before Covid-19 even worse.
Among its longer term demands, Newham Cyclists members want the council’s on-street parking proposals brought in; parking on pavements to end and a 20mph speed limit throughout the borough, except on trunk roads.
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Cllr James Asser responded, saying the council is aware it has to do more work on the borough’s infrastructure to give people more options when it comes to walking and cycling.
He added Newham has been working on measures to get more cycle lanes and has had success in applying for grants to improve neighbourhoods.
“The current crisis has highlighted how important some of these measures are. Newham like all councils is trying to look at how we can address the need for social distancing and what short term measures we can bring in to make it easier for residents.
“We will be bringing forward some plans to help people on our high streets in the next couple of weeks. We are also looking at what we can do longer term to meet this challenge on a more permanent basis,” Cllr Asser said.
He added that the changes announced by the prime minister on Sunday, May 10 are going to present public transport with “huge challenges” and people who need to go back to work.
Cllr Asser said: “Whilst some people are undoubtedly going to get into their car, in Newham less than half the residents have access to a car which makes public transport vital for the majority of people.
“Additionally many people will work in central locations, where they will not be able to park, which equally makes public transport essential for them too.
“We are working closely with TfL on how we can meet this challenge. We are also working with other London boroughs to prepare as the lockdown changes.
“This is a huge challenge and we have staff working hard to look at all the available options and what changes we can make,” he said.
A petition urging Newham and TfL to introduce measures to make walking and cycling safer during Covid-19 has been started. Visit Change.org and search Newham Safe Streets to sign.
Campaigner Karl O’Keeffe said: “We need to put people ahead of cars. Out of this terrible situation, we have a unique opportunity to address the pollution that is so detrimental to residents’ quality of life.
“It is a silent pandemic more damaging than coronavirus, killing at least 96 people in Newham a year.”
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