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Green Southwark: We need to reduce the number of short journeys by car

A health charity, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, is funding a trial of measures to enable walking and cycling in three areas of Southwark with high levels of air pollution, child obesity and social deprivation – Peckham, Camberwell and Walworth, writes Eleanor Margolies…

I’d like to see every household in the study area get a letter with the good news, along with details of how you can hire a bike for a month or join a car club, free cycle training, and a map showing cycle routes and local businesses within a five-minute walk. Planters are just a first step. Unfortunately, Southwark Council hasn’t done this yet.

Some people suggest it would be fairer to try to ‘share out’ traffic – but that assumes that we are stuck with current dangerous levels of traffic and pollution. As if it’s a fixed quantity, like a bucket of dirty engine oil.

In fact, all road traffic has increased in London over the last ten years. But while the numbers on main roads have stayed steady, side streets have suffered a steep increase (up from 5.4 to 9.3 billion annual vehicle miles from 2009-19). Google, Waze and other route-finding apps redirect drivers to side streets. This increases the risk of collisions and serious injury, and puts people off walking and cycling.

We can ask the apps to change the algorithm – ‘to put more weight on child safety and less on driver time savings’, as Rachel Aldred, Professor of Transport at the University of Westminster, says. But will they make the change of their own accord?

We can ask car-owners to think twice. Half of car journeys in London are less than 3km long. That’s about as far as Elephant to Camberwell. On a bike, at a leisurely pootle, it takes fifteen minutes. Fewer people using cars to take short trips means less congestion, so anyone who has to drive or take a bus will find their journey time is more reliable.

Most immediately, we can make sure it feels safe and enjoyable to walk and cycle. That means protected cycle lanes on main roads and less traffic on side roads. Instead of calling for the bucket of dirty engine oil to be spread around, let’s stop adding to it.


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