Monday, 8 December 2014

Dulwich rat runs

Several residents are concerned about the speed and numbers of cars on the streets, but fear that measures which are designed as improvements for walking and cycling in one area could cause unintended unwanted knock-on effects. Southwark's current consultation about the Greendale/ Townley/ East Dulwich Grove junction is generating local debate about the best way to make this junction safer for pedestrians and cyclists without creating unintended rat runs elsewhere.

Even if we all recognise there's a problem with traffic congestion, road danger and air pollution, and understand the pressures of increasing populations and changing journey habits, we might have different ideas as to the best 'solution'. Unfortunately this can result in inertia to ask for and reluctance to support any positive change - or worse, set neighbours and the council against each other in binary entrenched positions rather than directing energy at finding a joint solution.

We'd welcome a collaborative approach which considers the area as a whole - with the sorts of ideas which began to be explored with the Dulwich Society and Sustrans in the summer to try to think collectively about how to tackle some of the traffic problems. Where possible and when there are good reasons to do so, we also support temporary measures to 'try it and see', particularly where there can be ongoing monitoring of impact across neighbouring streets, as well as flexibility to amend light phases, alter hours of operation of traffic restrictions, or tweak physical barriers.

Can we stop our streets being used as rat runs?

Thousands of people who don't live, work or shop here drive through the area every day on their way to another destination, and use easy 'rat running' short cuts wherever they or their sat-navs can find them. As a result, residential streets are not the safe havens they should be for walking, cycling, playing or chatting with neighbours, even outside the manic school run.

These challenges are not unique to Dulwich. Examples from elsewhere of area-wide attempts to address these sorts of issues include:
  • in parts of Hackney 'filtered permeability' is used in a strategic way to protect residential areas from non-local motor traffic: a series of carefully positioned bollards or planters make a whole network of streets less useful as a rat-running short cut. Residents and their visitors/ deliveries etc can still drive to the door if/when they need to, but can also enjoy greater freedom to walk or cycle peacefully and safely away from fast or busy motor traffic. This method of geographically cocooning the character and residents of an area, while removing barriers for walking and cycling, is common in some parts of Europe, and increasingly being considered in traffic-choked parts of London.
  • In response to problems caused by the school run in Scotland (and too many parents believing they must drive their children right to the school gate), there have been trial 'car exclusion zones' with a parking curfew within 300 metres of primary schools at drop off and pick up times. This started in East Lothian, and eleven Edinburgh primary schools will follow next year.
  • A new 'traffic choices' website gives information about traffic issues and illustrates options and potential solutions for people in Bristol and elsewhere. This is worth a look to understand the sorts of choices made by council traffic engineers, and the reasons and cost implications. 
  • The Mayor of Paris has tried limiting private car traffic by restricting travel to alternate days depending on number plate, and has just announced further plans to restrict private motor travel across France's capital.
Many of the current generation of residents have fond memories of walking and cycling to school and recognise the need for something to change to make these the easy, obvious, safe ways of getting around again. There is an opportunity to use this growing awareness as a catalyst to start thinking about how we can improve our neighbourhoods.

Southwark Council has launched an interactive map where residents can highlight concerns and suggestions about roads to inform their draft cycling strategy. If we all share ideas via this tool, as well as positive debate and discussion, can we begin to reclaim more of our streets as safe havens for residents as well as children walking or cycling to school?