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Solutions for our Streets

October 28, 2013

Wandsworth Living Streets’ most recent public meeting (7 October 2013) discussed ‘Solutions – Ideas for How We Travel and Use our Streets‘, with four speakers exploring the theme, followed by a lively and constructive Q&A session.

For those who don’t know it, WLS is the local group of the national charity Living Streets; we seek to work as local residents towards safe, attractive and enjoyable streets across our borough.  We saw the evening as a chance to showcase ideas that have been shown to work as ways to make our streets fit for people of all ages and levels of mobility. 

The topics chosen as examples of ‘solutions for our streets’ were:

Making our Town Centres and shopping streets places where we want to spend time

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Putney resident and town planner Dave Irwin presented proposals for transforming Putney High Street.  His  proposals for this town centre are a model of what can be done to make shopping streets in Wandsworth so attractive that we’ll want to visit them on foot, helping local businesses thrive as a result.  Perhaps surprisingly, only half the vehicles crossing Putney Bridge go through Putney High Street, providing Dave with an opportunity for a fresh look at how we allocate highway space within the high street.

The take-home message was that it’s not about money; we can transform our high streets if we have the will to do so.  Even New York – not normally a beacon of progressive thinking on the public realm – has shown the way with its radical and well-received changes to Times Square.

Boris Bikes about to arrive in Wandsworth

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Sean Conroy, of Transport for London’s Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme, gave an update on the forthcoming extension of ‘Boris Bikes’ to Wandsworth, prefacing his talk by pointing out the brand new docking station visible from the window of our meeting room.  Tantalisingly, he was unable to divulge the launch date – though clearly still on track for December – but we all came away with a better idea of the thinking behind the scheme and practicalities like how much it costs (peanuts, compared to other forms of public transport) and when it’s operational (24/7).

As a BCH scheme member since its 2010 launch, I look forward to seeing how it changes our streets and benefits all Wandsworth residents’ health and quality of life – whether we use the scheme or not.

Car Clubs

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Andy Flood, Senior Transport Planner at Wandsworth Council, updated us on car clubs ZipCar and City Car Club which operate borough-wide.  Launched in the borough in 2007 with 10 on-street parking spaces, car clubs – like Boris Bikes – are a way of providing informal access to vehicles (cars, in this case).  For car-owners who may be considering whether they really need a car, car clubs have the advantage of removing the cost and other burdens (parking, insurance, VED…) of ownership.  From a Living Streets perspective, car clubs are a welcome addition to local transport options since, as Andy explained, residents switching from ownership to car club membership reduce their car use; they also mean that our streets are less cluttered with only occasionally used private vehicles.

To date, car clubs are still a small player in Wandsworth’s transport mix, with 84 on-street and 55 off-street parking spaces across the borough.  The business model for car clubs is clearly still evolving, with Car2Go seeking to become the new ‘kid on the car club block’ – this would allow pay-and-go driving for one-way trips, which could be just the thing you’re looking for if you are planning to buy bulky items and feel the need to drive a car to get them home.

Humanising the Streets where we live

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For most of us, the street we know best is the one that greets out when we step out of our homes.  Tooting resident Jon Irwin, co-Chair of Wandsworth Environment Forum, has pioneered several new ideas for our streets in Wandsworth.  One of them is putting attractive planters, filled with flowers and shrubs, at strategic positions on a residential street in order to slow vehicles down, stop rat-running, and give the street back its core function as a ‘place’ – where local residents can walk and cycle safely and enjoyably – rather than simply a conduit for motor traffic.

Jon’s key message was ‘we know what we’re doing now isn’t working; so why not change things a bit – try it and see?’.  After all, as the old management saying goes: ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, keep getting what you’re getting’.  Experimental traffic orders mean that we can try innovative schemes – and if they don’t work, we revert to the way things are now, or try something different.

WLS holds public meetings at irregular intervals, but if you’d like to get involved in helping make our streets safer, more attractive and enjoyable, do get in touch, join our email list by contacting:

Susie Morrow (Chair, Wandsworth Living Streets)

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