Since its formation in November 2010, Wandsworth Living Streets, the local group of national charity Living Streets, has campaigned for streets – which form most of our public realm – to be made safe and attractive for everyone to use and enjoy, especially when moving around as pedestrians. Walking is the form of transport with least impact on our environment, and switching journeys which are currently undertaken by private motorised transport to ‘active travel’ has obvious potential to reduce air pollution at source, especially considering the high proportion of short car trips in our borough. Mode shift from driving to walking (and cycling) has many other benefits e.g. quieter and safer streets, and significant health benefits from increased physical activity.
Examples of our campaigning to make walking an easier and safer choice – in effect, to ‘rebalance’ our streets towards people – include our persuading Wandsworth Council (a) to accelerate the introduction of a signalised pedestrian crossing outside the recently opened Brighton Yard entrance of Clapham Junction station, and (b) most recently, to consult on the introduction of a borough-wide 20mph speed limit. The latter was carried in respect of residential streets and is expected to be fully implemented by end-April 2017.
We are mindful that motor traffic-related air pollution arises both from tailpipe emissions and as particulates from brake, tyre and road wear (and interactions between pollutants). For this and other reasons we do not see simply a mass switch from internal combustion engines to the use of electric vehicles as a sustainable, efficient or healthy ‘direction of travel’. In our thinking we are informed by our principles and approach e.g. low-cost practical measures, socially just, open to innovation, participative, and – as noted above – with a primary focus on reducing air pollution at source.
Wandsworth Living Streets has also been involved in supporting the Battersea Society’s recent initiative with London Sustainability Exchange to identity and tackle air pollution ‘hot spots‘ in Battersea. As part of this, Susie Morrow gave a presentation on 11 November 2014 to a Battersea Society-organised public meeting on air pollution with several other speakers. Our WLS presentation was on ‘Air pollution in Battersea – some suggestions for action’, offered from a ‘liveable streets’ perspective.
Our main campaign presently to ‘re-balance’ streets towards people is to persuade Wandsworth Council (and TfL, where applicable) to roll out a 20mph speed limit more widely, to encompass busy streets and town centres where pedestrians and cyclists are concentrated e.g. Northcote Road in Battersea, Putney High Street. We think that air pollution gives us an opportunity for a more strategic look at who, and what, our streets are for. We think that a wide range of actions, from all sectors of civic society in our borough will be needed, and that sticks and carrots will need to be applied to produce meaningful change at the pace and on the scale needed to reduce air pollution at source. We also think that Wandsworth Council is exceptionally well placed to show leadership by example, as well as being the borough organisation with the most power to effect change. In essence, our priorities are: 1. more active travel, 2. to reduce urban [motor] traffic & 3. make remaining vehicles cleaner.
* (In the above illustration) During roadworks the mouth of this junction was temporarily narrowed using traffic cones. This intervention (inadvertently) made the junction more pedestrian- & cyclist-friendly.