That was the view of Waltham Forest’s Cllr Clyde Loakes, who has led work in his own borough over the past seven years, including the introduction of mini hollands and continued programme of Low Transport Neighbourhoods he suggested had their roots in work decades ago.
‘We’re endeavouring to unpick a narrative that has been embedded in our culture and our behaviour for the past 50 years that the car is king’, said Loakes. ‘What the car needs the car gets – and that’s been to the detriment of what increasingly we now see as active travel modes of transportation’.
Waltham Forest has worked hard to encourage people not to jump into their cars when they can use public transport, creating wider pavements and quieter, safer residential streets, and creating ‘transformational’ change backed by evidence on obesity and other metrics. But it has been difficult in a ‘heated’ atmosphere where the media and judiciary do not like the agenda, said Loakes, and where many local authorities being challenged by the legal system.
‘The courts are still heavily stacked against those who want a radical transformation that is for the common good’, he said. Social media is also full of ‘angry’ comments, but LTN principles in particular have been put into practice over the past decades on social housing estates with barriers cutting traffic. ‘We have to keep working and challenging our status quo’, he said.
The conference also heard from Elad Eisenstein, masterminding Westminster’s Oxford Street Strategy, which is aimed at regenerating the central zone and includes a raised hill designed by MRVDV which is to be constructed next month and could help drive the transformation of the Marble Arch gyratory. But the key challenge, said Eisenstein, is to do with managing the pressure of large numbers of pedestrians in the area, especially given an increase of 70% to the footfall that will result from Crossrail opening. Part of this will come from connecting the urban realm with the inside as a kind of ecosystem, underpinned by the strategy’s green, 10-year framework. The work will also include a 40% increase in the number of trees and double the amount of seating, along with a ‘lift and shift’ approach where trialling takes place. ‘That's the important thing’, said Eisenstein. ‘You have to have a level of flexibility in those things so that you can address them’.
Other speakers included LDA Design’s Sophie Thompson, who showed how her Strand project could usher in an important section of pedestrianisation and a testable meanwhile space for the capital early next year, along with her thoughts on what she branded a ‘paradigm shift’ that’s occurred with our streets in the last 18 months. This has been evident in things like the ‘semi-privatisation’ of our streets with outdoor dining and ‘embracing the winter’, as well as the creation of parklets and other pop-ups. ‘Whilst it's been a hugely challenging time during the pandemic, like lots of us it's also been very exciting to watch what's been happening’, she said. ‘Streets have long been conceived as often places for movement and now critically we can see them as public spaces in their own right, which is a massive shift in thinking’. Co-design and collaboration on projects are the way forward, she suggested.
Finally, Arup’s Susan Claris said there were definitely signs of positive change but that we would be foolish if we didn’t recognize the scale of the challenge, across the whole of the city. ‘You can do a lot to improve walking and cycling, but unless we address car use, those improvements are never going to be realised’, she said. London needs what Claris termed ‘transport gluttony’ to be discouraged. ‘It's not being completely anti-car, but it is having that priority to make sure that walking comes first, followed by cycling, public transport, deliveries – and the private car comes at the bottom of the list’.