Harrow’s Traffic and Road Safety Advisory Panel met on 22 April to discuss the ‘Streetspace’ schemes. These schemes included low traffic neighbourhoods (removal of through traffic from minor roads), temporary cycle lanes and school streets – ‘swift’ and ‘meaningful’ changes to encourage walking and cycling after the COVID-19 pandemic, as required by Government advice, and in line with policies on climate change, public health and the Mayoral Transport Strategy.
The Panel advised to remove all the LTNs and temporary cycle lanes in Harrow ‘with immediate effect’. School streets were retained because the schools were supportive of them. There was evidence of support in the consultation for retention of the 20mph speed limits within the LTNs, but it is unclear whether these speed limits will be retained.
Low traffic neighbourhoods
Harrow’s low traffic neighbourhood trials commenced in October 2020 and provided a brief glimpse of a people-friendly environment, but changes made in November to December (just as they were bedding in) seriously compromised the schemes. The Southfield Park LTN was removed completely after just 6 weeks along with half of the Headstone South LTN, and after a further 6 weeks the West Harrow and rest of the Headstone South filters were changed to signed-only filters without camera enforcement. The zebra crossing at West Harrow station was also closed, apparently to protect pedestrians from motorists driving illegally through the open filters. The reason was given as the need to improve access for emergency vehicles and the lack of budget to procure enforcement cameras, but the changes resulted in aggression and intimidation from drivers bullying their way through the filters illegally, and there were also several collisions.
Thus without enforcement the trials were effectively terminated after 3 months, much less than the length of time it takes for behaviour change to bed in. Nevertheless, the council’s objective monitoring data presented in the report showed that the schemes had achieved success according to criteria they stated at the start of the trial. There was less traffic in the area, more people walking, and queuing at junctions on boundary roads was no higher in January/February than prior to the start of the scheme in July, as documented in the council’s report.
Consultations were carried out in March in the West Harrow, Headstone South and Francis Road areas with the option for a camera-controlled resident access scheme. This would allow local residents to drive unrestricted through the area, thus removing the perceived disadvantage of inconvenience. The consultation was worded as asking people to ‘Agree’ or ‘Disagree’ with amending the LTN – but those who disagreed may have done so for a number of reasons; indeed some people disagreed because they wanted the original scheme back. The scheme being consulted on had not been trialled, so people did not know what it would be like. It was not a recommended design as there is no long term evidence for the effect of such a scheme; while it would reduce through traffic and thus improve safety, it would not discourage local residents from driving short distances.
By making the decision to remove the LTNs, the council is ignoring the evidence provided by the trial and is throwing away the opportunity to gather more evidence by extending the trials.
Even if the LTNs as a whole are not retained, we recommend that certain aspects of the schemes could be consulted on and retained for local benefit. However, the council has not published detailed feedback such as the level of support in different streets, nor any of the other detailed questions in the consultation.
Streetspace cycle lanes
The Streetspace cycle lanes were created along short sections of dual carriageways along routes that are otherwise single carriageway. These additional lanes are too short to provide any useful motor vehicle capacity, but do encourage high speeds and create dangerous conditions for people cycling. The lanes are too narrow for motorists to safely overtake cyclists within a lane. This means that motorists have to switch lanes to overtake (although they may not do so if they are driving dangerously), and if someone is cycling on the road there is effectively only one lane available for motor traffic anyway.
Converting one motor vehicle lane into a temporary cycle lane would therefore provide safety for people cycling without impacting motor traffic. The temporary cycle lanes were created using traffic cones rather than bolted-down wands, which could provide a semi-permanent solution and are being used by other local authorities. Wands are more expensive and would enable fewer schemes to be implemented, but this would have been far better than implementing a large number of schemes which are now due to be removed.
TfL has published a decision tree which recommends extending traffic orders if a temporary active travel scheme is not performing well, particularly if it can be improved (such as by linking it up with surrounding cycle routes). The Sheepcote Road cycle lane in particular is a Strategic Cycling Route towards Northwick Park Hospital and the University of Westminster, and representatives of both organisations advocate for its retention.
However, rather than look at objective criteria (such as the lack of impact on traffic), council priorities (e.g. Vision Zero – prioritising the safety of vulnerable road users), or the needs of relevant stakeholders, the council based its decision on the Commonplace feedback. This is dominated by complaints of motorists, who outnumber people cycling on these roads. The responses on Commonplace are not representative of population views, as most people are quietly supportive of better conditions for cycling, but are not motivated to provide unsolicited feedback.
The Transport Minister Grant Shapps specifically advised councils not to listen to the loudest voices, and to use scientific polling and surveys to obtain unbiased estimates of population views.
What does this mean for the future for walking and cycling in Harrow?
In assessing the Streetspace programme, the council listened to the loudest voices, despite advice from the Government to make an objective assessment.
There was a very strong, vocal and well organised campaign against Streetspace from the outset, including leafleting, flyposting, and intimidation of supporters of the schemes. The opposition was fuelled by some councillors who also publicly opposed the schemes and wrote to residents recommending they oppose it.
However, councillors did say that they supported better cycling infrastructure in general, but not these specific designs at these specific locations. It is unclear what designs they would have supported at these locations, and why they did not want the designs to be improved rather than removed.
Actions speak louder than words, and this action has shown that the councillors’ true priority is to avoid complaints from motorists.
If unsolicited feedback such as Commonplace is used to assess public support for future cycle lane schemes, there will not be enough cyclist responses to counteract the motorist complaints, and therefore no decent cycle infrastructure will ever be built in Harrow. This is obvious from the fact that no high quality, joined-up cycle infrastructure has been built for over 10 years in Harrow.
The recommendation now goes to the Cabinet on 29 April who make the final decision. The TARSAP advice is advisory, but we expect the Cabinet will follow it. The cost of removing the LTNs (£25k) and the cycle lanes (£50-60k) will negate any benefit of getting the funding in the first place. We are concerned that the lack of strategy, commitment and leadership demonstrated by the council will make it harder for Harrow to obtain funding for street improvements in the future.