Campaigner in Wandsworth uses petitions to persuade council to remove rat-runs and make family-friendly streets

A London Cycling Campaign member in Wandsworth, Jon Irwin, has been working with the borough council to tackle non-local through traffic that's reducing the quality of life on residential streets. 

A London Cycling Campaign activist in Wandsworth is successfully organising petitions to persuade the borough council to try out temporary measures to reduce rat-running in residential streets.

So far, Jon Irwin has been successful in persuading Wandsworth Council to install temporary barriers to rat-running motor traffic in Fishponds Road, and is hoping his latest petition will remove through motor traffic in two streets in Clapham Common too.

Fishponds Road runs parallel to Upper Tooting Road and is regularly used as a short-cut or rat-run by motor traffic (see the images above).

Tooting town centre is often jammed with motor traffic, and not surprisingly people are keen to avoid it by using the back streets instead.

These people often aren't residents; rather they're savvy drivers (for example, minicab drivers) who know they can cut time by hurrying through residential streets, even though these aren't designed for heavy flows of motor traffic.

Non-local people in cars have little incentive to obey speed limits, or respect the needs of the resdidents, many of them families, who live in these streets. 

That's why so many residential streets - which were once places where children were free to play outside and where neighbours chatted in the street - are on their way to becoming as dangerous, noisy and polluted as the busy main roads a few metres away.

This rat-running motor traffic has a detrimental effect on local residents in other ways too: rather than feel comfortable walking or cycling themselves, it encourages local people to drive for short journeys.

Many authorities have recognised the problem of rat-running, and addressed it in some locations (see below), but there are still many problem areas.

Over the last 10 years, there have been three public consultations calling on Wandsworth Council to do something about the problem of rat-running specifically along Fishponds Road.

However, none of these consultations delivered change because local residents couldn't agree with the council on a solution.

After the last non-result, local resident and keen cyclist (and pedestrian) Jon Irwin started to think about how he could get local buy-in to effect change in his neighbourhood.

He decided to organise a petition asking local residents to support a trial that would see flower planters used as physical barriers to motor traffic on certain back streets while still letting people walk or cycle in a direct route.

You can see on the map below where the planters have been proposed (red dots).

These planters will be strategically placed to prevent motorists using Fishponds Road to avoid Upper Tooting Road.

The materials are expected to cost less than £10,000 (for eight planters), which is extraordinarily cheap for infrastructure improvements, which often run into six figures for what seem like small changes.  

Fishponds Road in Tooting – red dots show position of barriers to traffic

In July 2012, John's petition was presented to the council with over two hundred local names, largely collected by knocking on doors around Fishponds Road.

This week (council business doesn't happen quickly), the petition has gone through committee, and the technical drawings are awaiting presentation to the cabinet member for transport.

All being well, before the end of August there'll be a date set for this scheme to be implemented (hopefully before year-end).

Jon said: "This might seem a long time, but if you live in this street then 18 months from petition to change on the ground is worth waiting for.

"I'm totally confident that the scheme will make the streets safer, by reducing the ease at which people can directly drive through these residential streets.

"By adopting a pilot approach, we helped bring on board other local residents who, while they recognised the problem, felt the need to see how the new layout works first before being able to support making permanent changes."

Jon is confident that using barriers in this way will be successful because they've been used in other areas of London already.

Preventing rat-running in other areas

Rat-running by motorists is a recognised problem among urban planners, and it's not at all unusual to see examples where streets adjacent to busy roads are blocked to avoid people using them for this purpose.

For example, two streets adjacent to the A2 in Southwark - Nettleton Road and Harts Lane - have had barriers installed, and the only motor traffic that can pass through are emergency vehicles. Bicycles and walking trips are unaffected. 

Another example can be found at a residential street in Lambeth: Abercairn Road that runs parallel with Streatham Vale, not far from Streatham Common station. 

Many local journeys in this area are made by car, so traffic jams are frequent on Streatham Vale.

In the past, people tried to avoid those traffic jams by using Abercairn Road to bypass jams. However, this is a street populated by many families, and is clearly not designed for high volumes of motor traffic.

The solution (see below), as it was at New Cross, was to install a 'modal filter', which allows walking, cycling and emergency vehicles to pass through, but prevents motor traffic.

The result - when applied alongside other filters nearby to create area-wide traffic-calming - is a much quieter, safer and more family-friendly street.

As well as preventing rat-running, in some areas of London, these types of barriers are used specifically to encourage cycle journeys.

Indeed, it's possible to create a cycle-friendly route through residential streets without expensive infrastructure, merely using bollards or planters.

The route through De Beauvoir town in Hackney (see below) is used by thousands of cyclists and pedestrians every week, making it much more people-friendly, and has been credited with boosting house prices in the area.

Goldsmiths Row, also in Hackney, has also been transformed into a cycle-friendly street just by the addition of a few bollards.

Mark Ames from the iBikeLondon blog called Goldsmiths Row "a relaxing haven for Hackney's two-wheeled residents".

LCC's Charlie Lloyd said, "Rat-running has been recognised as a problem in London for decades. The standard solution used to be to put in complex one-way systems and hard road blockages, which forced cyclists on to main roads and disrupted bus routes.

These caused problems for cyclists, pedestrians and bus passenger. 'Filtered permeability', as these schemes are known, gives all the benefits of blocking fast through-traffic with none of the problems.

"The use of temporary measures is a fantastic way to get sometimes-sceptical residents and politicians to approve on the measure. We look forward to seeking more of these across London."

Jon Irwin has now set up a similar petition to reduce rat-running on Clapham Common, another area with heavy footfall and used by families and children.

He wants through motor traffic blocked on Nightingale Walk and Windmill Drive - two streets that pass through the common (see map below) and are often used at cut-throughs by motorists trying to avoid traffic lights.

He said, "Wandsworth Council's cabinet member for the environment has told me that if a thousand local people support this petition to remove motor traffic from two small roads on Clapham Common, then they'll do a similar trial to that in Fishponds Road. 

"I urge that London Cycling Campaign supporters who live near Clapham Common to sign and share this petition because it's a simple scheme, and as it's only a trial, it can always be reversed if there are negative consequences.

"I don't think that'll happen, but I'm pleased it gives residents peace of mind to try something new in their area."

The sooner Jon has enough signatures on this petition, the sooner he'll says be pushing the next one:

"I hope this approach can be picked up and replicated by other campaigners across London."

Follow Jon on Twitter @Jon_events or via his blog 

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