Unanswered questions about road closures

Wendy Davis from Waltham Forest Streets For All asks whether the case for Mini Holland’s road closures has really been made

Mini Holland - Blackhorse Village

A junction with Palmerston Road that has been closed to cars because of changes made as part of the £30m Mini Holland cycling programme

Does closing roads really give us cleaner air?

It’s great to learn air pollution is reducing across London. Of course, there are many contributors to pollution; private cars, public transport, aeroplanes, central heating, wood-burning stoves, industrial processes.

Some years ago, carbon dioxide was the main worry as a contributor to climate change, leading to everyone being urged to buy diesel vehicles. Now the concern is that nitrogen dioxide is a serious danger to health, with diesel the main source.

Like everyone else, the Waltham Forest Streets For All campaign wants cleaner air. However, we contend that recent claims made in the Echo (Evidence racking up for cycle scheme, Page 2, Issue 42) attributing air quality improvements to Mini Holland, have not been verified.

The first problem is that not enough relevant air quality measurements were taken before Mini Holland was implemented. Waltham Forest Council instead bases its claims on a theoretical study by researchers at King’s College London.

Where a source of air pollution such as traffic had changed in a particular place, the King’s College researchers calculated the probable change in air quality for the year 2020. But while the council told them where Mini Holland had closed roads, and therefore reduced traffic, the report did not appear to account for the increase in traffic on other nearby roads. The council’s own figures show that the traffic on main roads in Walthamstow, such as Hoe Street, has increased. We don’t therefore trust the report’s conclusions.

Waltham Forest Streets For All opposes road closures because they make car journeys longer, increase traffic congestion, can delay emergency vehicles, cause inconvenience to small businesses, contribute to delays for buses, and generally make life more difficult for many residents.

If it were possible to demonstrate that road closures do improve air quality and can ensure our children “live six weeks longer” as cited in the King’s College report, there might be a reason to accept limited closures in certain places. But we don’t think the case has been made.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the people who live, work, cycle, walk, and go to school in Palmerston Road, Hoe Street, and Shernhall Street, are experiencing worse pollution than before Mini Holland. We therefore challenge the council not to close any more roads until they have monitored the air pollution at all significant spots in the vicinity for a full year.

The recent ‘Markhouse Village‘ consultation gives us a perfect opportunity to check the impact of road closures properly by monitoring the roads in question, as well as all the surrounding roads into which traffic would be diverted.