Changing how streets are designed always causes debate and discussion. But it is important to understand that there are real issues being tackled and reams of public policy research. This page skims the surface of some of the key pieces of evidence.
COVID-19 is increasing car use
For many years London has seen a gradual reduction in private car use, and an increase in public transport use:
COVID-19 has changed the balance. Public transport use is dramatically down with capacity restrictions and fear of the pandemic pushing people away. As a result, private car use is increasing. Congestion is already worse in outer London than before COVID-19:
And even more worrying is that Merton was seeing large rises in vehicle use before COVID-19. Rises in vehicle use like this are ultimately not sustainable:
Merton’s air is polluted. And that has consequences:
- Children’s lungs don’t develop fully: 5-10% smaller than they should be.
- Life expectancy is reduced: by around 2 years, an estimated 9,500 early deaths across London each year.
- Potential links to heart and lung disease, respiratory conditions, dementia, miscarriage, teenage psychotic episodes and reduced cognitive ability.
And it turns out the air inside cars is actually worse than the air outside. So, parents driving their children to school are actually damaging their own children more than other children.
Over a 10 year period, Waltham Forest in north London saw 51,000 households move below the NO2 recommended maximum level thanks to the council’s programme of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and other interventions:
Melting glaciers. Burning forests. Rising sea levels. It’s not good.
Transport is a key part of the problem, and one of the key drivers for changing how we travel in Merton:
- Transport is responsible for around 28% of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, the largest amount by any sector.
- Since 1990 the absolute level of emissions has dropped by just 3%.
- Gains from enhanced fuel economy are lost due to more vehicle journeys.
- Cars are much bigger than they used to be. For example, a VW Golf has got 64% heavier, 11% longer and 26% wider in the last 50 years.
As it stands, reducing the use of vehicles and increasing the use of active travel and public transport is one of the best ways individuals can help save the planet.
On average across the UK, 1 child dies, and 37 are seriously injured, every week. This isn’t good enough. More info.
- Residents in Low Traffic Neighbourhoods have been observed to spend 40-45 minutes per week more in active travel (walking/cycling). More info.
- People walking, cycling and using public transport spend more in their local shops, spending 40 per cent more each month than car drivers. More info.
- A typical diesel car costs the NHS over £16,000 over its lifetime, far more than is paid in tax. More info.
- Just 56% of London households have access to a car. More info.
- Reducing road space doesn’t necessarily cause traffic to divert elsewhere. Some traffic just disappears, which is known as traffic evaporation. More info.
- An overall summary of the evidence by the Scottish Government. More info.