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We must invest in healthier streets to achieve a sustainable London

Making London's streets healthier / iStock-472098197

Due to London’s growing and increasingly dense environment, ‘healthy streets’ are fast becoming a necessary aspect of the capital’s future, writes Esha Banwait.

As identified by the London Assembly’s Hostile Streets report, the need to provide a safe and inviting environment for pedestrians and cyclists is growing, particularly around main roads and major junctions.

Amongst other findings, the report highlights the unsustainable situation of some outer London roads not having a basic level of service; with crossings inaccessible to wheelchairs and buggy users and incomplete cycle lanes exposing people to fast-moving traffic.

This lack of essential street facilities restricts permeability, mobility and the use of streets by members of the public. A failure to provide an inviting street environment not only affects the ability to get from point A to B, but also impacts on people’s health. Perhaps unsurprisingly, TfL recently identified poor health outcomes amongst people residing along main roads. This is largely due to pollution, physical inactivity, curtailed mobility for young people and road traffic collisions.

In addition, other elements have also contributed to London’s hostile street environment; including incomplete cycle superhighways, busy junctions lacking pedestrian phases in signal lights, interrupted pedestrian crossings, inappropriate storm water drainage systems and poor street lighting.

It is therefore encouraging that TfL have put forward a number of recommendations to tackle the problem, including reduced speed limits to address the significant dangers of fast-moving traffic in terms of pollution and overall safety. The methodology and recommendations set out by the report for improving street health is also positive.

"A failure to provide an inviting street environment not only affects the ability to get from point A to B, but also impacts on people’s health"

However, the report could certainly go further in a number of areas. For a start, it could push harder for early recognition in the planning process of opportunities to embed sustainable initiatives. In addition, authorities should identify walking and cycling needs as an urgent priority for public health and not simply in terms of trip numbers. With regard to major strategic development schemes, legal agreements could also be used to resolve incomplete cycle superhighway routes, enhancing pedestrian crossings and improving junctions more widely.  

Furthermore, the inclusion of traffic rules changes, appropriate road markings, signage, street lighting and tactile surfaces within emerging transport schemes would also contribute to a safer London for pedestrians and cyclists alike.

For the Mayor’s ‘healthy streets’ vision to become a reality however, urban planning culture needs to evolve. It is clear that London’s success as a connected city lies in part with its population’s mobility, and it is time the planning system reflected this. Through seeking to prioritise people over cars, the changing culture at TfL is necessary in securing a liveable future environment for the capital. Nevertheless, given the size of the task at hand, it is clear that there is still some way to go.

Esha Banwait is a principal planner at Nexus Planning

Image credit | iStock


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