Liveable Streets traffic trial cancelled – what’s next?

A series of partial road closures in Bow were suspended on Saturday, just hours into a scheduled eight-day trial period. The state of play right now seems to be as follows: the trial has been cancelled, almost no-one is happy with how it has been handled, and Tower Hamlets Council is planning to come at it fresh in the autumn.

The original trial was organised by Liveable Streets, a £3.3 million programme to transform transport infrastructure and public spaces in Bow. Sections of Coborn Road and Antill Road had been closed, and the stretch of Tredegar Road between Fairfield Road and Parnell Road was open only to buses between 7am and 8pm. 

That was the plan, but after redirection issues and backlash against the trial, including a vocal minority reportedly being aggressive to staff working at the bus gate, Mayor John Biggs ordered that it be cancelled.

This does not mean the end of Liveable Streets. ‘The objective – to reduce unnecessary traffic, particularly through traffic that should stay on main roads – remains,’ Biggs said.

If nothing else, the trial has certainly improved public engagement with the scheme. A Change.org petition to open the traffic gate at Tredegar Road has quickly garnered over 1,800 signatures, while a Change.org petition to reinstate the closures and finish the trial currently has over 100 supporters.

Biggs’ Tweet announcing the trial had been cancelled (below) received dozens of comments, most of them criticising the council for folding to pressure so early.

Fairfield Road and Wick Lane were affected most by the closures. Bow East councillor Marc Frances said: ‘Last Saturday’s trial is a serious setback to the Liveable Streets project and the wider campaign to improve air quality in our terribly polluted borough. As local councillors, we argued that the first and most important step was to tackle the thousands of cars and vans unnecessarily driving along Parnell Road, Old Ford Road, Tredegar Road, St Stephens Road, and Roman Road every morning and evening. Just because it’s been going on for decades, doesn’t mean we have to put up with it forever more.’

Frances thought it had been agreed the trial would operate Monday to Friday and not at weekends, but the dates were changed back. 

‘I’d love to know who decided that and why,’ Frances said. ‘Understandably, residents were not persuaded that a restriction to stop commuter rat-running was needed on Saturdays and Sundays too. Targeting our own local motorists first off is no way to build consensus among our community for action to reduce pollution in Tower Hamlets. The council collectively has to listen to all residents and learn from this mistake before trying again.’

Bow West councillor Val Whitehead said: ‘For me a positive from the trial is that a lot of residents who didn’t know or care much are now engaged, some against but also many in favour.’ She confirmed that Liveable Streets is planning to conduct a revised trial in the autumn. 

‘We will need to do a better job of communicating the aim and scope of the eventual scheme and also the information about the trial, which many people believed would be the final scheme, and clearly didn’t believe us at all when we said it wasn’t that.’ 

Whitehead encourages locals to continue submitting their feedback to the online consultation.

You can submit your feedback on the trial at the Liveable Streets website

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Frederick O'Brien

Fred is a writer and researcher with a background in sustainable development. His research has featured in The Independent, the Evening Standard, and the New York Post, among others.

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