Mobility Car-Free "Healthy Streets Everyday" Keeps the Cars Away: How a London Project Is...

“Healthy Streets Everyday” Keeps the Cars Away: How a London Project Is Transforming Urban Neighbourhoods

Lauren McAskie
I love talking to passionate CityChangers from around the world, hearing their stories and what drives their activism, then writing up guides for others to get inspired by. There's only one thing that could top a car-free city for me, and that's one made out of chocolate... but a girl can only dream. In the meantime, I'll work on making the first come true.

What are the 10 evidence-based essential ingredients for a “healthy street”, and how can you make sure yours tick all the boxes?

What Are “Healthy Streets”?

The Healthy Streets approach, developed by public health and transport specialist Lucy Saunders, is a system of policies and strategies designed to deliver healthier, more inclusive streets where people can choose to walk and cycle, rather than drive their car.

The approach proposes 10 main indicators of a healthy street, such as inclusivity, safety, cleaner air, easy crossings, and places to interact, stop and rest.

Cross River Partnership (CRP) is one U.K non-profit organisation trying to achieve this through their “Healthy Streets Everyday” project, and is proactively working with a range of partners aiming to make durable and transformative changes to streets throughout London.

The goal of the programme is to aid London’s’ response to Covid by improving walking and cycling infrastructure, which aligns with the broader aims of the government-led Transport for London Streetspace project

The scheme also addresses wider environmental issues such as air pollution and public health, as well as street greening and increasing resilience to climate change to support biodiversity. 

In London, cars take up almost 19% of street space but only account for 11% of journey kilometres. Roads are often congested, making them unsafe and unenjoyable places to walk and cycle. Reducing the dominance of motorised vehicles is therefore a key ingredient to achieving healthier streetscapes for all.

Identify, Don’t Gentrify!

The aim of the project is not to gentrify streets into “healthy” or “unhealthy” categories, but rather tries to show that while most streets may have a few of the 10 healthy indicators, there is probably more that all could be delivering for people. 

CRP project manager Fiona Coull highlighted that Healthy Streets is about “getting people to choose to walk and cycle, not that this is necessarily the only option.”

The key message is that everyone deserves to live in a clean and healthy environment, and people should be able to travel actively if they want to. 

The project has tried to achieve this in various ways, notably through improvements to streetscapes across the city such as the implementation of parklets and CityTrees to increase urban greening and improve air quality.

The program has also introduced new traffic restrictions and aims to organise around 250 car-free events during its course. One example is “school streets” – whereby temporary traffic calming measures and restrictions are implemented on a road outside of a school during drop-off and pick-up times to make roads safer and more liveable places for children.

“But we must be mindful of mobility justice”, Coull said. “For some people, walking and cycling are simply not viable options, especially for elderly and disabled persons.”

“Where parking is a necessity, it will always be provided – but people should always be able to choose to walk and cycle if and how they want to.”

Parklets: Pioneering Pockets of Paradise

One of the more popular methods of improving streetscapes has been through introducing “parklets”: temporary extensions to car-parking spaces often hosting greenery and benches where people can stop to sit and rest. They can also be used for outdoor dining, local art and/or bike parking. 

“Parklets are effective structures that you can implement relatively quickly with a small budget. It shows that when they’re used right, there is no reason why you can’t turn it into a more permanent solution for more liveable streets.”

“Especially in an age where we have very high pressure on resourcing and lack of money to build out footways – parklets are a really viable option.”

Pictured: Parklet outside cafe Paper and Cup in London. Image credit: meristemdesign.co.uk

The more parklets that are implemented, Coull said, the better people will be able to see how the street space can be used in a better way, making it more likely that permanent changes will be achieved in the future.

“Putting in something that you know you can remove is a good way to trial new measures and see what the response of the public will be before anything is put in for good.”

For a more detailed guide on how to create a parklet, please click here.

How To Overcome Opposition From Car Drivers?

Coull says that any decision to take space away from the dominant road user will always generate some backlash from car owners.

“You will always have opposition to new measures. Low traffic Neighbourhoods in particular have been controversial and have received backlash from private car owners.”

“But the best way to counter this is through consultation. The global pandemic has allowed for the rapid mutation of mobility changes within our cities that otherwise wouldn’t have happened so fast, which is a positive thing. But we also have to remember that removing cars is a huge thing, and displacement of analysis alongside increasing awareness is crucial.”

Is Now the Opportunity for a “Green Street” Revolution?

“When we went into extreme lockdown, it had a profound and unprecedented effect on air quality in London. It not only showed people that they actually could walk and cycle, but also that they could enjoy it”, Coull said.

“People are now far more engaged to travel sustainably. Not only this, but it highlighted how locality is becoming more and more important. People are now shopping on a local scale only and doing more things within their own neighbourhoods.”

“I think this is really important because people realised that most of the time they do have everything they need on their doorsteps, and this in itself will encourage people to use their cars less.”

“But it’s key to ensure that as we emerge out of the pandemic, people continue to have this mindset. There is a risk that everyone might jump straight back into their cars – but as long as we continue encourage walking and cycling by implementing the Healthy Streets approach we could have a really positive outcome on the flipside.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Not car-free, but a choice to travel sustainably: making sure people have these options, not an outright car-ban, is important. 
  • The pandemic is a golden opportunity to re-shape opinions: Covid-19 and the impact of the pandemic has provided an opportunity to transform sustainable transport in cities – now is the time to encourage healthier streets in your city. 
  • Temporary trials can lead to better permanent developments: “Parklets” are an exciting and innovative way to repurpose street car parking – by trialling it on a temporary basis you can see what improvements need to be made and how these changes can be made permanent.

For a more detailed guide to healthy streets and how to apply it, visit Healthy Streets Explained.

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