Thursday 4 June 2020

A letter to the Leader of Brent Council on enabling socially-distanced active travel

Dear Councillor Butt,

I understand that Brent has had a huge challenge dealing with the immediate effects of the COVID-19 epidemic and that most council work during the last two months has had to go into trying to prevent the spread of infection in care homes, ensuring homeless people are housed and fed, and all the other critical issues arising.

While I recognise the excellent response of the council to these immediate challenges, I urge you to consider that a large part of the next phase of dealing with the crisis will be to ensure that people can get back to work and school while ensuring social distancing. This is particularly problematic for Brent because of the traditional high reliance on public transport in the borough (having the largest number of tube stations of any London borough) and the fact there is not excess road capacity for a large number of new car journeys to be made (which would be very bad for the health of the population anyway, even if there was, not to say that it would exclude the large percentage of families without cars).

Both the government and Transport for London (under the Mayor) have recognised that the pandemic creates an entirely changed situation, in the need to rapidly and radically upgrade the highway environment to enable more jouneys on bike and foot. The major potential in Brent, with most many regular journeys being between 1 and 5 miles in length, is clearly for cycling. 

You will be aware of the new network management statutory guidance issued by the Department for Transport last month calling on councils to reallocate road space to people walking and cycling, and giving very clear, concrete examples of what the government expects councils to do, in terms of Installing ‘pop-up’ cycle facilities with a minimum level of physical separation from volume traffic, the introduction of more ‘school streets’, restricting access for motor vehicles at certain times (or at all times) to specific streets, modal filters (also known as filtered permeability), closing roads to motor traffic, for example by using planters or large barriers, and ‘whole-route’ approaches to create corridors for buses, cycles and access only on key routes into town and city centres.

I am sure you are also aware of the very tight timetable of allocation of funding for these measures announced by the DfT on 28 May: bids must be in this week, and you will be aware of the stipulation that 'To receive any money under this or future tranches, boroughs and TfL will need to satisfy the Department that there are swift and meaningful plans in place to reallocate road space to cyclists and pedestrians, including on strategic corridors’ (my emphasis).

I am therefore writing to urge you to immediately approve and insist on an ambitious plan for socially distanced active travel provision that will benefit all the people of Brent in both the short and longer term, that fully meets the requirements outlined above: a plan that has clear specifics, is deliverable, and transformative.

Thank you very much.


David Arditti