Covid – 19 and Active Travel in Newham

A lot has been going on since our note to Councillor Asser on 6 May;

(1) Government Guidelines to Local Authorities were issued on 9 May outlining bold and clear actions that should be taken in weeks “to reallocate road space to people walking and cycling, both to encourage active travel and to enable social distancing to restart”  In respect of immediate measures these were more radical than envisaged in our submission.  Of the various funding sources announced, the £2b over 5 years and £250m for pop up bike lanes was already announced in February.

(2) TfL have issued their Streetspace for London Plan followed by interim guidance to Local Authorities on 15 May.  This plan also meets the challenge and urgency of the situation; and includes temporary cycle routes, additional space for walking and cycling in town centres and transport hubs, accelerating Low Traffic neighbourhoods.  On the downside some existing sources of existing TfL funding have been adversely affected or moved into the Streetspace Plan.

(3) Newham Cyclists held meeting with Council officers responsible for sustainable transport on 15 May.  This covered a wide range of options available for measures that could be taken in accordance with the Government Guidelines and gave us a chance to put forward the many suggestions we had gathered from a variety of sources.

(4) Later on 15 May the Mayor of Newham released a statement indicating that the Council had “been working on plans over recent weeks to invest more to encourage walking and cycling.” Some action has been taken in Green Street and High Street North to facilitate social distancing on the pavement but everything else remains as an option or under discussion or has no implementation date. An analysis of why Newham Cyclists is concerned with this response as falling short of expectations is set out below.

(5) This week Councillor Asser has been in touch with us.  He kindly offered a meeting which we are arranging for next week.  In doing so he emphasised the work in hand relating to cycling, walking, low traffic neighbourhoods and school streets in the face of challenges in respect of finance and resources. He expressed a determination that projects should not be announced before it is clear they can be implemented.

The Newham Response

It is clear that urgent action is needed.  The Government Guidelines specify a number of actions to be taken within weeks.  These are matched to the Mayor’s statement in the annex.

There is no mention in the Mayor’s statement of a number of key elements of the Government Guidelines for action.  Nor any mention of (a) removal of the legal parking on pavements which make social distancing impossible and (b) ending the free permit for residents to park on the street.  Those actions that are mentioned (other than High Street North and Green St) are subject variously to consideration of options, an implementation period without a time limit, examination or, in the case of Streetscape Plans discussions with TfL.

It is true that all local authorities face challenges to finance and pressure on resources. We see other London Boroughs having taken more significant action already.  It also is likely that any new funding will go to those authorities that are nimble in putting forward credible schemes meeting tough deadlines.     Indeed there are opportunities for quick and cheap interventions in Newham meeting the Government Guidelines. We have put these forward and will continue to do so.

The response from Newham Council so far gives us concern that it is continuing to fall behind in active travel, and that it will not take the opportunity (albeit in grim circumstances) of achieving a rebalancing of the priority between motor vehicles and active/sustainable transport in the borough.  There remains a high risk of returning to what the Mayor has called the “old normal” with its well – recognised effects on air quality, the general environment, public health and safety – areas where Newham already lags behind the country and other London Boroughs. We fear that history will not look kindly on Newham if it fails to grasp this opportunity to match other boroughs which took effective steps to protect their residents from Covd-19.  The fact that there is an organised motor vehicle lobby in Newham should not prevent steps being taken to restrict motor vehicles in favour of active travel which, where taken elsewhere have proved to be successful.  The example of Waltham Forest shows that they will turn out to be popular too.


Points in government guidelines are in italics;

  • “Pop up” cycle facilities.  The Mayor’s statement includes the carefully nuanced i.e. limited, statement that “From next week, more changes will be introduced, and options explored, in other high ‘footfall’ areas of the borough to help residents shop, walk and cycle safely. 

    The statement goes on to specify in this respect (a) “Examining which roads can be narrowed or converted to one-way only by using barriers to create more social distancing space” and (b) Reviewing ‘insets’ for car parking, and other parking bays, in high ‘footfall’ areas to see which ones can be removed to widen footpath areas for safe walking or cycling.”  One way streets – even with cycle contraflows are a second best option compared with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.  Cycling will not be made more attractive if those cycling are pushed into through traffic.  In contrast the Government Guidelines advocate segregated cycle lanes as far as possible.

  • Using cones and barriers to widen footways particularly outside shops and transport hubs.  Action has been taken, as announced by the Mayor, in High Street North and Green Street.  Some inset parking bays have been removed and loading time have been limited, but the predominant action is stencilling the pavement and putting up signs.  These, and the decluttering of pavements promised by the Mayor, are not a substitute for creating genuine space for walking and cycling.

  • Encouraging walking and cycling to school, for example through the introduction of more ‘school streets’.  The mayor’s statement does not mention adding to the existing 5 school street schemes in Newham.
  • Reducing speed limits: 20mph speed limits are being more widely adopted as an appropriate speed limit for residential roads, and many through streets in built-up areas. Not specifically mentioned in the Mayor’s statement.  Newham has traditionally been reluctant to introduce 20 mph limits (despite our consistent suggestions in response to consultations) and even in some cases failed to signpost the existing ones clearly. 

  • Introducing pedestrian and cycle zones: restricting access for motor vehicles at certain times (or at all times) to specific streets, or networks of streets, particularly town centres and high streets. Not specifically mentioned in the Mayor’s statement.

  • Modal filters (also known as filtered permeability); closing roads to motor traffic, for example by using planters or large barriers. Often used in residential areas, this can create neighbourhoods that are low-traffic or traffic free.  The Mayor’s statement does mention implementing “more” low traffic neighbourhood schemes.  Newham Cyclists are not aware of any existing “Liveable Neighbourhood” or “Low Traffic Neighbourhood” schemes although at least two (Custom House and Forest Gate North) have been in the planning stage.  No areas are specifically stated nor any time scale provided.  Newham Cyclists have proposed others that could be easily implemented.
  • Changes to junction design to accommodate more cyclists.  Not mentioned in the Mayor’s statement.
  • Whole-route’ approaches to create corridors for buses, cycles and access only on key routes into town and city centres.  Not mentioned in the Mayor’s statement despite Newham having been identified (in 2016 by TfL) as having a number of “strategic” corridors with the greatest cycling potential in London.
  • Identifying and bringing forward permanent schemes already planned.  Not mentioned in the Mayor’s statement other than the general reference to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.