Fears unfounded over Crystal Palace’s Low Traffic network

JOE PAXTON reports from Upper Norwood after the first week of controversial road closures which, despite predictions of doom and gloom, have not caused Armageddon

Crystal Palace yesterday afternoon: predictions of a traffic apocalypse seem wide of the mark

Local social media earlier this week was debating which of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would arrive first on Church Road.

Yet despite some scaremongering and much angst, predictions of doom and road rage have not materialised, and many residents of the Low Traffic Neighbourhood introduced in Crystal Palace this week seem happy with it, to judge from news reports and conversations we have had.

With traffic limited to residents and deliveries, the streets are quiet. People report an experience like waking up from a bad dream: more walking, cycling (including children), not being disturbed from early in the morning to late at night by traffic noise, and such natural city-living activities as chatting to neighbours and strangers in the street.

Best of both worlds, the long-standing and inconvenient diversion of the essential 410 bus has ended. A “bus gate” means it can travel through the neighbourhood but private vehicles can’t, unless they are prepared to help solve the council’s financial woes by paying a hefty fine.

All this is a sharp contrast to the situation before the scheme was completed earlier this week.

The road closures affect Sylvan Hill, Stambourne Way and Fox Hill, side roads that link the major roads at Church Road and Auckland Road.

Free-flowing traffic on Church Road earlier this week, despite the predictions of doom

Fed-up residents had counted the traffic and found more than 6,000 vehicles a day on the busiest roads, almost all using residential side streets as a “Triangle by-pass” during longer journeys. A survey of residents found, predictably, concerns about air pollution, noise, asthma, sleep, mental health and traffic danger. This was especially so for those not nimble enough to cross side streets which had become as busy as main roads, but lacking formal crossings and other safety features.

Contrary to the assertions of its opponents, the LTN is not a “small, leafy, rich, enclave”.

It extends from South Norwood to Anerley Road and the Crystal Palace Triangle. It is nearly a mile and a half north to south, and up to half a mile wide. Parts at the Anerley end are in Bromley. Around 10,000 people (2011 census) live in it. It contains a large council estate, as well as a secondary school, which generates school run traffic but to which a lot more pupils walk through the area, and a primary school.

And according to that last census, around 40 per cent of households in the area do not have a private vehicle, so up to now have been experiencing all the downsides of unrestricted traffic without any of the benefits. Those who don’t own cars tend to be the poor, BAME and disabled.

Up to now, the main burden of through traffic has fallen on the spinal route through the neighbourhood – Hamlet Road, Auckland Road and Lancaster Road, and some streets connecting it to the main roads. Other streets, cul de sacs and the Auckland Rise Estate, are quieter, but their residents have still had to experience some of the noise of the busier routes, and fumes and danger of the busier roads which they would need to use to enter and leave the area.

‘Just on my way to Sainsbury’s Westow Street to buy some milk and a jar of coffee’

Why, then, are so many residents in and near the area, and drivers from as far away as Chislehurst and Newton Abbot, so upset about the scheme?

Within the area, some are having to drive further to get around the road closures, though in most cases the extra distance would be well under a mile.

Some of the suggested problems have been laughable (“Croydon people are now having to drive through streets in Bromley”. Oh the horror!), including suggestions that ascending the 250-foot (at most) elevation of the Norwood ridge from the lower ground around is comparable with scaling the North Face of the Eiger.

The main argument of the opponents, however, is that the vehicles which have been passing through the neighbourhood have been diverted on to main roads. This, they say, will add to existing congestion. This, they claim, will cause more pollution (it is always assumed that vehicles only pollute when they are queuing). The congestion will mean customers (who are always assumed to be driving) will stay away from businesses on the Triangle.

All of the links in this logical chain seem to owe more to that false friend, “common sense”, than to any real evidence. Nationally and internationally, traffic has disappeared after the introduction of such low-traffic schemes, as people make other choices of route or means of travel. Part of the point of such schemes is to help change people’s polluting habits, to gently get us out of our cars for all but the most essential journeys.

The main roads, particularly approaching and in the Triangle, are notoriously congested at some times, but not most of the time, even though there are currently some road works and blockages. Vehicles spew fumes and particulates when they are moving fast as well as when they are stationary.

Parking in and near the Triangle is so restricted, and other means of access so convenient, that it seems unlikely drivers are dominant among Triangle customers, especially as no one leaves many of the businesses – pubs and restaurants, hairdressers, boutiques and estate agents – having to carry anything too heavy, unless they have eaten a particularly stodgy pudding!

There seems to be no data to support that element of opponents’ arguments.

Residents with complaints are on stronger grounds on process. The council has been trying to do all this in the middle of a pandemic, and communications have been woeful. The process is meant to work via consultation during the experiment.

Cllr Stuart King: keen on safer streets

There is a good case for this, because it enables discussion to be based on actual experience, not the unprovable assertions of two opposing sides. But it does require both a clear plan to collect data before and after the road changes are introduced, quantitative and qualitative, and a process in which all people of goodwill, whether supporters or sceptical, can feel they have voice, and from which some intelligent adaptation to the scheme might emerge (for example replacing the fixed barriers with cameras allowing resident access).

Residents, on both sides, have been asking the council to make clear their intentions about this part of the process and have offered to help with legwork on a volunteer basis, recognising the council doesn’t have much money. Nothing has emerged so far.

It is to that which Stuart King, the council cabinet member for transport, and his colleagues should turn their attention as a matter of urgency, if they want their basic concept to succeed, and heal the community from the controversy to which his well-intentioned and promising, but fumblingly implemented scheme has given rise.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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14 Responses to Fears unfounded over Crystal Palace’s Low Traffic network

  1. Ian Ross says:

    Armageddon may not have happened. Yet. Lower traffic volumes from both COVID related working from home, closed/restricted businesses and the closed schools which give an artificial perspective.
    What is entirely lacking is any consultation with those affected or any actual logic to the closures which would have been explained and challenged before the unilateral council actions were taken. Added inconvenience should not, apparently, be a concern but basic safety should. We already witnessed an ambulance at a road block by South Norwood lake. Luckily an earlier ambulance had made it where needed not, I doubt, by judgement and certainly not satnav accuracy. Where seconds count, emergency services should not have to negotiate an obstacle course of road closures. There is no mention of knock on effects to other minor roads that bear the brunt of road closures. Many have voiced their concerns and anger at this.
    Whilst the desire to make our roads safer, less polluting and to encourage healthier lifestyles is entirely laudable, pushing through with a programme of road closures is a gross abuse of the emergency powers bestowed by Grant Shapps. I would urge all to write to Shapps demanding the removal of these powers from Croydon Council since they can’t be trusted to use them fairly and logically. This to be followed by all roads reopened pending full public consultation.

  2. Carthy G says:

    Pushing the traffic into the Triangle doesnt solve anything. Nice that your roads are quiet but now it’s all pushed to one place! Every other road has to deal with traffic from schools, stations, high streets… its London ffs. What makes yours special? I’d like my road closed so I can “wake up from a bad dream” too please! Wouldnt that be lovely for us all!

  3. Nathan says:

    My five minute drive taking my elderly mother from Church Road to the GP Surgery on Auckland Road she has been going to for many years took 45 minutes each way the other day. Not impressed.

  4. Clifford Jones says:

    Perhaps Joe Paxton should revisit Church Road a little later in the day absolute gridlock same as South Norwood High Street. Also can he count the number of residents exercising on the closed roads or cycling up and down I’ve only seen a handful so why not utilise Crystal Palace Park or South Norwood Lake Park instead. Change the Victorian opening hours to 24 hour opening and adapt the parks for cycles. Crystal Palace already has a race track and then get the roads open again. Schools open again soon and the chaos will only get worse

  5. ivancompo says:

    Lack of consultation seems to be the biggest bugbear, but to be fair, the funding for these projects was announced by central government back in May, saying:

    “Pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors will be created in England within weeks as part of a £250 million emergency active travel fund”.

    There was no way that kind of timescale was going to allow for a lengthy consultation exercise. The issues with resident access can be addressed by number plate recognition cameras.

    • Ian Ross says:

      We live on Canham Road which is now being overused as people avoid the Triangle and the “essential” works on South Norwood Hill. So essential they couldn’t be done during the low traffic of the early lockdown. This plus the closed roads, essentially rendered private, and the predicted blight on the rest of the area is the result.
      We endure the scrum of Crystal Palace match days influx and the area becomes gridlocked in normal times. I’m intrigued to know what thought has been given to this. I’m sure as much as the rest.

  6. Pat Baiche says:

    Too many people have treated roads in this area like the old Crystal Palace racing circuit!!

  7. Leonie Bryan says:

    There has been a notable increase in speeding traffic on all the side roads these closures have pushes all residents though (Hamlet, Waldergrave, Belvedere, Cintra Park, Patterson and Milestone). Anerley Hill, Church Road and the triangle are a disaster zone adding anywhere from an extra 15 minutes (at good times) to over an hour extra (during rush hour) for me to get to and from work and home. I don’t have the luxury of cycling or walking or taking public transport (which I wouldn’t do in the Pandemic anyway). And I’m yet to see all these extra people cycling around Fox Hill (possibly the steepest hill in London) Stanbourne and Sylvan Hill. It’s an utter farce and been enforced with ZERO consultation with the residents of the area or with other Councils (BROMLEY and SOUTHWARK) to discuss the implications for them.

  8. Bryher Scudamore says:

    Most residents in Bromley are suffering the undemocratic actions of Croydon Council. Getting to our GP practise [sic] is impossible. No one in Bromley was consulted and as a lifelong voter it makes me despair for democracy, if a council, with no mandate from residents can just take this kind of action. I would like to meet Jo [sic] Paxton to discuss his report – I was the chief reporter for the long lost Norwood News and have some experience in accurate journalism.

  9. Carol Davey says:

    A previous five minute journey from one end of Auckland Road to the other end now taking 55 minutes. Adding 50 minutes of traffic pollution. No guarantee of how long an emergency vehicle might take to reach residents trapped in the closed-down area. Elderly/disabled people not able to walk or cycle up the steepest hill in London to get to local shops. High Street being dealt yet another death blow. Croydon Council must really hate the residents of those in the most Northern part of its borough. Trumpeting that cycling groups are happy with the situation means nothing unless they are local taxpayers. In which case can I have their mobile numbers so they can give me a “crossbar” up Fox Hill in an emergency …

    • Ian Ross says:

      That’s progress Croydon Council style. Perhaps we should have an Uber Crossbar service along those deserted streets. I’d offer only my road is now like a race track (2 way) so cycling to an LTN from an HTN is lethal. Maybe I could put the bike in my car and drive it to the LTN. Or maybe Croydon Council could remove the roadblocks and focus on saving, not wasting taxpayers’ money.

  10. Chris Mortimer says:

    This has got to be up there with the most ridiculous things the council has ever done. What used to be a 10 minute drive to Crystal Palace sports centre to take the kids to football training now involves 25-30 minutes sat in traffic jams along Church Road and all the way through Crystal Palace. Constant queues of cars sitting stationary spewing out fumes (sitting in a traffic jam is by far the worst way to create air pollution). Very irritating for me but I cannot begin to imagine how angry people who live on the surrounding roads must be – they basically now live in a car park. Really Croydon Council – is this what we pay our council tax for? So we can sit in a traffic jam looking at clear roads that are perfectly good except that you have dumped plant boxes on them? Here’s a tip – if a road is busy its because it is serving a useful purpose.

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