Giving up cars will need less stick and more carrot

Friday, 14th May 2021

Finchley Road pedestrian space

Barriers in Finchley Road, installed during the first wave of the pandemic

THERE will be a huge sigh of relief around Finchley Road when the pavement widening Covid measures are removed, (Transport for London ditches pavement widening scheme, May 11).

The decision to take a lane away – so pedestrians could social-distance on a wider pavement – has in recent months caused huge tailbacks, jamming up connecting streets and doubling previous pollution levels.

Residents have become more furious with the attempt to restrict traffic, than the polluting cars themselves. But there should be a sense of regret about going back to normal here.

For many years, Finchley Road – and others main roads in Camden like Euston Road – have been continuously breaking legal air quality limits.

It feels like a very long time ago now, but at the beginning of the Covid pandemic there was a point when locked-down residents were feeling more in touch with nature.

Birdsong was audible on normally busy streets. Spring felt more abundant. The air was noticeably cleaner. Spending so much time indoors, people became more conscious of their surroundings during daily walks or exercise.

For weeks the Finchley Road was completely unrecognisable with no jams at all during the day. People began imagining a smogless future for the high street.

But as lockdown restrictions were lifted, and with people still hesitant of public transport, vehicles returned perhaps in even greater intensity than ever before.

The problem with the Finchley Road scheme, and the many other road layout changes introduced across Camden, is that they feel like too much stick and not enough carrot.

As much as the council and City Hall might want it to happen, people aren’t going to simply stop driving just because there are fewer roads to drive on, or because they are threatened by heavier fines.

Most people in Camden use cars or take cabs because they need to – either for work, to travel to see family, or due to frailty or ill-health. Electric cars may be the future, but at the moment they are prohibitively expensive.

If the goal is to improve air quality by getting more people walking and cycling, then there must be meaningful incentives rather than what feel like punitive measures.

Green shoots

THE Green Party, following its impressive surge in support at the election, deserves recognition and shows its policies should be listened to.

The Universal Basic Income could make a real difference to so many people’s lives. It is the kind of radical proposal which is needed and yet, perhaps, was lacking from the Labour campaign.

As Green leader Sian Berry said the Covid furlough scheme was vastly more complex that this would be to introduce. We hope their ideas will be given consideration at the London Assembly and beyond.

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