Hundreds of people took to the streets on Saturday to protest against “undemocratic” mass road closures they claim are causing chaos and misery.
Hackney Council’s three new “radical” low traffic neighbourhoods in Hoxton West, Hackney Downs, and the area between London Fields and Kingsland Road are supposed to make conditions safer for cyclists and pedestrians as lockdown eases and public transport capacity remains low.
Some 20 roads have been blocked from through traffic with “traffic filters” like planters and bollards to prevent them being used as rat-runs.
And traffic restrictions at school opening and closing times have also been introduced with another tranche of 40 more school streets.
But instead of the “cleaner air” promised by the council, opponents of the scheme say the effect has rather been gridlock, pollution and congestion.
The Facebook group Stop Horrendous Hackney Road closures was set up just over a week ago to publicise the protest, and has already attracted over 3.500 members.
Joining forces with residents of Tower Hamlets and Islington where similar schemes have been introduced, protesters held aloft banners stating ‘Road closures mean unsafe streets’ and ‘Don’t divide our community’.
They walked from Old Street roundabout, along New North Road and Upper Street, culminating with a rally in Islington Green.
People from all over the borough have shared their gripes online about how the road closures have pushed traffic onto previously quiet residential streets.
Catherine Lynch, of Greenwood Road, Dalston, told the Gazette her road is now gridlocked from 4pm right into the evening.
“It’s extremely noisy and the fumes are really unpleasant,” she said.
“I don’t know exactly which of the 20 road closures in the area are directly responsible for the dramatic increase on our road - but I suspect closing Richmond Road and the right turn up Graham Road has made it tricky to drive through the area.
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“I know the council made the streets within the already quiet and affluent low traffic neighbourhood aware of their plans, but it is all the streets surrounding that area that are suffering - and we were not consulted.”
The restrictions were introduced under experimental traffic orders, meaning no consultation was required beforehand – although the council is inviting feedback over the next six months before taking a decision whether to make the schemes permanent.
The council claims 70 per cent of people in Hackney do not own cars, and that the plans will “reclaim Hackney’s roads from through traffic”, which is thought to be as high as 40pc, and apparently “brings little or no economic benefit to the borough”.
But people have warned that it could lead to a decrease in business in Hackney if people are prevented from getting about using their cars.
Dee Burke has complained that a bus gate in Goldsmiths Row has meant it now takes 25 minutes to reach Mare Street from Broadway Market instead of five.
Meanwhile Asvi Francois “nearly cried” taking the journey from Homerton into central London this week.
“Every single road that I use to take to avoid Dalston Junction, Balls Pond Road and Essex Road was closed,” they said.
“A journey to Bond Street would take 50 minutes and now it’s over an hour and a half.
“I also got a fine for driving through these stupid plant pots which appeared overnight from nowhere.”
Despite the complaints, the council is working on further measures across the borough which have yet to be announced.
The council’s eco chief, Cllr Jon Burke, said: “As with any transport scheme, there can sometimes be some traffic disruption while drivers get used to the changes and sat nav apps adjust.
“We are listening to residents’ concerns throughout the process and have already made a minor change to the Hoxton West low traffic neighbourhood in response to local views.
“Our plans to rebuild a greener Hackney - through quieter, safer streets across the borough and 40 new school streets - will support all local people to walk and cycle as capacity on public transport remains significantly below pre-lockdown levels.”
“People in each area can still drive to their home or business, which may be via different routes.”
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