Protests and celebrations sat cheek-by-jowl as families in the two halves of Bow got to grips today with Tower Hamlets Council plans to ban through traffic in their adjoining neighbourhoods.
The scheme effectively draws a north-south line between the adjoining Bow East and Bow West polling districts with suggested traffic barriers, bus gates that let only public transport through and paving over some roads.
The public consultations started two weeks ago brought out both protesters and revellers into the Saturday sunshine to show which side they were on.
A petition to stop the bus gate facing the famous Roman Road Market has been launched by campaigners worried that it will discourage shoppers.
They set up their campaign HQ outside the Albert pub with a table and petition for passers-by to sign with sanitisers at hand as a Covid precaution.
Leaflets are being distributed street-by-street to households because they say the council’s electronic online consultation doesn’t make clear the full impact of the ‘bus gate’ proposed right opposite the pub.
But a rival table was also set up a quarter-of-a-mile to the north at the 200-year-old Skew Bridge in Old Ford Road that crosses the Hertford Cut, by Victoria Park, which has been shut to traffic as a trial run when lockdown.
Children were playing hopscotch in the road where the B118 traffic had been running.
Two doctors and a university lecturer were among families with their children as well as cyclists, all calling for cleaner air by making the barrier permanent.
Meanwhile, the “Roman Roaders” HQ on almost the same grid line as the Skew Bridge separating the two Bow districts east and west have notched up 8,000 supporters on their “save our streets” Facebook page demanding no bus gates or road closures.
“I was annoyed that my area was going to be calved in half,” petition organiser Carlton Bolter told the East London Advertiser.
“It’s ridiculous having to make detours in my car five times as long just to shop locally. This scheme is about pollution — but detours give out more emissions.”
The 50-year-old building works manager, who has just recovered from Covid-19 after 17 days’ illness, has lost 70 per cent of his work and now worries that a bus gate and other barriers will stop life getting back to normal.
“It’s terrible carving up Bow down the middle,” he argues. “Barriers drive division between Bow East and Bow West, the rich half and the poor half.”
Another petition organiser, Paul Wellington, 56, predicts the bus gate would kill off the market once and for all, with all the parking restrictions that have already been brought in.
He points out: “The council put in so many restrictions that shoppers don’t come to ‘The Roman’ any more and go to Romford or Dagenham instead. This market is on its knees. Stopping traffic will be its death.”
Taxi-driver Sean Paul-Day is making a video documentary for the cab trade about the proposals which he says makes some journeys twice as long or even impossible when added to similar schemes across London.
But the families in Old Ford Road living by Vicky Park didn’t mind the Skew Bridge over the canal being blocked to traffic which now has to divert to Mile End to get through.
University lecturer James Price, 45, was out with his two children enjoying fresh air without traffic. His wife Claire said: “The barrier reduces pollution. But I do understand the traffic is now worse for families the other side of the roundabout. The road closure needs to be holistic in thinking about how it impacts on people. There are a lot of people upset about this and I understand that.”
Their neighbour Dr Rob Hughes, 37, who works at the London School of Hygene and Medicine and for the Clean Air Fund, has observed an improvement in air quality.
He points out “things like nitro-oxide are nasty which come from cars and vans”, then adds: “The idea that this is really a middle class thing is dangerous because low-income families have worse lung-capacity and are affected more by air pollution than the middle-class.”
Back at Roman Road, however, traders fear losing business if shoppers can’t drive in, after seeing the chaos in Bow last summer when the council tried a temporary bus gate off Fairfield Road — which had to be scrapped after one day.
One protester at the time, Sabina Music, actually sat down in the road in front of a bus.
Sabina’s furniture craftsman husband Ned, one a group of enterprises in Autumn Street, was back this week protesting at the latest bus gate scheme.
He told the Advertiser: “Businesses need access for vehicles and more electric charge points, not barriers. Some are going over to electric vans, but don’t have enough charging points.
“We can’t cycle in from Essex. People working here from Chigwell and Romford need access into central London.”
Two Tower Hamlets councillors popped down to Roman Road today to meet protesters.
Abdul Ullah turned up today from Wapping, where the East End’s first bus gate was started a year ago. He admits: “There are concerns about lack of access, making sure businesses and residents aren’t left behind if there’s going to be another bus gate in Roman Road which is even busier than Wapping. I’m here to listen. All views matter.”
Cabinet member Dan Tomlinson, leading on environment issues at the town hall, wanted to hear both sides “with the option of saying ‘no’ to things”.
He explains: “We’ve put forward the bus gate idea to stop through traffic with three closure options — peaktime, all day 7am-7pm and 24/7. We are also consulting on whether Roman Road market should be pedestrianised every day. At the moment it’s free for traffic on non-market days.”
But he was button holed in the street by campaigner Carlton Bolter. The bus gate would stop people supporting local shops, explaining that he couldn’t carry heavy shopping home on his bike. Through traffic could be discouraged by other means, he argued, rather than a bus gate dividing the two halves of Bow.
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