A golden opportunity for Epping Forest!

District councillors and county councillors must work together with Essex Highways to deliver a bid for currently available government money which would make real and transformational changes to our district. They need to hear from you about where the most difficult and dangerous spots for walking and cycling are. Read on to find out more!

What’s happening about transport and Covid-19?

As we emerge from lockdown, EFTAG is calling for rapid action from our district and county councillors to make sure the economic recovery, and our health, aren’t choked off by traffic congestion. We all need safe space to get around, while observing physical distancing requirements.

There’s government money available (and lots of it), but it’s being made available on condition that our district and county councils work together to make real and ambitious changes to our streets, that improve health and the environment. Counties have to bid for the money, in two Phases. Bids have to be ‘transformational’: the proposed measures have to contribute to long-term changes in travel, not just short-term measures. In Phase 1 Essex was given only half of the £2m available; in Epping Forest the only changes have been some measures to increase space for pedestrians and a 20mph speed limit in Epping High Street. This is not good enough: the council have to up their game in their bid for the much larger Phase 2 pot (up to £8m).

Let’s take a look at what’s needed to tackle our double emergency – climate change and the Covid crisis; what the government is expecting; and how that would improve our neighbourhoods. Because with 93% of participants in the recent Citizens’ Climate Assembly organised by the UK Parliament agreeing that “as lockdown eases, government, employers and/or others should take steps to encourage lifestyles to change to be more compatible with reaching net zero,” we mustn’t let this opportunity for change (and government cash) pass Epping Forest district by. This money will not wait for us. 

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Low traffic neighbourhoods are crucial to the government’s plans for people to get to schools, shops and work while observing safe Covid distancing. Many of us know what it’s like to live on or near a “rat-run” – it’s pretty obvious that fixing them is the one of the simplest things we can do to improve the neighbourhoods in which we live. But in Epping Forest, our councillors have been asleep on the job. Even while neighbouring councils have been getting on with closing roads to through traffic and reaping the benefits, most residential streets in our district haven’t changed in decades.

Even estates like Debden in Loughton, designed with good features like cul-de-sacs that connect for walking but not for driving, still have many through roads that seem to encourage excess speed. There are opportunities there, and in similar residential areas across the district, for point closures (modal filters) that would substantially improve safety and the local environment, while maintaining residents’ access to the main road network by car. Where closures aren’t appropriate, changes to speed limits and road layout will slow down the traffic, making the rat-run less attractive. Even small, simple measures can be transformative if implemented intelligently and systematically.

School Streets

A great many kids across the district would benefit from a school street closure so they can walk or cycle to school in safety. Closing roads outside schools at the start and end of the day, to remove the heavy two-way traffic the school run generates, will be better for everyone. It can remove the pollution from idling cars away from the school gates and crucially, will tip the balance for many, leading to more pupils arriving on foot or by bike – with the extra benefits to health and independence which that would bring.

Safe cycling routes

Many people in Epping Forest express a desire to cycle, but currently feel the roads aren’t safe for them. A combination of poorly maintained roads and fast moving heavy traffic creates an unwelcoming environment which contributes to more cars on the road and more congestion.

Re-allocating road space (whether currently used for extra vehicle lanes, excessively wide lanes or just racetrack-like hatched sections) will allow us to build safe and user-friendly cycleways. This will give people the confidence to leave their cars at home, while taking the small number of bikes that currently use the pavements onto their own infrastructure, making pedestrians feel safer too. 

On quieter roads, a low speed limit and improved road layouts will allow bikes and cars to mix safely (see low traffic neighbourhoods) while more important connecting roads get a more significant redesign to accommodate the significant increase in cycle traffic we are already seeing as a result of COVID-19. Crucially, this increase (which is still modest compared to what is possible) has shown just how inadequate our out-dated roads are.

We’ve previously highlighted a selection of routes that could be delivered first, and sent a petition to the county council with 175 local signatures calling for action now to start making these a reality.

Everyone can help

District councillors and county councillors must work together with Essex Highways to deliver a bid for phase 2 money that makes real change to the streets of our district. They need to hear from you about where the most difficult and dangerous spots for walking and cycling are.

The district council has set up a web site – efdcsaferspacescovid19.commonplace.is – to make it easy for you to send in your ideas and requests.

You can also write to the Essex County Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, Cllr Kevin Bentley, via cllr.kevin.bentley@essex.gov.uk. Please include your address when you write.

Every local voice speaking up for sustainable transport increases the chance the Epping Forest will be remembered when the county council puts in its bid to the government for Phase 2 money.

References:

Citizens’ Assembly interim report:

https://clicca-production.s3.amazonaws.com/media/documents/COVID_19_and_recovery_FINAL_w_links_003.pdf

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