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A Revolt Against Road Closures

Niall Crowley, Spiked

Protesting Londoners have had enough of their councils’ war on cars.

A Revolt Against Road Closures

All across London a quiet, little-reported ‘war’ is raging. Barricades and roadblocks have been erected. Neighbourhoods are hemmed in and cut off. In some neighbourhoods, social and commercial life is grinding to a halt. 

Those responsible for the chaos are not young rioters or urban guerrillas. Battles and skirmishes are breaking out between councils and residents, as council officials impose increasingly draconian measures to stop people using their cars. 

In Hackney, Camden, Islington and Tower Hamlets, lockdown is being used as a cover to expand and accelerate a programme of road-narrowing (by building cycle lanes), while some roads are closed off to cars completely. As a consequence, traffic is being forced on to fewer and fewer streets. These road closures have been cheered on by the government, cycling advocates, environmentalists and self-styled urbanists. But they are seriously hampering people’s ability to get around their city. In Birmingham and Manchester there are also rumbles of disquiet. 

As with any war, language and propaganda are essential weapons in the fight. This war is fought in the name of ‘Safer Neighbourhoods’, ‘Living Streets’, ‘School Streets’ and ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ (LTNs). The advocates woo their opponents with the promise of idyllic, peaceful neighbourhoods with names like ‘Mini Holland’ and the ‘Oval Triangle’. Impenetrable bureaucratic-speak fosters confusion: they talk of modal filters, filtered permeability, Copenhagen Crossings, and Experimental Traffic Orders. Oblique reports call for local authorities to encourage Active Transport (ie, walking) and welcome the prospect of ‘evaporating traffic’. 

On Saturday 15 August, in a good-natured and lively show of extreme displeasure, more than a thousand residents marched from Islington Town Hall along Upper Street (Islington’s buzzing commercial centre). A mile or so later, at Pentonville Road and Angel junction – the starting point of Britain’s longest and oldest road, the A1 – protesters brought a major London artery to a standstill for the second time in two weeks.

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