Tuesday 12 February 2008

Ken Livingstone did this

Public land at 257-265 Forest Road E17, fenced off two years ago and given to Circle Anglia. Ken Livingstone used his special powers as mayor to over-rule local objections and decide that the holding of a public inquiry was not necessary. The mayor's decision was arrived at behind closed doors and objectors were given no opportunity to state their case. The site has now lain derelict for two years.

At the weekend the papers carried exciting news for London’s pedestrians and cyclists. Ken Livingstone announced a dramatic package of improvements. Super highways into London for cyclists! London transformed into the world’s friendliest city for walking!

Unfortunately all this has a lot more to do with the fact that Livingstone is in trouble with the electorate and is desperate for the Green vote rather than being something that will live up to its spin.

After eight years of Livingstone as mayor, London remains a hostile city for walkers and cyclists. Today I want to deal with the walking aspect of the Livingstone PR blitz. If you watched that TV documentary that was on a few weeks ago about the battle for space on London’s roads you may recall it contained some remarkable statistics. For example, there are 374 major road junctions in London with no crossing lights at all for pedestrians. One startling example is Henley’s Corner in Finchley, where pedestrians are expected to sprint across four lanes of traffic without assistance. In the last two years 42 pedestrians have been hit by vehicles here. What has Ken Livingstone done about this barbaric situation in his eight years as mayor? Nothing. The campaign for a crossing (and I get sick and tired of the way cyclists and pedestrians have to ‘campaign’ for pitiful improvements, while billions are spent on motoring) is led by a man in his nineties, who is unable to cross the road from his home to his local synagogue.

Ubby Cowan leads the campaign for improvements at Henley's Corner. He and elderly neighbours travel by bus to a safer crossing just to get across the busy four lanes of traffic. He said: "Transport for London just doesn't want to know. It just wants the traffic to continue and now someone has lost their life. Everyone keeps putting this crossing off, saying it is too expensive, and there are people suffering because of that.”

Before elections Livingstone suddenly discovers a passion for meeting the needs of pedestrians:

“London is a great city for walking. My vision is to make it one of the world’s most walking friendly cities by 2015.”

That was Ken Livingstone in his introduction to ‘The Walking Plan for London’ (which you can find in my Links list). The year was 2004 and the timing was shortly before elections for London Mayor.

And now it is 2008:

“Today the Mayor today signed Walk21's International Charter for Walking, which commits to reducing the physical, social and institutional barriers that limit walking activity, and as a means to encourage other cities to adopt a similar vision to London's: which is for London to be one of the most walkable cities in the world within 10 years.”

If you scrutinise those statements carefully you’ll see that the target date has slipped from 2015 to 2018. In short, it’s Greenwash.

I don’t regard Livingstone as a friend of the pedestrian. London is a crap city for walking in. It’s incredible that Oxford Street has never been pedestrianised. It’s unbelievable that Parliament Square is inaccessible to walkers and the only way to get there is to sprint across four to six lanes of traffic. And stand there and watch how many drivers are talking into handheld mobile phones. The killer driver knows he or she has no dearer friend than Livingstone’s good mate Sir Ian Blair, who is indifferent to enforcing road traffic law and who devoted enormous effort and expense for the purpose of getting Critical Mass made illegal.

And now let us turn to the land shown in the photograph above. Livingstone is the developer's friend and has been pursuing neo-liberal policies for the past eight years. One consequence is the privatisation and loss of public space. One objection to the loss of this highway land on Forest Road (reported in the local paper a couple of years ago) was that it provided a suitable place for pedestrians to sit down and rest on a bench in leafy surroundings - an oasis of calm in a bleak urban environment. Thanks to Ken Livingstone that public space has been enclosed and lost forever. This is the place where elderly pedestrians and people waiting for a bus are now supposed to rest their weary feet:

This is the local reality for pedestrians, and none of Livingstone's pre-election blather is going to make a blind bit of difference. What was particularly telling was the appearance of a spokesman for London Councils on the BBC TV London news last night. He said that London Councils had simply not been consulted in any way. And the chair of the LC Transport and Environment Committee has even said "I don't think much of (the strategy) will happen.”

No doubt LBWF will enthusiastically sign up to Ken's latest Greenwash, policy documents will be produced, wfm will echo the blather - and the remorseless process of stealing pavement space from pedestrians for developers, advertising or for the benefit of luxury car owners in Waltham Forest will continue.