FOR the first time in 33 years I’m carless: my tiny VW is sitting outside but I am reluctant to use it. At first, I didn’t react when the next street was sealed off, assuming it was due to the usual ‘road works’. Then the road I use once a week to shop for myself and my 95-year-old neighbour was closed. The implications didn’t hit me until, coming back from a Saturday art group and visit to a friend, I found myself in a horrible traffic jam where I languished for an hour in a thickening fug of fury and petrol fumes. Then it dawned: the LTN had landed.
Originating in Holland, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, getting rid of the car by forced exclusion, started last year in Islington, that well-known cyclist Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency. There are now 3,700 in London. Oxfordshire County Council, dominated since May by a Labour-LibDem-Green alliance, are ‘proposing’ to test them across Oxford, although in fact they have already done it. Overnight, it seems, it’s bollards all round, forcing all vehicles including buses and even ambulances on to long circuitous routes and main roads.
They claim this will ‘make residents feel safer when they walk, cycle or go by wheelchair’, now the three moral options for travel. Our terrace streets are what they term a ‘liveable neighbourhood’. The Green Party issued a notice showing what a small local road would look like after the transformation, replete with gay-looking street cafes, harking back perhaps to Blair’s dream of a UK ‘café culture’. In fact, there are three outside cafes and two pubs with gardens on the street already. Reality is not the point here – the politics says cars evil, bikes worthy.
These ‘proposals’ have already had a drastic effect on me. I have to venture out very early to avoid the congestion. On Saturday I no longer visit my friend in case I hit a jam. I always walked a lot, now there is little choice. On a recent bus trip, all the able-bodied had to get off as we were gridlocked. I have withdrawn my application to join a health club some distance away as that would involve car use. I am reluctant to take any more courses at the art college, which is in a village with a poor bus connection. On our neighbourhood internet group people instruct me to start cycling immediately – which is what I should have been doing all along, apparently. Many simply say that cars, like aeroplanes, should be banned and all right-thinking people should be donning Lycra. I wonder how I am going to lug easel, canvas, paint and turps on to a bike.
The plan has changed local geography, cutting the wealthy north (where they had demonstrations against LTNs) and west of the city off from us in the east, unless we drive on the ring road, something many of us older ‘lady drivers’ tended to avoid. A most distressing aspect of this radical change to our lives is the way it has been imposed on us by the Red, Yellow and Green council without any ‘consultation’. Their definition of that word is different from mine. There is nowhere to object; there was some discussion about where the scheme would start and finish on a map, with no chance of a yes or no from people living there. The six-month trial which has started won’t produce a decision until February 2022.
It seems extraordinary but people are now being forced on to bikes. My reluctance to go on two wheels is seen as almost a moral failure, verging on a social crime. Under the guise of tackling global warming, making life much more difficult for motorists is really a display of political power, a revenge gesture with no chance of lowering carbon emissions or reducing the number of vehicles, which are merely diverted.
I am all for green energy. I wish government policy was ‘greener’ with less building on the Green Belt and more care over farming practices. Like many people I look forward to buying an electric car when the price drops, but this revenge from the pedalling Hard Left is unrealistic and hypocritical. They must know that no council can afford to do without motorists. Islington Council raked in £491,180 from LTN penalty charge notices on its ‘People Friendly Streets’ between August 17 and December 23, 2020. A nice new tax, but it won’t be quite enough. Oxford City Council made £1.53million from parking services in 2019-20. The county council made £948,000 profit from them. The RAC Foundation, a charity researching transport issues, found that 338 local authorities in England made a total income of £1.746billion from their on- and off-street parking operations in 2019-20. Little of this is invested back into maintaining roads or improving bus services.
‘Parking management is quite a money spinner for some local authorities, and nationally it’s a big business,’ said the foundation’s director Steve Gooding, somewhat laconically. We can only hope that he is still out there, driving around the bollards somewhere, a free man, but for how long?