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Highgate Village ‘suffocated’ with traffic after Swain’s Lane road change

But council says the stats show less cars are using 'rat run'

08 September, 2020 — By Richard Osley

No right turn at the top of Swain’s Lane

HIGHGATE Village is being “suffocated” with traffic, it was claimed last night (Monday), as objectors to a new experimental road lay-out asked for the changes to be reversed as soon as possible.

The Town Hall is facing opposition to its attempts to stop rat-running in Swain’s Lane, the famously steep hill which runs past Highgate Cemetery and Waterlow Park.

Right turns into Bisham Gardens and South Grove have been sealed off, but critics say this has simply left car drivers circling Pond Square – the main “hub” of the village.

The issue came up at an all-member meeting yesterday (Monday) with the Labour-run council defending the measures as a way to reduce traffic amid concerns people will swap public transport for their cars during the Covid crisis.

Edward Stanners, speaking on behalf of residents objecting to changes, told the meeting, held over videocall technology: “Vehicles can no longer turn into Bisham Gardens or into South Grove, meaning that they are obliged to go into Pond Square, which is the hub of Highgate.

“It is the pedestrian hub of Highgate and where many our citizens cross to go to the shops. We have calculated that the additional mileage cars now have to do as a result of this scheme is the equivalent of between six and 12 brand new cars being put on the road.”

He added: “The scheme is endangering the lives of both Highgate residents and its many visitors. The risk to life, limb and the lungs of those who work, live and relax near the Square outweighs the arguable benefits brought to the relatively few Swain’s Lane pedestrians. We agree that car use has to be brought down dramatically. We just want the scheme to be re-thought.”

Another opponent, Neil Perkins, said: “I have lost count of the number of motorcyclists and cyclists mounting the pavement in order to overtake cars and vans. I have personally, and so have a lot of my friends and people who run businesses in the Square, seen countless examples of very near misses where pedestrians have had to take evasive action.”

He told the meeting: “I’ve lived there for 30 odd years and the traffic has not reduced [with the changes]. All of the traffic that can’t turn right is squeezing into Pond Square, emissions are being increased and pedestrians are at constant risk. This is literally suffocating Highgate. It is very distressing and something seriously bad will go on there. There is serious risk to life here. It needs to be abandoned now.”

You can watch the full deputation to the meeting and the councillor responses above

The objectors say hundreds of households could have been involved in a full consultation. Their alternative suggestions include trying to convince parents to stop using cars to take their children to schools in Highgate via Swain’s Lane.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began, Camden and Transport for London have brought in a series of experimental traffic orders (ETOs) aimed at making walking and cycling easier, and soothing known rat runs.

Due to the Covid crisis, they can be introduced without full consultation with feedback taken while they are in place, before a review over whether to make them permanent is held after a year.

Some have proved more controversial than others.

Camden’s environment chief Councillor Adam Harrison

Labour ward councillor Anna Wright said she acknowledged that she was “very aware of strong feelings” on the Swain’s Lane change, but also that opinion was “mixed”.

She said: “One of the things I hope is a potential benefit of these experimental trafic orders is that they are indeeed experiments and they should be treated as such”, adding that she hoped promises that “tweaks and changes” could be made afterwards were genuine.

Sian Berry, the Green councillor who also represents Highgate, said some residents in Bisham Gardens could be made exempt if it made it easier to access their homes.

“I’m assuming that the goal of the scheme is not for everybody to circle around the village, the goal is for people to use one of the other two roads up to the village instead,” she said, adding that pavements in Swain’s Lane were too narrow for pedestrians and that it had been used as a rat run.

Labour councillor Simon Pearson said he regularly cycled up Swain’s Lane and that cars were used on the hill at “surprisingly high speeds and emitting exhaust fumes trapped between the high brick walls”.

He told the meeting that drivers would now “fairly soon realise that they’re not saving themselves any time by using Swain’s Lane”, adding: “Assuming that to be the case, I believe the congestion will subside in South Grove.”

Camden’s environment chief Labour councillor Adam Harrison said: “We have had clear instruction from the Department of Transport and the Mayor of London to be averting rising car use during Covid and an anticipated rise in in the future.”

“And we do want to spare local communities from the impact of increased cars down down roads and be encouraging people to use alternative greener and healthier means. There is quite a unity across levels of government on that.”

He said daily use of cars going north on Swain’s Lane had fallen from around 1,900 trips a day to closer to 1,000 since the no right turns were installed.

“There was a lot of traffic going through the village before, there is actually less now,” said Cllr Harrison.

“I’m very happy to keep working with the community on this.”

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