A brief weekend trip to that-there London had me road-testing one of the Mayor of London’s latest transport policies – and it wasn’t just the ULEZ zone.
While Rishi Sunak has declared war on ‘the war on motorists’ with pledges to hit the brakes on ‘hairbrained’ schemes attacking drivers, Sadiq Khan – alongside many councils – has ploughed ahead with downgrading 30mph limits on numerous roads.
In London, 65km of tarmac - including parts of neighbouring Bromley - will get new 20mph signs before the clock strikes midnight on December 31. In total TfL is lowering limits on 140km of its roads by 2024.
However, while it was a crisp, blindingly sunny, autumn day in the city, there were few children on these quiet streets for 1pm on a Saturday afternoon.
Despite the speed humps, the ‘slow down’ signs, the ‘you’re now entering a 20mph zone’ warnings and ‘children play here’ furniture – there were in fact no children playing at all.
No toddlers crunching newly-fallen leaves, no kids kicking a football against the kerb and no signs of a youngster on a scooter or bicycle, as we weaved gently through numerous low-traffic neighbourhoods.
In fact having eventually parked up on a residential street in search of the sports pitch we’d come for, we were greeted with what can only be described as looks of distinct suspicion from two tweens and an adult who came out of one gorgeous period terraced-house and ducked into another.
I’ve no doubt many parents (me included) are desperate to liberate their children from cars, or the bedroom and the games console, without fear of serious injury from a speeding vehicle.
But glossy , whimsical, artists’ impressions of low traffic neighbourhoods – where families look as if they enjoy a 24/7 street party – I don’t think will ever be the reality for many families still too frightened to let their children out to play.
Add to fast-moving traffic – fears of unwanted approaches from strangers, concern they’ll be robbed for the phone you’ve given them to call you on, potential run-ins with larger groups of older youths or the pressure to vape/ try the laughing gas and the list of (perceived?) problems parents run through in their heads is endless until they close the door and think better of it.
Even a risk they’ll be labeled ‘trouble’ when they’re not - I’ve no doubt – perhaps prevents many families letting their children roam where others once did freely. Far too fearful that a bundle of noisy young boys in dark tracksuits (as is the fashion) will become gossip-board fodder should some over-zealous resident decide they’re actually on the lookout for mischief and splashes their photo across social media.
Even a Save the Children survey last year found that many UK youngsters had been told to ‘keep the noise down’, ‘stop climbing trees’ or ‘go somewhere else with the ball’ – suggesting that adult tolerance levels to ‘playing out’ have shifted through the generations.
While low traffic neighbourhoods do seem to restore a sense of calm to residential roads, sadly I think it’ll take more than a 10mph speed reduction before parents deem the streets the safe option and they come to look like they do in the photographs.