Open Letter to Merton Councillors & MPs

Merton TV has signed together with a long list of other local organisations an Open Letter to Merton Councillors & MPs.

12th May 2020

Dear Merton Councillors and Members of Parliament

We welcome the government announcement regarding walking and cycling1, TfL’s Streetspace plan2 and that Merton’s response3 recognises “Major events shape our society and the way we experience everyday life.” It is a time of disruption. We are pleased Merton declared a climate emergency & adopted 20mph limits. But to make walking and cycling viable for households of mixed ages – now & into the future – we need physical protection from motorists & low traffic streets across the borough.

While we may want to get back to most aspects of pre- COVID-19 life, we are now experiencing – many for the first time – how pleasant it is to a live with much less motor traffic. Parks, streets, and communities have been bought back to life. Motor traffic is down to 1955 levels. We can now hear birdsong and breath clean air. The Council must lock-in less motor traffic. Physical distancing may last for many months and years. Over 56% of Merton’s population travel to work by public transport (Census, 2011) – that equates to about 60,000 round trip work journeys.4

Public transport capacity is predicted to fall by 85-90%. Residents will need other ways to travel. Without substantive changes to the roads to enable walking and cycling, motor-traffic levels will not merely revert to but exceed pre-lockdown levels, as seen in Wuhan. Merton will be grid locked. Merton’s emergency travel response3 needs to go much further than it does currently; walking and cycling must be made viable for all, including children and older people. The threat of motor traffic must be cut on all streets – a boroughwide approach is needed. It is logical to redistribute space to the most efficient modes. The graph below indicates capacity by mode per 3.5 metre width per hour.

Open letter to Merton Councillors
Figure 1: Capacity by mode in normal times assuming typical car occupancy rates; number of people
who can be carried in 3.5m wide space per hour. Source: Cycling Embassy of Great Britain

Merton’s roads are designed primarily for motor traffic. In normal times, this makes for unpleasant streets and kills residents – either directly through road collisions, or indirectly by causing ill-health. Recent studies show links between air pollution and COVID-19 death rates. Long-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) at even quite small levels is associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 death. Cars – including electric cars – produce particulate matter from brakes and tyres which weakens our respiratory systems. Lungs recovering from COVID-19 must not forced to breathe harmful gases and particulate matter. We cannot go back; air pollution, the climate emergency and the links to COVID-19 mean permanent change is needed.

As an outer London borough, Merton faces the prospect of major increases in driving from residents and the commuter belt as people avoid public transport unless it takes drastic action. Boroughs, including neighbouring ones, are acting to cut motor traffic. If Merton does not go far enough, we will be left behind, and grind to a halt with an increase in car traffic from pre-lockdown levels, which will hurt our recovery.

We therefore ask that all councillors work together to implement an ambitious cross-party boroughwide plan to create safe space. On residential streets, people need to be able to walk in the carriageway to avoid other pedestrians. Streets need to be suitable for children to move, cycle, play and socialise. Routes to schools, parks, food shops & hospitals should be prioritised. This should not be just an emergency response; there needs to be permanent change to the way we move.

The boroughwide plan should include:
● Modal filters (road closures) on residential streets to cut rat-running (low traffic neighbourhoods)
● Reallocation of motor traffic and car parking space to safe space for pedestrian and cycle traffic
● Protected cycling infrastructure on all main roads to ensure routes can be used by all ages
● Two-way cycling on all gyratories and one-way streets
● Temporary footway widening – Merton has highlighted some locations already
● Resident-led community or exercise streets5 and camera enforcement of 20mph speeds
● Trial bus gates, signal crossing timings to prioritise pedestrians and additional temporary crossings

This crisis has shown how quickly we can act as a society when facing a threat to our lives. We must act with the same haste to improve our transport system as this too will save lives. Many others wanted to sign this as individuals; we believe there is huge potential support for change. We understand the Council may be overwhelmed by other issues. We would like to help and offer our support and combined expertise to the Council to create the necessary change.

Lucy Marstrand, Associate Member, All Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling & Walking
Dr. Rachel Aldred, Reader in Transport, University of Westminster
Dr Robert Davis, Road Danger Reduction Forum
Diana Sterck, CEO, Sustainable Merton
Jeremy Leach, Merton Living Streets
Adrian Voce OBE, European Network for Child Friendly Cities
Lucy Colbeck, Playing Out
Jemima Hartshorn, Mums for Lungs
Laura Collins, Clean Air Merton
Kathryn Stewart, Merton Cycling Campaign
Charles Barraball, Cycling UK Merton Local Group
Mariana Pacheco, Merton Friends of the Earth
Laura Carter, Merton Friends of the Earth
Katie Meech, Merton Council Climate Emergency Working Group
Pippa Maslin, Merton Council Climate Emergency Working Group
Franki Appleton, Merton Council Climate Emergency Working Group
Alice Rayner, Merton Council Climate Emergency Working Group
Lily Marcel, Merton Council Climate Emergency Working Group
Mehmood Naqshbandi, Merton Council Climate Emergency Working Group
Richard Hackforth-Jones, Merton Council Climate Emergency Working Group
Sara Sharp, @savewimbledon/Merton TV
Daniela Tilbrook, XR Merton
Lucy Hogarth, XR Scientists
Reverend Alison Judge, Christchurch and St John’s Church, Merton
Nicola Thompson, Haydons Road North Community group
Sam Birnage, Head Teacher, Hollymount School, Wimbledon
Dr Tim Spruell. Emergency Medicine Doctor, Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
Dr Roberta Brambilla, Vascular surgeon, St George’s Hospital
Dr Honey Smith, GP, Richmond Medical Centre
Dr David Taussig, Haemato-oncology research lead Royal Marsden Hospital

4 Commuting accounts for 15% trips. NTS Table NTS0611. The other 85% trips will need to be provided for too.