Why Charlton’s schools need a car-free day every day

Parking outside the new Our Lady of Grace school
February 2017: Parents’ parking causing problems outside Our Lady of Grace school

Last month, schools in Charlton and across the borough of Greenwich took part in the STARS Car-Free Day, which saw roads closed outside schools. It’s an attempt to highlight the problems caused by parents driving their children to school – and to persuade them that leaving the car at home makes life easier for everyone. Local father Nathan Hughes says this should be more than a one-off token gesture.

“My lungs feel better already,” was my note to Ben Murphy, traffic officer for Greenwich Council. I said the same to local councillors, who were on show, along with our supportive local MP as he passed by.

Of course, you need the reason why. Whilst checking my son’s school bag one evening I found a short note titled ‘STARS project’, which informed my wife and I that Friday was a walking to school day and that the roads surrounding his particular primary school and a number of others in the borough were to be closed for a period of time throughout the day and afternoon.

We set off for school as normal that morning and found an obvious reduction in both traffic and the sometimes overlooked noise.

There were children playing games in the roads which the schools had organised (cycling, rowing machines, hopscotch, and more) and a noticeable excitement in the body language of the children. The headteachers thanked us for walking – a statement which really made me laugh.

As many parents know, the catchment areas of schools these days – and probably always have been – can be summed up as “if you you don’t live within walking distance to the school, you won’t get in”.

With this being the case, why is that so many parents or carers decide to continually drive their young to school on a daily basis?

I would suggest the investment in our public transport these days has become exceptional. It is frequent and reliable – although many would choose to dispute that – and the added benefit of tracking it through smartphone apps mean we are constantly updated.

I put the driving to school down to laziness rather than a necessity.

Possible reasons why:

  • Moving further out as soon as the child has been allocated a school place, taking advantage of maximised property prices
  • “I need to make other drop-offs”
  • “I won’t get to work on time”

On the first point, this means some families are denying children living in close proximity to their closest school a place, thus making them travel further afield and having a detrimental impact on the immediate community. This just isn’t right.

Our borough’s primary education system has an abundance of excellent, enthusiastic, passionate teachers that have turned our schools into arguably some of the best in the country, making the options ever more attractive.

Positive impact and suggestions/ideas:

  • Local retired residents might like to get involved by supporting/marshalling the school roads
  • Local businesses. There’s an opportunity here to grow our community, as some of the local shops might find a way to promote their businesses through pop-up shops before and after school.

We all like to think we have an interest in the environment. But we choose to ignore the easiest thing to do and one that would make a huge difference. School run traffic has been chaotic and at times unsustainable for local residents, some of whom adjust their schedules around the inconvenience of the double parking.

Let’s start making a real difference to those little lungs. It could also help the older ones too. School by school, class by class, year by year, we could make a positive change – just like the one our teachers have made to an increasingly popular borough.

It shouldn’t just be be a one-off poster to stick to the school gates, it needs to be embraced and properly implemented.

What do you think? Could you help make car-free days a regular occurrence? Leave a comment below.

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Silvertown Tunnel consultation comes to Charlton House: Six reasons why the toxic tunnel’s a rotten idea

A102 jam
Just another soutbound jam on the A102 past Eastcombe Avenue. The Silvertown Tunnel will make this worse

The Silvertown Tunnel – the planned £1bn new road between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks – hasn’t been mentioned much on here, because this site’s main writer has banged on about it a lot over there and also helped found the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign. I’d be boring myself, not just you, if I banged on about here too.

But with the “final” consultation into the scheme in full swing, TfL is taking its promotional roadshow to Charlton House on Saturday, between 12noon and 5pm. (It’ll also be there between 12noon-7pm on Thursday 26 November.) It’s fortunate TfL is coming to Charlton at all – documents released to this website under the Freedom of Information Act show that it wanted to go to Mycenae House, Blackheath, while Greenwich Council tried to suggest The Woolwich Centre. Charlton seems to have been a happy compromise.

This isn’t going to be even an attempt at fence-sitting. Whether you’re a resident who’s sick of fumes and jams, or a driver who just wants to get from A to B – or both, as about half of us are – then the Silvertown Tunnel is a dreadful idea. This toxic tunnel is the biggest threat to the area’s environment in many years.

You might believe that public transport is the area’s biggest priority, or you might want to see a new road built elsewhere (be careful what you wish for). But the Silvertown Tunnel is a failure from both a tree-hugging and a petrolhead point of view. Here’s why.

1. It’ll make our roads busier. It’s a well-known fact, and one that TfL concedes, that new roadbuilding has an unfortunate habit of generating new traffic. It suddenly becomes a bit easier to drive to Stratford Westfield than shop more locally, then lots of people do it too, then… you’re back at square one. TfL seeks to deter new traffic (and pay off that billion quid) by slapping a toll on not just the new tunnel, but that Blackwall Tunnel it sits next to. This is a) spending £1bn and causing an awful lot of disruption, then crossing your fingers and hoping you don’t screw it up, and b) not very fair on anyone who really does have to drive through the pipe, charging them for a journey that others in London get to do for free. Previously, TfL has admitted to a 20% increase in traffic on the approach roads – all that’s got to come from somewhere. A suppressed Greenwich Council report admitted the tunnel would overwhelm local roads.

2. It depends too heavily on the A102. The Silvertown Tunnel is aimed at curing jams approaching the northbound Blackwall Tunnel, which have blighted the area for at least the past 35 years. But it doesn’t consider the effect heading southbound, where queues through the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout are commonplace. Last Thursday, a burst watermain at Falconwood caused congestion back through Eltham, back through Kidbrooke, and over the Woolwich Road flyover. Extra traffic generated by a Silvertown crossing would make these queues far worse. (And we’ll still get it in the neck whenever the Dartford Crossing has problems, as is happening right now.)

3. Air quality in Charlton is already foul. Studies from both the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign and the Charlton Central Residents Association have already made clear that we’re breathing illegally polluted air. At Bramshot Avenue in January 2014, NtST measured 104 microgrammes of nitrogren dioxide per cubic metre, next to a subway used by scores of children to get to school. The EU legal limit is 40µg/m³. On Woolwich Road, close to where M&S has since been built, the level was 76µg/m³. Even in residential areas, quality is bad – CCRA recorded 54µg/m³ outside Fossdene school in February 2015, along with 38µg/m³ in sleepy Elliscombe Road. Some of Greenwich Council’s offical statistics (up to 2013) are also available. Tunnel backers will tell you that it’s about cleaning up the air by getting traffic moving – but by increasing traffic on local roads, this aim is likely to backfire.

Charlton Central Residents' Association's figures over a limited area from February 2015. The EU limit is 40, although anything in the 30s isn't great either, frankly.
Charlton Central Residents’ Association’s figures over a limited area from February 2015. The EU limit is 40, although anything in the 30s isn’t great either, frankly.
The No to Silvertown Tunnel results from January 2014.
The No to Silvertown Tunnel results from January 2014.

4. The tolling really hasn’t been thought through properly. We don’t have much experience of toll roads in this country. And judging by some of TfL’s background documents, it doesn’t have much of an idea of who uses Blackwall to go where and why. Put these two together, and you’ve got a problem. The only comparable case to compare with is Dartford, which is also heavily congested. It also appears tolling won’t be taking place at weekends – leaving Greenwich Ikea and Stratford Westfield to generate even more queues.

5. More HGVs on our roads. Sick of heavy lorries thundering through our streets? The Silvertown Tunnel will have a special HGV (and bus) lane so it can attract the lorries that can’t use the Blackwall Tunnel, before depositing them on the north side where they’ll have to find their way through several sets of traffic lights to find the A12 again. A new tunnel means more lorries at a time when we need less. (Hackney Council is objecting to the scheme on these grounds.)

6. If the tunnel is a disaster, we’re stuck with it – and its jams. Because the tunnel’s dressed up as a common-sense scheme – and what monster is against a scheme to remove traffic jams? – there’s a likelihood that many people and some politicians are sleepwalking into this. Even if Blackwall Tunnel jams are freed up for a few years, all that traffic’s got to go somewhere, and some other places will be jammed up instead. It could be Woolwich Road, it could be Greenwich town centre. TfL plans to build its way out of trouble by building new crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere – but what happens if they get cancelled? Curing jams is difficult. There’s no easy answer to the Blackwall queues. But just jumping for the first thing someone offers you is deeply irresponsible – and could have irrevocable consequences for this area’s future.

Want more arguments? Here’s a Silvertown Tunnel mythbusting guide.

So, it’s worth you signing up to the consultation and saying no. Contrary to what some might tell you, the tunnel isn’t a done deal – the next mayor can cancel it as soon as he or she takes office. You might like to tell Sadiq Khan and/or Zac Goldsmith you’re opposed. And tell your local councillors, MP and assembly members too. (Matt Pennycook wrote about his scepticism last year.)

Finally, there’s also a public meeting in Greenwich on 12 November, where you can find out more about the scheme and why it’s a dreadful idea. It’s at the Forum, and starts at 7.30pm.

No to Silvertown Tunnel poster