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People-friendly streets can make Islington a safer, healthier, and fairer place for everyone

People-friendly streets can create a healthier Islington, say council executive members Rowena Champion and Nurullah Turan

11 December, 2020

Council executive members Rowena Champion and Nurullah Turan

IT’S been fantastic to see people taking advantage of Islington’s new people-friendly streets to walk, cycle and wheel around the borough.

An Islington where it is easier for people to exercise as part of their daily routine will be a healthier, fairer, better borough for all.

In recent years we’ve seen how mapping technology has made it easier for vehicles to take short-cuts through our streets, with an astonishing 24.3 million more miles being driven in Islington in 2019 than 2013 – an almost 10 per cent increase.

Meanwhile traffic on London’s residential roads has increased by 72 per cent since 2009. When it comes to health, those statistics are a serious problem.

It’s a situation that is made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, with research indicating that, without action, traffic volumes will continue to increase, making streets more unsafe, unhealthy, and worse than before the crisis began.

More traffic increases the risks of cancers and asthma, chronic illness, and deaths and serious injuries on roads. That is one of the many reasons why we are creating people-friendly streets, which reduce traffic.

In doing so they can create neighbourhoods that are better and safer for living, working, and playing for all.

We know that air pollution is a major public health emergency. It is estimated that the equivalent of 40,000 lives are lost in the UK each year because of the air we breathe – through health complications like lung cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and asthma. Changing the way we use our streets can address this toxic situation.

Over one-third of car journeys in London are under 2km, a distance that many can walk or cycle. By creating more space for walking, cycling, and wheeling, we can discourage unnecessary car journeys and, crucially, help clean the air local people breathe.

The steps that we are taking to create a greener borough can also have a major impact on physical and mental health by helping local people incorporate exercise into their daily routine.

In the UK physical inactivity is responsible for one in six deaths, the same number as smoking. Choosing to take more journeys on foot, by bike, or wheeling can reduce the risk of obesity and chronic disease.

Research has also indicated that physically active people have up to a 30 per cent reduced rate of becoming depressed – highlighting how people-friendly streets can lead to a healthier, happier, Islington.

This particularly applies to children and young people – with studies showing that walking to school can help children concentrate in the classroom and a walk home gives them a chance to let off steam after a day of sitting down.

By creating quieter local streets, we can also reduce road danger. In Islington, there were 62 per cent more deaths and serious injuries on residential roads in 2017-2019 compared with 2009-2011.

Sadly the most common cause of death among children aged five to 14 in the UK is being hit by a vehicle; and a mile driven on a minor road compared with a mile on a main road is twice as likely to kill or seriously injure a child pedestrian and three times more likely for a child cyclist.

By creating more space for people to safely walk, cycle and wheel, we can change those numbers for the better, making our streets quieter and safer for everyone.

Our people-friendly streets can therefore help local people to live longer, happier, lives, with cleaner air, lower chances of chronic disease and obesity, and reduced danger from roads.

By harnessing the benefits of these changes, we can make Islington a safer, healthier, greener, and fairer place for everyone.

• Cllr Rowena Champion is Islington Council executive member for transport & Cllr Nurullah Turan is executive member for health.

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