London introduced a levy on the oldest and most polluting vehicles on Monday in an attempt to improve air quality in the British capital. Reuters
The air in urban Britain is dirty. Sometimes it almost feels like breathing through second-hand smoke from a boozer before the smoking ban. It is the cause of asthma in children and a host of other respiratory conditions. It is harmful to health in general. We really need to clean up.
Councils have sought to do this by restricting, if not banning, cars – particularly on streets near schools around pick-up and drop-off times in a bid to discourage school grumbling.
It’s not just for the purpose of cleaning the air or that walking is good exercise when childhood obesity is an issue. Roads around schools can sometimes feel like a new Mad Max reboot. The sight of parents arguing or even coming to blows is something we could do without.
Proponents of such programs often point out how nice car-free cities can be – Copenhagen is often cited – once people get used to the idea.
There is also academic research in their favor. A report by Edinburgh Napier University, examining ‘school streets’ in UK and European cities, cites ‘medium strength’ evidence ‘that in almost all cases the total number of motor vehicles in closures schools and nearby streets reduced” and “active travel levels increase”.
He also cites parental support and states that “support increases after any trial period”. Proof of medium strength again.
But it’s a lot of good medium – so, yay? More power on the streets of school? And won’t the (heavy) fines for those caught on camera breaking the bans help ease the councils’ budget problems?
Here’s the problem: with their moves in this direction, local authorities routinely ignore the challenges these programs pose for people with special needs.
Redbridge, my borough, says you can apply for an exemption for its planned school streets if you have a child with special needs that you need to attend school. However, the same does not apply to a special needs parent with an able-bodied child. This would have created real problems for my family before our children started walking on their own, as I was racing to school. Politics will surely cause problems for families like ours.
This does not apply to Redbridge alone.
Disability Rights UK has alerted me to issues raised by street closures in nearby Islington, where campaigners have tried to reawaken an authority that has also fallen asleep over the issues faced by disabled Londoners .
They argue that the closures lengthen all journeys, increase fuel costs, and dramatically increase challenges for people who don’t have other options, like bicycles or electric scooters (and the increased use of the latter is causing terrible problems for blind and partially sighted people).
Public transportation, meanwhile, is like stepping into the Thunderdome (see the first Mad Max movie series for the gruesome details) for people with special needs. If it’s still possible. This is often not the case.
Despite claims that school streets reduce pollution, campaigners say cars regularly clog nearby streets, increasing it for their unlucky residents.
Remember that Edinburgh Napier’s evidence to say it didn’t happen was only of ‘medium strength’. Hardly unambiguous.
Islington’s website has details of exemptions for disabled residents of the borough, unlike Redbridge’s proposals. But they are troubled. I found them difficult to understand.
They add yet another level of complexity to the migraineous patchwork of driving and parking restrictions blue badge holders face in London and other urban areas.
I have encountered them several times to the detriment of my bank balance. I have often spoken to others who have gone crazy finding themselves in the same position.
Appealing won’t do you any good, as I found out when a condescending rube from Waltham Forest said he had “empathy” with me, but refused to overturn a fine imposed because I had used a blue badge space that had been randomly removed from use for no apparent reason. The (tiny) notices advising were not visible from wheelchair height.
This is not just a problem in the capital. It is a national problem. Access restriction is practiced by councils of all political persuasions. It serves to compress the already limited mobility that many of us face. This shrinks the size of our world. It mocks the claims of local authorities to be “inclusive” and the gestures they make to trumpet it.
You can’t have inclusion without the over six million people with special needs in Britain, who come from all races, religions, genders, orientations – you name it. It would no doubt be possible to circumvent this problem if genuine consultations took place with the organizations of disabled people (DPOs) when these measures were created. But they are not. Legitimate issues raised by DPOs are simply ignored by bullies in UK town hall.