Autumn 2021. Sutton Council re-opens some of its School Streets and tentatively discusses with residents what they want for their local areas, currently just Worcester Park and Butter Hill. Already there are noisy complaints about the supposedly dreadful prospect of ‘road closures’. This follows the noisy opposition to School Streets 1.0 and the new traffic-calmed neighbourhoods during the pandemic lockdowns. All that noise comes from people who claim to talk for borough residents and motorists. But those noisy opponents really are in the minority, as the borough itself demonstrates. Sutton just loves its low traffic neighbourhoods and their road closures – and among the winners are… Sutton’s own motorists.
All over Sutton, there are already what are obviously low traffic neighbourhoods where through motor traffic is kept in its place- away from residential roads. Some of these schemes have been in place for years. They shape the lives of the people who live there. The quiet nature of these roads gives character to the area. The local residents would be up in arms if anyone suggested abolishing them by opening up their roads to through traffic. Everyone there has access to their home by car; all the usual services can get to all the addresses. And it is obvious to any visitor that high up on the list of beneficiaries in these areas are… the local motorists (who seemed to be the ones protesting so loudly about similar new areas last year).
Why do local motorists benefit? Because the roads with a restriction on through motor traffic would all otherwise be popular short cuts to avoid traffic hotspots. How do they benefit? Since the roads are clear, local residents (and all the services from groceries to taxis to emergencies) can drive to and from their homes with ease, with no queues. And secondly, in quite a few of these places, motorists can park freely, leaving just enough space in the middle of the road for a fellow resident to ease through. Easy access and – frequently – ample space for parking, all made possible by altering the flow of through motor traffic.
Of course, in all these areas, there are also advantages for the groups that you would expect to gain: anyone on foot is less likely to be hit by a car and more able to cross the road easily; children can cycle to school or just for fun; other people are encouraged to cycle rather than use their cars, with benefits to health and the environment; and everyone lives in a quieter, calmer area where the air they breathe is cleaner. Each of these streets proves what we all know – homes on quiet roads are much more desirable as places to live.
These areas are built around one or more partial restrictions that stop through motor traffic but let people through on foot, on a mobility scooter, on a two-wheel bike, on a tricycle, on a cargo bike, on a scooter… They nearly always block would-be ratruns.
Here are some examples in Sutton (but almost certainly not a complete list).
Starting in the south, we go to Belmont, where Dorset Road is closed to stop traffic using it as a shortcut to Brighton Road, much to the advantage of the neighbours. Neil Garratt, Conservative councillor for Belmont Ward said this:
“On the (road) closures, which I think are the most controversial, what is most striking to me is in Belmont ward we have a road closure which blocks off a huge area of the ward between Dorset Road and Brasted Close and occasionally there have been concerns as to whether that closure might be removed and I can tell you that it would be incredibly unpopular. The idea that these closures have a very negative impact… when you look at where they have been in for a long time… residents absolutely love them, if you tried to take that out and turn that area into a rat run it would be very unpopular”.
In the north of the borough, along the A297 St Helier Way, there are various roads leading from the St Helier Estate that simply run into an area of grass, rather than join that major road. Imagine what those quiet streets would be like if motorists could cut through what are now backstreets to avoid the Rosehill Roundabout. Just one example of many: Leominster Walk.
In the west of the borough, around Cheam Village, two roads are closed where they join the A217 St Dunstan’s Hill – Love Lane and Springclose Lane – and they create a neat low traffic area which doesn’t have to suffer from motorists trying to avoid the traffic lights on the A232. The obstruction outside Ye Olde Red Lion in Park Road makes sure the traffic is truly calmed, with enforcement by traffic cameras too.
On the other side of the main shopping street in Cheam, Park Lane has one closure and one obstruction (with camera enforcement again) to make life quieter for the lucky people who live in that quaint corner, so close to shops, station and park. Imagine the lines of traffic that could avoid the queues at the red lights by going down there.
Towards the centre of the borough, Carshalton has several long-standing road closures. West Street Lane between North and West Streets gives the residents free parking and a quiet life. The more modern closure in Papermill Close creates a quiet residential estate where children can be seen playing in the street. This stops the estate being used to avoid Butter Hill Bridge, much loved by all that traffic cutting out Carshalton Ponds – that would be hundreds of vehicles in the rush hour. And there is Carshalton Park Road’s closure at Ruskin Road … imagine how much traffic that would attract if it was open avoiding the Windsor Castle junction. Not forgetting the closure of St Andrews Rd, near the Green, to make a peaceful area of residential roads between Wrythe Lane and Green Wrythe Lane.
Moving east, we come to Lakeside, near Wallington Green. A minor road that could so easily be overwhelmed, it is free of any traffic trying to avoid the major crossroads there; both sides of this barrier are nearly always used to the full for parking residents’ cars.
Further east, in Beddington, Wandle Road is a classic example of how local residents benefit. Their road is quiet. They have ample space for parking on both sides. If their road was open, it would be a parking-free magnet for traffic avoiding the maelstrom that is the A232 around The Plough and Hilliers Lane.
Moving south to Roundshaw, we find Typhoon Way, Defiant Way and Spartan Close – a fellow member of this group wrote: “The two sets of barriers on Typhoon Way/Spartan Close created what was effectively a play street, with young children on bikes, when I passed by this afternoon”.
This tour of Sutton’s low traffic neighbourhoods ends in Hackbridge with three notable schemes. The first is the area of River Gardens and The Causeway, where – instead of a road and a busy junction onto Nightingale Road– we have the much praised and well used Hackbridge Community Garden, basking by the river at the end of an idyllically peaceful set of roads.
Then we have the new development of New Mill Quarter, which was originally going to have a bus route through the estate – but so keen were they to have the benefits of a low traffic neighbourhood, the bus never happened. Spinningwheel Way is now closed to all through motor traffic. What an amazing shortcut that would be for motorists and lorry drivers to avoid the nightmare of the Hackbridge “roundabout”.
And finally, Culvers Avenue, Hackbridge is closed- at the Hackbridge end, this creates what feels like a country lane- the houses on the new estate to the north and the primary school must benefit no end. And on the west side of the closure, up towards Green Wrythe Lane, they are spared the constant rush of traffic there would be if this was open to through traffic avoiding Hackbridge. Further along the same would-be ratrun, Muschamp Road is closed where it joins Wrythe Lane.
As Councillor Garratt said, in so many Sutton places with these partial road restrictions, if you tried to take that out and turn that area into a rat run it would be very unpopular. What we need now is a decisive movement to identify other rat runs in Sutton in order to let more residents – and that includes especially local motorists – enjoy the pleasures of a low traffic neighbourhood by keeping the through traffic out. There may be noisy protests from the few, but the many Sutton residents who live in the already calmer areas would not be among them.
If your favourite Sutton Low Traffic Neighbourhood is not on this list, send an email to email@example.com to have it added.