Active action

Local resident Dr Mark Hayden is the Redbridge Climate Safe Streets Champion for the London Cycling Campaign and believes urgent action is needed to make our streets safe for active travel

In October 2021, I cycled from Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) to Glasgow for the COP26 summit. Alongside 70 paediatric healthcare providers and two GOSH patients, I completed the 500-mile ride to highlight the lack of action to protect children across the world from toxic air pollution. We carried urgent messages from GOSH patients, the World Health Organization and a healthy climate prescription signed by organisations representing 46m health workers. But did anyone listen?

Undeterred, I am now working with the London Cycling Campaign as the Redbridge Climate Safe Streets Champion to pressure politicians standing in the May local elections to commit to taking action to protect children.

Redbridge sits in 31st place out of the 33 London boroughs on the 2021 Healthy Streets Scorecard, and things are looking bleak unless change comes soon. Our borough has one of the lowest active travel rates in London, possibly because we also have one of the highest rates of pedestrians and cyclists killed or seriously injured. And we have done little to make our streets healthier compared to other boroughs (in 2018, an estimated 21 people in South Woodford and Churchfields died as a result of air pollution). We have very few school streets or safe cycle routes. We simply haven’t done enough and need urgent action to make our streets safe for active travel.

This is the local election that counts the most. Politicians can no longer delay action – they need to be big and bold now. Climate plans mean nothing if action does not follow. And action on cycling equals action on climate. Electric cars are not the answer for saving the climate, let alone congestion, pollution, inactivity and road danger. People and streets can change – change can attract a lot of noisy opposition, but most people do want better streets and most London motor vehicle journeys could be done other ways.

Everyone gets the urgency; a Conservative government, the Labour Mayor of London and all the experts are basically saying the same thing – we need a lot more cycling and a lot fewer cars, fast. But are we listening?

I am thrilled by the impact of the school streets initiative on Ingatestone Road in Aldersbrook, where I live. I love taking my dog for a walk in the morning and seeing the street full of kids and parents on bikes instead of speeding or idling SUVs. But in South Woodford, not only do we have the misfortune to have the A406 running through it, we have been given little quality infrastructure for active travel compared to our lucky neighbour, Upper Walthamstow.

For more information on the London Cycling Campaign, visit swvg.co.uk/lcc

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