Environment Matters by Sylvie Waudby

What would London be like without any cars on the streets?

On Sunday 22nd September, the capital will experience its biggest Car Free Day. Billed as “Reimagine” by Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London is inviting Londoners to reimagine our city without cars. There will be 20 km of closed roads around Tower Bridge, London Bridge and the City of London, with free events such as e-bike rides, pop-up playgrounds, and guided walks.

Why have a Car Free Day?

This is a great opportunity to reclaim the capital’s streets, moving them away from vehicle domination, giving children the chance to play safely in the roads, to hold a street party, explore London by foot, public transport or bicycle.

More importantly, it’s a spotlight on London’s air pollution.  Nitrogen dioxide levels in London are regularly exceeded and every school in London experiences levels of PM2.5 (tiny particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs) above limits set by the WHO.  Vehicles contribute to over half of air pollution.

What is Lewisham doing on this day?

Lewisham has taken the Car Free Day Play Street Pledge!  A Play Street closes off a road for a few hours, allowing kids to play in the street and neighbours to socialise in a car-free environment.  Lewisham has welcomed applications for local play streets. Unfortunately, the deadline to apply was 1stSeptember for Car Free Day, but Lewisham also allows regular Play Streets, for example on a monthly basis.

In Forest Hill, one of the regular Play Streets is Derby Hill Crescent.  Resident Katie Knowles says it started with an annual street party and then became a regular monthly event. A majority of the street residents had to sign up and were happy to do so as many had families with young children, or remembered playing in the streets as a child. “The benefits are unquestionably a growing sense of community and it’s great in our busy lives to have this one Sunday a month where we all down tools and catch up.  Obviously, it’s fantastic for the kids to have the opportunity to play together, cycle like mad things up and down, doing chalk drawings, or in and out of each other’s houses.  And the parents get to stand around and natter over a cup of tea, or even something stronger at times!”

Schools can also apply for a summer Play Street every July, possibly leading to a more permanent ‘school street’ where cars are banned at drop-off and pick-up times.  The obvious benefits in traffic safety, traffic reduction and lower pollution are clear.

So why not leave the car at home on 22nd September, explore our great city, or think about setting up a regular Play Street on your road?