Why do we love Islington? There are loads of reasons. Can there be a greater ritual on Earth than tucking into a vegetable burger at Islington Farmers’ Market come Sunday brunchtime?The fact that this liberal oasis has not elected a Conservative MP since 1931 might also have something to do with it. And Islington has the second lowest rate of car ownership in the UK, according to the last census (The City of London, where no one actually lives, has the lowest).
Limp-wristed pinkos like me tend to attribute this to our borough’s insufferably bohemian character. How environmentally responsible we all are, we think to ourselves, as we sail down Upper Street on our pannier-clad vintage bicycles.
Probably a more important reason why Islingtonians don’t have access to a car, though, is too often swept under the carpet: poverty.
Whatever the reason, you might expect such a comparatively car-less place to be particularly friendly to cyclists and pedestrians.
You might expect that, but you’d be wrong. Last week, pupils, parents and teachers from Drayton Park Junior School staged a spontaneous protest against motorists driving at dangerously high speeds near their school.
You can understand why: the junction of Holloway Road and Drayton Park is a death trap. Anyone who, like me, has to cycle or walk past it every day can only be horrified by the way cars dangerously clog up the junction, with little regard for other road users.
This is not the only “death-trap” on Holloway Road. It’s now 18 months since a lorry killed Lisa Pontecorvo, who was wheeling her bike across the junction of Holloway Road, Madras Place and Fieldway Crescent, near Highbury. It’s a disgrace that Mayor Boris has allowed bureaucracy to slow down the promised installation of a safer cycle crossing at Madras Place.
And TfL’s plan to prevent cars turning right from Drayton Park on to Holloway Road doesn’t go far enough. The school kids’ demands for a proper pedestrian crossing should be heeded right away.
But making streets safer for people and bicycles is not just TfL’s responsibility: the council must take some too. As Islington Now revealed last week, the borough has paid out almost £60,000 in compensation over the past four years to pedestrians injured by badly maintained footpaths.
Add this to the borough’s horrendous potholes, and any notion that the borough is some sort of paradise for cyclists and pedestrians begins to sound like a bad joke. The council must be given some credit for introducing a 20mph limit on all roads it controls. A London School of Hygiene nationwide study found that such zones cut road casualties by 40 per cent, with accidents involving children under 11 seeing the steepest fall. But it’s clear that many drivers are not observing speed limits. The police and courts are often too lenient with drivers who have killed pedestrians and who speed.
Politicians should tell them to get tough. Only then will we see a culture change among drivers that would make our streets safer for all. And what better place to start than liberal Islington?
Image credit – Helen Graham