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The battle over London’s road closures

ON SEPTEMBER 26TH a few dozen people gathered in Bethnal Green in the East End of London to protest against road closures. Whistles blew and passing drivers honked as speakers railed against Tower Hamlets council. Restrictions on driving (some planned, others already in place) were awful, they said. Banning cars from some roads merely increased traffic on others; local businesses were dying for want of customers; the disabled could not get about. It was all very harmonious, until a suspicious group of men was spotted nearby. “Cyclists!” hissed a protester. “They might be looking for trouble.”

When covid-19 hit Britain in the spring, several London councils moved to head off an expected surge in driving as people tried to avoid public transport. New planning rules allow them to close roads to cars without holding lengthy consultations—they can act first and then, over the next 18 months, ask people what they think of the changes. Councils have duly blocked some roads with bollards and large wooden planters, and erected cameras on others to photograph and fine errant drivers.

This should not have been unexpected. Driving in London has become ever more challenging, and in the 2018 local elections Labour Party councillors in some boroughs pledged to deter it even further. But the sudden changes have been too much for some....



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