Article from the Gardian: Your street should be more than a road. Emma McGowan looks at how to reduce the noise of traffic and increase the noise of play in your neighbourhood. Bristol example in blue.
“People are growing much more aware of the impact of traffic, including air pollution and crowded residential streets,” says Sian Berry from the Campaign for Better Transport. “It’s not surprising that communities are taking action to make their streets quieter, cleaner and friendlier.”
There are a number of approaches you can take. The charity Sustranshelps communities redesign their streets to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists over cars. Its two-year DIY Streets project in Haringey in north London reduced traffic at monitoring sites by 10%.
Finlay McNab, national projects coordinator at Sustrans, says that people shouldn’t feel daunted by the process of getting a street layout changed to reduce traffic or to slow it down. “You can do more than you think if you’re prepared to go to council meetings,” he says. “You can achieve a lot, even with small amounts of money.”
Another approach is to try to change the mindset of road users by altering the appearance of the road. The Victoria Parade Residents Association in Bristol applied to its neighbourhood partnership access fund for money to purchase giant colourful stickers that were then blowtorched onto the road surface.
“Ours is a long, one-way street that’s used by drivers as a cut-through between two main roads,” says resident Jim McEwan. “We wanted to do something that would make drivers turning into the road think ‘hang on, people live here’.
“There’s no limit to how creative you can be with thermoplastic road markings. We viewed the road as a 150-metre long canvas. We ran art workshops and had a street party where we tried out our designs in poster paint on the road. And from the start we had our local councillor on board, which was critical.”
Getting people to see the street as a community resource is important. “A high proportion of traffic will be made up of people who live locally,” says Finlay. “A street party can make people more receptive to the idea of traffic reduction.”
Playing Out, the Bristol-based community interest company that encourages street play across the UK, successfully lobbied its local authority to introduce temporary play street orders, which allow residential streets to be closed to traffic for up to three hours a week, every week for a year.
“The orders work best when people really consult with their neighbours,” says Naomi Fuller, communications officer at Playing Out.
“And it can be a good idea to apply to do a one-off to see if there’s an appetite to do more and whether you have enough people willing to be stewards.
“The benefits are felt by all residents, not just the kids. When I went to apologise to an elderly couple on my street about the noise the children had made, they said they preferred the sound of children playing over the noise of cars speeding down the road and doors slamming.”
Visit the Playing Out website to find out if your local authority has some form of play street order. If not, lobby your local councillor.
Your local transition group is also a good starting point; it may have traffic-reducing projects under way that you could help with. Or ask your local council if your community has a neighbourhood plan, which should include information about transport and traffic issues, as well as ideas for improvements.
A walk to school campaign can also help reduce traffic. The charity Living Streets has been campaigning since 1929 to make the streets safer and more attractive, largely by getting more people walking. If your school isn’t one of the 2,000 across the UK involved in Living Streets’ Walk to School campaign, contact your headteacher or ask your local authority to involve all schools in your area.
“One of the things we do is look at what is stopping people from walking their children to school,” says Kevin Golding-Williams, public affairs and policy manager at Living Streets. “It can be anything from poorly maintained pavements to traffic congestion around the school gate. Addressing those barriers can have a big impact on getting people out of their cars.
“We also conduct street audits with local authorities and community groups to identify what improvements could be made. That might be removing unnecessary bollards or other obstructive street furniture to help make walking safer and easier.”
Article from the Gardian: Tidy St: Shining a light on community energy efficiency. Residents of a Brighton street are taking part in a project to monitor daily energy use
The old adage that you can’t manage what you don’t measure is particularly pertinent when it comes to household energy use, which soared by 13.4% in 2010. Few people measure their weekly or even daily electricity consumption, which makes it hard for them to work out, where cuts might be possible – even if they wanted to.
Enter Tidy Street in Brighton. Residents who volunteered for a new energy-saving initiative have been given electricity meters so they can monitor their daily energy use, and identify which devices are using the most power, and when. For the past three weeks, they have been entering daily meter readings on tidystreet.org, to build up a picture of each household’s energy use.
Once people started measuring – 17 of the street’s 52 households signed up straight away – local street artist Snub was commissioned to paint the street’s average energy use against the Brighton average in a graph on the road outside their homes.
“It’s a great way to do it,” says Paul Clark, a software developer who has lived on Tidy Street for 10 years. “It engages people – passers-by often ask what it’s all about – and for those of us that live here, it’s something to be proud of.”
Open-source software designed specially for the project allows each household to compare their energy use not only with the Brighton average, but also with the national average or even that of other countries. Involving the community was key to getting the project off the ground, says Jon Bird, the project co-ordinator and designer of the software.
“I went along to the residents’ annual street party last year, and explained what we were trying to do; that it was voluntary and that no one was trying to impose anything on anyone,” he says.
“Then it was a case of identifying the ‘champions’ in the street – those who were going to tell their neighbours about the project; those who were going to be doing the measuring in the individual households.”
Each household has chosen its own icon to mark the data points on the street and online graphs and residents’ input helps foster the sense they own the project.
Ruth Goodall, 70, who has lived on Tidy Street for 30 years, says she wasn’t interested in her electricity use before the initiative but measuring it every day has inspired her to change her behaviour. “I always used to fill up my kettle to the top but having seen how much extra power that uses I’m careful to just boil what I need,” she says.
Strikingly, over the three weeks the project has been running, the street’s average energy use has dropped by 15%, with some people cutting usage by as much as 30%. Much of this has been achieved by simple behavioural changes such as turning of lights and devices on standby.
“Now the challenge is to see if those reductions can be maintained,” says Bird.
Phase two of the project is about to be launched, during which 10 households on Tidy Street will for the first time measure their gas usage over the next six months.
“We are also looking at working with community groups based in the city, such as Brighton and Hove 10:10, to encourage other streets and organisations in the city, to start measuring their energy use,” says Bird, who has recently been approached by one school, keen to set up an electricity-use measuring project with its pupils.
Perhaps energy companies should take note. Next year sees the introduction of the “green deal”, a scheme whereby people can invest in energy efficiency improvements to their homes, community spaces and businesses at no upfront cost, instead paying through installments on their energy bills. Community engagement will be key to their ability to deliver the programme.