Published: 22nd SEPTEMBER 2016

Creating healthy streets in Marks Gate

Our project lead Louise Gold tells us about her rewarding project working with a community at Marks Gate to help transform their streets into a healthier place for residents to feel proud of.

Adults and children walking and scooting

Our work at Marks Gate has been awarded top place in the 2018 London Transport Awards, in the Excellence in Cycling and Walking category, with our partners London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and Be First Regeneration Ltd.

Want innovation in Street Design? Then ask the local community

The sun is shining on the Marks Gate Estate in Barking and Dagenham where I have led a two-year programme of community-based street design and active travel initiatives intended to get people moving. Working with thousands of local people, we made changes from quick wins to those producing longer-term results in a collaboration between us and the community, Barking and Dagenham council, Transport for London and other partners.

The work in Marks Gate Estate can be a model for how to work with a community to create healthy streets, delivering change to travel behaviour and improvements to infrastructure, air quality and congestion.

The buzz of cars is already slowing and children can be seen riding their bikes

In the final six months of the project the changes have really taken shape: paintings of giant birds adorn the shop shutters; bees and butterflies swim around the perennials planted in the new DIY Garden; a stream of cyclists can be seen riding back from the Women’s Bike Club sessions each week, some of them having ridden as far as Havering Country Park, others learning to ride or practising on local roads for the first time; children playing Bikeability games with a Sustrans volunteer in the park.

Workers have been busy putting the designs inspired by the community into action along the High Street, Rose Lane, and around the entrances to the schools. Mosaic flagstones, based on local school children’s designs, have been set into the paving.

Benches will be installed, following residents' suggestions at a two-week seating trial. Rose Lane has been narrowed in parts and the corners of side roads made tighter to reduce speeding through-traffic. Trees will be planted and the sense of place here further restored, already the buzz of cars is slowing outside the shops, where children can now follow a yellow brick road to and from their schools and the park.

A community united 

At the end of the project, we organised a DIY Street Party. It is an event to mark the end of the project and to celebrate the changes. However, it also allows a moment for reflection; the community and workers in the area were recently shocked and saddened by the news of the death of a young resident many people knew well.

We adapted the event for the community to come together in a show of unity and good spirit, and also raise money for the funeral and acknowledge what has happened. My time working in Marks Gate has been a wonderful year of cycling, walking, and creating solutions with the community here.

While we considered postponing the event, it was the residents, neighbourhood police, church and school who supported the idea of continuing with the event.

People wanted to show that the perpetrators haven’t won and life must go on for the children and residents of the area and for the sense of community and place that the Street Party honours.

Listening hard to residents is the key

When Sustrans arrived in Marks Gate we listened. Of course, we want to encourage people to choose to walk and cycle, but first, we want an understanding of the wider problems in the area and what local people imagine positive change could look like.

There were moments in the project when our designers vision for how to solve problems didn’t necessarily chime with residents’ views. For instance, the suggestion of filtering through-traffic spurred fear of a road closure, which residents thought would restrict freedom of movement rather than encourage it (we believe this intervention can have the opposite effect).

However, ideas that the majority of the community came up with themselves, including Junior School pupils, were often innovative and exciting and carried the seeds of change to get people moving.

85% of traffic was speeding, including outside the school

At our events we found people sharing the same concerns. One was the speed of cars. So we put four Automatic Traffic Counters along Rose Lane to measure the speed and volume of travelling vehicles.

We recorded some shocking results – for example, at the counter closest to Whalebone Lane North one vehicle was going over 90mph. Rose Lane was also fairly busy, carrying an average of 1,500 vehicles per day. At all the counters it was found that 85% of vehicles exceeded the 20mph speed limit, including outside the school.

Residents suggested we needed to let cars know they’re entering a 20mph zone, by introducing more signs along the road. We will use trees as gateway features and kids drawings on slow signs to remind traffic to slow at either end of Rose Lane.

Residents also suggested we create a clear path for kids that follows the actual route people take through the area. We have built a Yellow Brick Road, which was suggested at a meeting of local parents. We also introduced a crossing point between bus stops to open up the space for pedestrians. Crucially we took away guardrail to do this.

At the request of parents, we have widened the pavement to the infant school and created waiting areas outside both schools, so as to better accommodate pedestrians and pushchairs.

Fixing local concerns with our partners

Residents were also concerned about a smelly and often flooded subway that runs beneath the A12. So we worked with Transport for London (TfL) to improve the subway.

We painted a mural along the length of the subway, with help from locals. TfL added an anti-graffiti coating to this, gave the rest of the subway a lick of paint and fixed the lighting and drainage. We may still hang some potpourri from the ceiling!

Similarly, residents said the shops along Rose Lane needed a facelift to brighten up the shutters once they closed for the evening. We ran a week of street art workshops with children and young people to come up with ideas and designs for the shop shutters.

Marks Gate Junior School student Gracie Dellar suggested a flock of birds leading people to Tantony Green. This idea was developed and painted on the shutter by freelance artist Tom Berry with help from local kids and volunteers.
Everyone I spoke to mentioned the rubbish. So we decided to run some Clean Ups.

As well as residents mucking in, BAD Youth Forum, the Young Mayor, local MacDonald’s staff and The Challenge (NCS) got involved in sprucing up Marks Gate. While these aren’t permanent solutions, the community are keen to take ownership of their local area and we hope this continues with the same enthusiasm and success.

We still might swap some standard council bins for ones that look like animals though.

Creative solutions, applying for funding and seeing results

People told me about the feeling of being unsafe at night, worries about lighting and antisocial behaviour were a common concern, although many people say the area has improved a lot over the last few years. We wanted to help residents with this problem but it didn’t fall within our allocated budget, so we partnered with the council and Light Follows Behaviour to apply for TfL funding to improve the lighting in the area.

We also won funding from Tesco Bags of Help for a BMX track for young people, who many residents feel don’t have enough to do on the estate. We then won further funding from North Meets South Big Local to run a BMX project and encourage the use of the track.

The track and activities will encourage further use of the green open space in Marks Gate and hopefully make the area feel safer. People made the point that there weren’t enough places to play in general. While there is limited play equipment what there is, is good. Most importantly, children can play anywhere!

We hope that the summer of cycling and our sessions for kids on Tantony Green have encouraged its use. We also created a garden outside the Marks Gate Community Centre for the community to have ownership of, plant their own herbs and learn new skills.

Targetting parking issues

People bring up dangerous parking time and again, and while it’s not in our remit to build car parks, we reorganised the parking into inset bays and worked with the council and residents to identify where to put yellow lines to make parking and junctions safer.

Local businesses have asked for more parking, so we are also making two of the parking bays short stay to encourage people to stop and shop. And while, of course, we aim to encourage walking and cycling to reduce car dependency, we're also looking for ways to improve access to the area. By changing the lane behind the shops we can provide loading bays for delivery vans to park, making it safer for people on foot.

Another thing mentioned was the need for school coach parking, as the coach churns up mud outside the school otherwise. We have suggested the school can use the short stay bays when the coach is due by cordoning them off at the beginning of the day.

Sorting out seating... with the help of a two-week trial

Shopkeepers stressed the need for trees, flowers and benches on Rose Lane outside the shops. However, as a result of concerns around anti-social behaviour in the area, we decided to run a two-week seating trial using Sustrans' street kit. We wanted to find out whether putting in seating would improve things by encouraging other people to use the area.

We did this over the summer holidays, arguably when young people have even less to do. We ran activities every day, including gardening, play and the smoothie bike. We surveyed residents about where they wanted to sit and partnered with the council's anti-social behaviour team to monitor the kit’s use with CCTV.

We were able to make an informed decision about where seating could safely be installed without causing tension between residents above the shops and young people. While there was an incident of anti-social behaviour reported, the kit came back to Sustrans intact.

People overall were keen to create a more sociable space on Rose Lane and a whopping 73% of people agreed they met someone new while using the street kit.

We will monitor the impact of all these changes in the months ahead.

Marks Gate now has colour and character and lots more bikes

I have worked on lots of behaviour change projects intended to get people cycling and walking. This is the first to include placemaking in its remit. It has been the most holistic and therefore the most effective with nearly 7,000 people coming along to our events.

In London, Val Shawcross, Deputy Mayor of London for Transport, has made clear the political intention is now not only to make streets better for walking and cycling but better for the whole community.

In Marks Gate, we have not simply added a cycle path but integrated walking and cycling with other transport modes. We have created a path (literally and figuratively) for people to walk and cycle more instead of drive, and we have done this by making the whole area more attractive as well as providing comprehensive cycle training.

With the help of local residents and children, Marks Gate now has colour and character and lots more bikes.

We can take credit for some of the change but the community have guided decision making. Residents want to come together, despite difficult circumstances.

People want the space to socialise positively, whether that means on a bench outside of school or on a bike alongside friends.

People want to feel proud of the place where they live.

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