What should our streets sound like?

This is the first guest post on improving our borough’s streets — if you would like to contribute please get in touch.

I’ve been listening to the sound of the streets near where I live in Tower Hamlets. There’s a lot to hear: on the streets I like most, there’s birdsong, people talking, and the noise of children playing. But that’s not the whole story. On lots of the streets I walk along, the noise of traffic means that I can’t hear anything else.

In Tower Hamlets, there are roads which should be quiet residential streets. Instead, they’re dominated by the noise of cars and vans. I took some sample sound recordings of the area which show why through traffic doesn’t belong on residential streets.

The first is a view from my living room onto the quiet roads and garages behind my flat. You can hear birds singing and not much else:

For the second, I went to the front of my flat. This narrow road is often full of vehicles — far more than just those accessing local properties. Many must be through traffic, despite the fact that the A11 runs parallel about 100 yards away. There is a primary school and a community centre used by vulnerable people — as well as many homes — on this road, but it is hard to cross, noisy and polluted. I only had to wait a few seconds to video a noisy car being driven aggressively and carelessly, with the driver even going the wrong way around the roundabout:

For the last recording, I went to a nearby street with lots of shops and cafes. Motor vehicles aren’t actually banned here – you can still drive along this stretch of road if you need access, but it isn’t possible to use it as a through route. This reduction in motor traffic is clearly sufficient: you can hear people talking, music and skateboarders. People crossing the road obviously feel safe and relaxed.

I want more of our streets to sound and feel like that: welcoming, dominated by people not cars, and full of life. That’s why I’m supporting this campaign to move through motor traffic off our residential streets. I want more green spaces where birds and people gather, lively shopping streets that hum with conversation, and easy ways to get between them on foot or on my bike.

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