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How Hackney became London’s most liveable borough

How Hackney became London’s most liveable borough

3 June 2014 Written by By Vincent Stops Councillor for Hackney and Chair of the Hackney Planning Co

Hackney has recently been described by the Movement for Liveable London as London’s most liveable borough. As part of our Active by Design campaign we spoke to Hackney councillor Vincent Stops about how Hackney has been transformed into one of London’s most active boroughs.

There are very convincing numbers that describe just how effective a decade of planned public policies applied to the borough of Hackney have been in changing the behaviour of its residents.

For example, In Hackney:

  • More residents cycle to work than any London borough
  • More residents cycle than drive 15.4% vs. 12.8% 
  • 14,054 walking commuters were recorded in the 2011 census, up from 7,811 in 2001 
  • Hackney has the highest ratio of female to male cyclists (37% are women) of any London borough  

The graph below illustrates the change that has occurred in the past decade in the way that Hackney residents commute. If those who run to the bus or walk to the station are included then over 87% of Hackney commuters are active travellers!

But how has this remarkable change happened? There have been no Superhighways or Superwalkways, no grand project. In a nutshell, Hackney has taken a lead from Jan Gehl, the Danish Urbanist, whose simple message for a liveable city is to ‘create a better balance between cycling and walking and motor vehicles’. 

Below are some of the changes that were implemented into Hackney. Many on their own would seem insignificant and go unnoticed, but cumulatively add up to the transformation of Hackney as a place where people want to work, rest and play. It's the transformation that had made Hackney London's most liveable borough.

Redesigning Hackney’s residential streets 

The design of Hackney’s residential streets has made them pleasant places that are conducive to activity. All of Hackney’s residential streets are now 20mph zones with physical enforcement, and most are also within controlled parking zones. Many streets have point road closures which reduces rat-running, making them safer for cyclists, pedestrians and those using the streets for play. Many streets are now tree lined and have had the paving recently renewed. They are well maintained and the street cleaning is amongst the best in London.


Basic good housekeeping has also been undertaken. There are yellow lines to ensure visibility at junctions, more dropped kerbs have been introduced, and pavement parking has been removed from over 60 streets in the borough.

Hackney has some of the best street nameplates in London. They are all set in title case and placed at a height that means they’re always visible. In conjunction with the emerging Legible London wayfinding system, it reinforces how easy it is to get around Hackney by foot and cycle.


Hackney’s town centres

Hackney’s town centres are now far more inviting and easer to wander through. The pavements have been renewed and widened in Hackney Central, Shoreditch, Dalston and Stoke Newington Church Street. Pedestrian crossings are single stage, not staggered, and miles of pedestrian guard railing have been removed. The location of street furniture has been placed to minimise obstruction. These changes are all subliminal, but cumulatively they are crucial in creating a street that people can easily walk down.

There is an even higher standard of cleaning in Hackney’s shopping streets and waste is only allowed onto the pavement for short periods before collection and then cleared at specific times of the day. The streets are managed properly - tables and chairs are allowed (but managed) and advertising boards have been banned and enforced against. Removing one advertising board will not make any difference to walkability, but remove a hundred along a street and the feel of a street is completely transformed.

Hackney’s main streets

These are the most difficult streets to tackle, but much has been done. Kingsland Road is a good example. The pavements have been widened and the carriageways have been narrowed to 4.5 meters. Cycle can pass bus and bus can pass cycle. There is no central carriageway markings, which subliminally makes drivers more careful. All side streets have had speed-tables (an extended and flat speed bump) installed which encourages drivers to monitor their speed.

A lot of work has also been done to remove the staggered pedestrian crossings between Stamford Hill and Shoreditch on the A10, and to install two new diagonal crossings in the area. This is important in helping people to feel that walking in Hackney is easy, safe (no one wants to wait in the middle of the road in a cattle-type pen) and without unnecessary diversions. Basically, the more pleasant it is to walk, the more people will walk.

Buses are incredibly important to Hackney's residents and as such numerous bus lanes have been added, which is not only better for buses but also protects cyclists from general traffic.

Innovating Hackney

London’s most significant traffic management scheme in the last decade was the reversion of the Shoreditch Triangle into a two-way operation. This has arguably led to a much better street environment for drivers and cyclists and has helped to rejuvenate the area. Now Hackney Council is looking to regenerate Hackney Central town centre. Until recently it had one-way bus system through one of its most popular areas, known as the ‘The Narroway’. Now there is a two-way bus service avoiding the shopping street, creating a much more pleasant pedestrian shopping area, and a permeable cycle route that takes several minutes off a journey.

Hackney has installed thousands of cycle racks on the footpaths and roads (now the preferred option) and cycle storage on its streets and estates. It has led London in the introduction of play streets, in which certain streets are closed off to traffic so they can be used for play by all ages.

Creating Hackney’s cycling culture

Hackney’s cycling community - the London Cycling Campaign in Hackney (LCCiH) is the most sophisticated in London. It campaigns for better cycling, but is not cycle-centric. It understands the value of ‘place’ and the vital role of the bus to Hackney and its residents.

Development control

It’s well understood that we should be integrating transport and planning, Hackney has done this and leads London in its positive support for car-free development. 877 out of 958 schemes involving car-free developments were approved between January 2008 and April 2013. Happily both developers and social housing providers understand the need for car-free developments and now enthusiastically embrace them because they deliver more housing, better quality developments and save on the huge cost of basement garage excavation.

 Work in progress

No other London borough has undertaken so many transport, street, and urban design interventions that are so focussed on creating a liveable and active borough as Hackney. But of course, there is much more to do.

Improving the safety of some of Hackney’s most problematic junctions and reverting the operation of its historic one-way traffic systems is the most important priority, and it is certainly a work in progress. To do this effectively it requires an overall reduction to the volume of traffic across London - and that requires action from the Mayor’s office. Against a back drop of rising demand from population and employment growth, the only credible mechanism to do this is the introduction of road pricing. Disappointingly this is not yet in sight.

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