Traffic protest brings chaos in rush-hour

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The Independent Online
DANNY PENMAN

Anti-traffic campaigners brought the centre of Greenwich in south-east London to a standstill yesterday when they blockaded one of the main routes through the borough during the morning rush hour.

Sixty protesters, campaigning against the rising level of pollution in Britain's major cities, erected 20ft-tall steel tripods and giant banners in the path of the oncoming traffic.

Queues of cars, vans and lorries quickly built up along Trafalgar Road and tailed back on to the A102 (M) approach to the Blackwall tunnel. Police were forced to divert the traffic around the bottle-neck but were unable to prevent the protesters wreaking havoc on the rush-hour traffic.

Most drivers reacted angrily to the road-block. One leapt out and accused the protesters of being "fascists". Another accused them of being Socialist Workers' Party activists. A third simply screamed "you're all just fucking foreigners".

Many drivers were either on their way to work or were delivering freight. William Tod, a lorry driver from St Andrews, Fife, said: "There's no justification for stopping the traffic. They're stopping other people carrying out their work."

The campaign group Reclaim the Streets, which organised the event, said it was designed to help enforce the advice given by the Department of the Environment, who asked motorists on Tuesday to combat air pollution by switching to public transport.

It was also supporting a local group who are involved in a High Court action to try and force the local council to close the road when the pollution levels exceed the World Health Organisation's guidelines.

According to Greenwich Action to Stop Pollution (Gasp), the pressure group taking the High Court action, the town's location in a valley means that airborne pollution is trapped.

At Meridian primary school, just off the main road, a tenth of the pupils have to use inhalers to help with their breathing. In 1993, one in eight schoolchildren in Greenwich suffered from asthma and 900 were admitted to hospital with respiratory illnesses, more than a third suffering from acute asthma.

Philip Connolly, spokesman for Gasp, said: "There have to be traffic- reducing measures in place. It's not a question of denying people the car, we want to see a reduction in the number of times it is used."

Reclaim the Streets is organising another road blockade in Birmingham today and has pledged to step up the campaign in the run up to the centenary of the motorcar in 1996.

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