Dancing not fighting …

Chrissy Thirlaway appeals for help with a petition to bring safety and sanity to a dangerous and polluted junction in Brixton

busy road junction

We all have a wish list. Not the bucket list. The wish list is the one that starts “If only …”. Some wishes we’ll never fulfil, like “If only I could fly like a bird” and “If only I could time travel”. It also includes very real wishes we can work towards and achieve. Near the top of my list, just after (and linked to) “world peace” and “a good life for my family”, comes “if only we could dance instead of fighting”.

I’ve lived in Brixton for over 50 years. I’ve witnessed and been part of the changes, the highs and lows, the new arrivals from all over the world and the strong sense of identity we have as a community.

I arrived as a student in 1969 and I immediately felt at home. I felt the rhythm, the dance. Now, in 2023, when I’m out navigating the street I feel a disconnect. I dodge and weave where I used to glide. So why is walking, riding or driving so stressful? The busy, crowded streets, the pressure to get somewhere fast, our need to hold firm to our individual identity. So we walk with eyes down, often looking at our phones and certainly not looking into the faces of those we pass. We don’t step aside for others. We ride our bikes on the pavements, go through red lights, drive 25 or 30 in a 20mph zone, park on yellow lines – or double park. We justify it by telling ourselves everyone else is doing it and if we don’t battle we can’t get anywhere.

Together, not through, against or over

What would happen if we danced instead of battled? We all dance in our own way – wherever there’s music, at the party, at the gig, in the kitchen, in the street. We dance together to the rhythm, with and around each other, not at or through or against or over.

I live overlooking the junction of Kings Avenue, Acre Lane, Bedford Road and Clapham Park Road and have experienced the junction become an awkward, congested, polluted, dangerous crossroads for all who use it – pedestrians, cyclists, cars, heavy vehicles, buses.

Here the Kings Avenue pavement narrows to one metre wide and the road is so constricted that large vehicles have to squeeze past each other. There’s no room for cyclists and little room on the pavement for pedestrians.

There have been so many incidents at the junction no wonder cyclists avoid the road here. They travel at speed on the pavement, cut the corners using pedestrian crossings and ignore traffic lights. I wish (another wish) they all got off and walked that stretch.

For people with pushchairs, wheelchairs or mobility scooters it can be difficult and dangerous to navigate the narrow pavement. This is compounded by the morning and afternoon foot traffic from two primary schools and a sixth form college on Kings Avenue. Three bus routes turn in and out of Kings Avenue, often getting stuck on the junction and creating a tailback of vehicles that then complete the crossing when the traffic lights are red and the pedestrian signal is sounding. Imagine what that’s like for visually impaired people!

Record pollution

Pollution levels at the junction are recorded higher than 58ug/m3, among the highest category measured by the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory. We know that air pollution damages people’s health and children’s development. With the large number of residents and school children using this junction every day, we can only imagine the damage it’s causing to people.

It all adds up to frustration, stress and anger. No dancing, just battling.

Some of you will already know what’s behind the blue hoarding on the corner of Kings Avenue and Acre Lane. The National Grid is installing a tunnel around 30 metres below ground about the size of a tube tunnel to modernise our electricity supply. It’s gone on for years and, while I think the site has been well managed, it has intruded into and disrupted the lives of local residents and traders as well as the traffic system with the extended hours of heavy machinery creating dust and noise and vibrations. Tunnelling work is now complete and the surface work is about to begin.

This is where I had an “If only” thought. If only the National Grid made a strip of their site available to Lambeth to widen Kings Avenue just a bit, just enough to make the pavements safe, establish cycle lanes and reduce pollution? I felt we deserved it after the effect the tunnelling works has had on everyone. I’m just me – a retired long term resident. I had no idea if it was realistic or how to start to make my idea happen. I didn’t feel powerful. But I couldn’t let it go. It kept me awake at night. If I didn’t act I’d feel I’d let everyone down. 

Walking, cycling, driving should be a dance not a battle. Leave the world a better place.

Once in a lifetime opportunity

I began measuring, researching and drawing up an outline proposal with maps and overlays – old school, on paper. Then what? I didn’t know where or how. There’s an odd thing about adversity: it can divide and it can unite. I reached out for advice. Friends and neighbours are contributing skills and experience which has given me confidence to submit the proposal to Lambeth council and the National Grid. 

The proposal argues that we use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the junction safer and cleaner for everyone. We should use a strip along the length of the site to widen the pavements and create safe cycle lanes on both sides, with a communal planted area facing Acre Lane to help reduce the pollution levels.

Pushing for positive change can seem like a challenge, but taking action and working for the best interests of the community feels immensely rewarding. I’m trying my best. I’m striding out of my comfort zone. Support and encouragement is coming from all directions, friends, neighbours, traders, councillors, community organisations. Our community is closer. I’m making new friends and learning a lot. We can make a difference.

We’ve created an online petition on the Lambeth council website to gather supporters and add weight to our proposal: A Safer, Cleaner Junction at Kings Avenue, Acre Lane Junction. You can sign in three ways:


Look out for green information sheets with a QR code to the online petition. You need to confirm your eligibility after entering your name and address for your signature to be accepted.

If you would rather sign the old-school way, there’s also a paper petition available, email kingsavenuepetition@gmail.com for information.

We’re not there yet. We still need 1,000 signatures by the end of August. Even if you don’t live, work or travel near the junction, we are all empowered by our support to our community. Like a raindrop in a pond the effects ripple out. We’re in this together. We need your help!

When it happens maybe we can dance in the streets, we can look up and smile and our dodging and weaving will be stepping and swaying.