Low Traffic in My Neighbourhood

In the first article for the Environment Network blog takeover, Alexander Naile discusses Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.

My street has recently been swarmed by flyers declaring “Say no to road closures!” zip-tied to lampposts and anywhere else they’ll go. There’s anger at Lambeth’s putting in a Low Traffic Neighbourhood, or LTN, and it’s loud, misplaced and from a minority of the population.

LTNs are a simple enough concept, trying to keep through traffic out of residential neighbourhoods and discourage unnecessary short car journeys by closing off rat runs and putting in modal filters so that emergency services, cyclists and walkers can still pass through. With the reduced traffic and increased need for socially distanced space to walk that lockdown brought, they’re one of the tools that councils across the country chose, along with pavement widening and cycle paths, although they are definitely an urban tool and at the moment particularly popular in London.

It’s the same principle, but on a less disruptive level, as Walthamstow’s mini Holland and Barcelona’s super-blocks: keeping neighbourhoods for the people who live in them and non-residential and unnecessary traffic off the streets. Neighbourhoods are quieter, cleaner and safer for local people. The aim is largely to get traffic below 100 vehicles an hour, the threshold at which a road shifts back to being conceived of as a space that pedestrians can use rather than being stuck to the pavements.

So what do these LTNs look like? A square kilometre or so of residential streets, bounded by bigger roads that are the through roads, with modal filters, bus gates, one way streets and banned turns to reshape the ways in which the streets are used.

Modal filters I’ve already mentioned, and one-way streets and banned turns are pretty common, but a bus gate is basically just a route that only buses can use, as well as cyclists and pedestrians of course. The idea of all of these is to make sure that while the streets are a nice place to live, to walk, and to spend time - they’re also an inconvenient place to drive through. For local residents everywhere is still accessible by car and the inconvenience of getting in or out is minimal - these are not the people who these are aimed at.

They do tend to stir up notable ill will towards them at the beginning; people upset that their commute is longer (by a minute or so), shops worried that people can’t get to them, as well as the everpresent dislike of change. After a few months or so, this always seems to melt away as people realise that quieter safer streets aren’t actually that bad, weirdly enough. In Walthamstow, there ended up being campaigns to expand the mini Hollands once people saw that they worked, and LTNs are very much in the same line.

The People and Places study looking at mini-Hollands have used their data to look into LTNs. They are comparing LTNs, other ‘high dose’ active travel neighbourhoods (cycle infrastructure and so on) and a control group of neighbourhoods in other Outer London boroughs. LTNs show a clear downwards trend in car ownership, car trips and minutes spent in a car as well as a clear upwards trend in active travel over the course of three years, behaviours continuing to change throughout.

So, am I worried about the opposition to my local LTN? No, because despite the sound and the fury, I know the stats, and so do the councillors. In my ward, which the LTN covers the majority of, it turns out that only 35% of people have access to a car. Even if everyone with a car was angry, which they aren’t, the flyer posters are a minority. Streets don’t belong to cars, they belong to all of us, and the LTNs are a big step towards taking them back.

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