LTNs and the fight for our streets

A battle is taking place on British roads. In the red corner, those who want to tackle road danger, air pollution and climate change. In the blue corner, those willing to tolerate the status quo. The current skirmish involves Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), schemes that use bollards or planters to stop rat running and create safe spaces for walking and cycling. However, they have attracted vocal opposition.

The road blocks – or modal filters as they are also called – that create LTNs have long been used in The Netherlands and other countries that actively promote walking and cycling. Here in Britain, their widespread and rapid installation has been prompted by the need to provide alternatives to public transport following Covid-19 restrictions and a desperate need to reduce traffic levels – especially given the link between coronavirus deaths and air pollution.

The schemes make use of new government funds and use emergency traffic orders to bypass the conventional planning process – public consultation happens over the first six months of operation. That hasn’t stopped a vocal minority from protesting against the LTNs and in some cases vandalising them – or simply driving on pavements to avoid the road closures. In the case of Conservative London borough, Wandsworth, they reacted to objections by swiftly scrapping their LTNs.

It’s tempting to assume that everyone wants clean air and safer streets, but, as in so many other areas of politics today, the subject of LTNs appears to have become a polarised argument – a culture war between those who believe they have a right to drive whenever and wherever they like and those who believe that the part of the answer to climate change, obesity, air pollution is the promotion of active travel. And surely that is the point – LTNs are only part of the answer. There are echoes of the debacle which saw speed bumps ripped up because of fears of increased air pollution –  LTNs will only be truly effective when part of a holistic approach to the reduction of road danger – in all its forms.

Do LTNs work?

Research carried on impacts of active travel interventions in Outer London between 2016-19 has found decreased car ownership and use and increased active travel in intervention areas where Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) were introduced. Decreased car ownership and use was found only in such areas. The research suggests that to reduce car use as well as increase active travel, LTNs are an important part of the intervention toolbox.

Co-author of the research Rachel Aldred is a professor in Transport at the University of Westminster with over 25 peer reviewed papers to her name and appears in our documentary about road danger Stop Killing our Children.

Protect your bicycle

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  1. John Holiday


    Bearing in mind thata large proportion of car journeys are less than three miles, it’s high time people were ‘encouraged’ to walk,cycle or use public transport to get into or around towns.
    In the early ’60s there were some 2million vehicles & last year 38million, with 750,000 new registrations! Madness!

  2. Anthony Lambert


    Apparently people in Wandsworth were protesting about the inconvenience caused to the school run even though the catchment area for some schools is a radius as small as 500 or even 300 metres!

    The introduction of LTNs in Wandsworth was badly handled, with no explanatory messaging about the damage pollution causes especially to children (astonishingly, some people seem not to know this), benefits to safety. the quality of life, even the value of property through reduced traffic, etc.

  3. Frank Lee


    I live in Leeds – combustion engines give off lots of nasty fumes, cycling in the city is still exceedingly hazardous despite an expansion of cycle lanes. The car has to be limited in the city, but who is going to agree with that in order for it to make a difference… Society needs to look at itself and decide what is really important – our health and happiness or our monetary profits.

  4. Patricia Richardson


    Mmmm after a nice ride, walk etc especially in colder months.
    Just to stop, sit down, relax with a nice cup of coffee and take in the view.
    What is better than that, make your day

  5. Joe B


    Well done to the ETA for an article looking at LTNs. The degree to which personal road vehicles now occupy everyday living is alarming, added to which is the very legitimate worry some people have about travelling on public transport during this virus.

    The age of personal entitlement, at the expense of virtually all else, was broadly started in 1979 by the so-called ‘iron lady’ but her take on life is now looking decidedly corroded and rusty (as was always going to be the case). Many years later and society continues to pay a heavy price for the ‘me first’ mentality.

    Changing our voting system to a genuine Proprtional Representation system (and not some half-baked alternative) is one way forward, providing an urgently-needed limprovement to the First-Past-The-Post system with its now routinely defunct, non-democratic outcome. However, change will not happen overnight and it will require considerable effort in this respect.

    Quite how much time remains on the clock, who knows, but heading along Green Lane is a good option.

    • Mel Thompson


      Car drivers pay an awful lot of money for the right to drive and go where they want without hindrance. Does any other road user? I feel really sorry for delivery drivers now. My vehicle has low emissions and what about those with electric cars? STOP blocking the roads.

  6. gabriele reifenberg


    While I agree that it is desirable, one might even say essential, to have fewer cars on the roads and better air quality how is this going to happen if there is not a first class, affordable public transport system in every area? The nearest bus route I can use also serves outlying villages. It is hourly, finishes at 6.50 and doesn’t run on Sundays. Some villages in this area have virtually no bus service at all. Not all the population can walk or cycle – in particular the elderly and the disabled,

  7. Tony Williams


    I don’t think it is helpful to use a term like “battle”, because it discourages rational discussion and the polarisation of views. I think you use it because you prefer to present issues as extremes and to ignore rational counter-arguments.

    As an example of that, consider Frank Lee’s post above. He says the choice is between “our health and happiness or our monetary profits”. But many people use a car because their journeys require it, not because their priority is “monetary profits”. I hadn’t heard the term “active travel” before today, but I guess it means travelling without any kind of outside power – going on foot or by bike. There are many people for whom that isn’t practicable, for various reasons. From your description of LTN’s, even if people without a car wanted to use a taxi it wouldn’t be able to get to their home.

    The situation as you present it will be overtaken by the increasing use of electric vehicles, which will reduce pollution.

    The fact is that over the past 70 years the availability of cars has enabled us to travel much more than we previously did, and collectively we WANT to be able to do the things that road vehicles make possible. As Gabriele points out above, many villages don’t have a bus service, but in reality many of them never had one, or just one or two journeys once or twice a week, because people did not do the things that cars now make possible. Villages had fewer residents than today and a higher proportion of them worked locally. Trying to limit people to journeys they can make “actively”, which some cannot make at all, implies a revolution in the lifestyles of a majority of the population, which large numbers of people won’t easily accept, despite your lectures about what we all ought to do.

  8. Lesley McAllister


    Much is made of inaccessibility by opposers of LTNs, but they’re either not understanding or deliberately spreading fake news. An LTN may need a driver to take a different route to their home, but it would be unusual not to be able to get there at all.
    The benefit of an LTN is it cuts out through traffic, those who are trying to rat run through a local area instead of taking more appropriate routes, and if the argument is that these are always congested, well…..there’s a solution to that too.

    • Adrian Wicks


      There is some confusion in the comments above. I am sure that many rural communities are the way that they are today because of the historical lack of public transport. This brings both benefits and drawbacks.
      As I read the article there is a critique of our over dependence on passive transport. If as nation we were to engage with it for the greater good of us all, those who truly need to use passive transport might find it more pleasurable and of benefit to the communities in which we live.

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