Filthy engine oil has been poured over low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) planters in Lambeth. The vandalism is the most recent in a string of attacks on traffic-calming measures erected during the lockdown to promote safer streets. Despite support for many schemes being high among local residents, frequent criminal attacks define a battle for the future of Britain’s streets. Do we want American-style town planning designed solely around the needs of motorists or will we all benefit more from a Dutch approach to liveable streets?
Local resident Rachel Mantell tweeted a photo of the recent vandalism, which has been branded dangerous and filthy for kids walking to school: “I’m still actually really quite horrified by this. Local streets’ WhatsApp groups all discussing clean up, how we keep kids and animals away from it, all absolutely horrified. But look at the rage in that act. Horrible.”
What are LTNs?
LTN schemes use bollards or planters to stop rat running and create safe spaces for walking and cycling.
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 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.
Many of the planters used to close roads are wooden planters that are relatively easy to winch onto a lorry. In light of the continuing vandalism, it’s possible a different approach is needed. The promotion and protection of LTNs must form part of a systematic approach to road danger reduction. As has happened in countries such as Sweden, it involves a cultural shift – from car-centric to people focussed. The benefits of such an approach are numerous, but include safer roads, reduced healthcare costs, greater independence for children and increased quality of life for all. However, change of this kind can occur only once people – as opposed to politicians – consider it vital.
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, which includes a history of how the Netherlands tamed its traffic in the early 1970s.
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