An article this week in the Sunday Telegraph has reignited arguments over low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs). The principle argument put forward by veteran transport campaigner John Stewart seems to be that LTN schemes displace traffic from quiet residential streets to surrounding boundary roads and nearby main roads. However, the data he quotes is disputed and proponents of low-traffic neighbourhoods argue LTNs are a valuable first step towards liveable towns and cities. For an in-depth analysis of his argument by transport journalist Carlton Reid, listen to the podcast on the subject recorded this week here
Why all the fuss over LTNs?
A battle is taking place for British streets. 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 a small step towards an answer to climate change, obesity, air pollution is the promotion of active travel. And surely that’s 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.
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.
The ethical choice
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