Low Traffic NeighbourhoodsReduced Road Space. Covid-19 As Excuse

Are There Any Benefits From Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs)?

By 18th August 2020 August 30th, 2020 3 Comments

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are being promoted by local councils and central government and are actually being implemented in many locations around the country. Typically they are called “Healthy Neighbourhoods”, “Healthy Streets”, “Mini-Hollands” or other fine sounding names when in reality they usually consist of mainly road closures (“modal filters”, “school streets”, etc) that obstruct the use of roads. The object is stated to get us all to use “active travel” modes such as walking or cycling so that we live longer. But do they really do so? And what are the disadvantages?

These schemes are currently now being implemented using Temporary Traffic Orders using the claim that the Covid-19 epidemic justifies emergency measures to enhance social distancing without any advance public consultation whatsoever. But they have aroused very strong opposition in several London boroughs once people have seen the result. See Ref.2 below for a list of some of them in London).

It is frequently claimed that traffic “evaporates” once these schemes are installed, but is that true? A recently published academic study (see Ref.1 below) of three mini-Holland schemes in outer London gives a very different picture however.

The three boroughs studied were Enfield, Waltham Forest and Kingston. They selected over 3,000 people at random and gave them a survey of their travel behaviour with a follow up later to see the changes (although there was a high drop-out rate). There was a particular focus on their use of cycling.

Based on reports of past-week cycling, the authors suggest there was a trend towards higher cycling levels in the mini-Holland areas than the non mini-Holland areas. But this effect was not statistically significant (i.e. may not be true). Bearing in mind that these are self-reported numbers in addition which are likely to be biased, the claimed effect is likely to be a mirage.

The report also says “There was generally little or no evidence of differences by mini-Holland status in the proportion of individuals doing ‘any walking’ or ‘any active travel’ in the past week”. In reality therefore the mini-Holland schemes have had no impact on active travel use.

On car use the report says: “For past-week car use, there was a non-significant trend for those living in mini-Holland boroughs to be less likely to report any past-week car use than those living in non mini-Holland areas. Time spent driving in a car in the past week showed no consistent pattern in the results, and no evidence of a difference in any contrast [sic]”. In other words, car use had not changed.

At the follow up survey, in those living in mini-Holland areas there was an increase in the proportion saying that there was “too much” support for investment in cycling (from 27% to 33%). These differences were highly significant which shows the population were not convinced of the merits of the programme.

The report’s authors make some positive comments about the effect of the mini-Holland interventions but their conclusions are hardly consistent with the data they report.

In reality there is no substantial movement that is statistically significant into active travel modes, and car use continues at the same level.

Emergency Service Access

One of the complaints from those living in LTNs is the impact on emergency services access (ambulances, police cars, fire engines). The College of Paramedics has warned how lives could be put at risk and emergency response times increased as road closures, cycle lanes and one-way systems cause problems for ambulances and delay response times.

Richard Webber, a College Spokesperson, recently said “Previous traffic calming measures have caused delays for emergency vehicles. So now we are particularly concerned new measures are being rushed in without proper consideration and there will be a risk of further delays for ambulances and other emergency responders. For someone not breathing or having a heart attack, stroke or allergic reaction this risks causing significant harm. We would urge councils as they implement these new measures to give proper consideration to access for emergency vehicles and ensure they are not delayed reaching the scene of an emergency.

We fully support and understand the need to improve routes to protect cyclists and pedestrians, particularly while there is a reduction in the use of public transport following the Covid-19 epidemic. However, the designs must take into account fully whether an emergency vehicle – whether ambulance police or fire – can gain access in a hurry, rather than making it difficult to do so.”

But in reality little account is being taken of emergency service access. For example in Lewisham there are numerous reports of ambulances and police cars being blocked. They are supposed to have keys to open locks on the bollards on some roads, but they do not. Even if they do have keys, significant delays are caused.

Photo below shows an ambulance with blue flashing lights being blocked in Manor Lane Terrace Lewisham.

In summary, there is no evidence that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods produce any significant benefits while there is clear evidence that they delay emergency service vehicles. Residents also report massively extended journey times and increased air pollution on major routes as traffic is diverted onto them.

The ABD suggests that encouraging active travel may be a good thing, but there are better ways to do it than just closing roads. Closing roads simply does not work to encourage active travel and the extreme versions of LTNs implemented in boroughs such as Waltham Forest and Lewisham will never get general public support.

Reference 1: Impacts of an active travel intervention with a cycling focus in a suburban context: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965856417314866

Reference 2: Opposition to Road Closures in London Grows: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2020/07/12/opposition-to-road-closures-in-london-grows-sign-the-petitions/

This blog, by London Campaign Manager Roger Lawson, first appeared on his ABD London blog.

3 Comments

  • Mark Kehoe says:

    I’m a local cyclist lifelong and also drive a car, principally for local volunteering at present.

    In just 14 days, my ability to do the volunteer shopping & med deliveries has been reduced by 75%. My mileage up by 70% and my limited time that I can do this significantly reduced, leaving me unable to attend all the calls. I noticed that with many volunteers on holiday or back at work, the majority of those I had to reject and pass on were resent to me over the following few days. So these people in need, remained unattended for too long.

    This is all down to the sudden arrival of LTNs in the Ealing and Brentford area.

    I’ve resorted to my bike for light one item, and safe deliveries, but even that has been made hazardous, with blind spots created by planters, undersized gaps, no clear definitions of rights of way. And, most bizarrely, other cyclists suddenly abandoning basic road conventions like keeping on the left and thus using the wrong gaps causing head-on conflict.

    Mopeds and scooters are now using pavements to avoid the bollards and gaps and it is very notable that Emergency service vehicles cannot get through gaps even with bollards removed. Ambulance crews are not all physically built to shift bollards in wet and freezing conditions and still be suitable to attend to ill people.

    But what is most annoying is the imposition without consultation in really quiet areas which are perfect for cycling and have been for decades with no real issues with other road users – Provided one cycles with the same care as one does in a motor vehicle.

    Mini Holland is quite daft. Has no-one advocating this not done basic geography? Ealing is very hilly. Even the bits that seem flat and easy in a car, are hard work on a bike. It’s often very windy and councils seem to be perennially unable to clear leaf fall from last autumn leaving a slimy slippy residue making wet cycling really awful in the dark winter days and at night.

    I am quite embarrassed at times by other fellow cyclists who just seem bereft of any road sense or etiquette towards anyone on foot or on wheels. All cyclists ought to have a bona fide certificate of road competence in charge of a pedal machine before being allowed to ride to work, play or school. It’s served me well for 40 plus years and probably a factor in my unblemished driving record.

    Would be far better if this funding was earmarked solely for improving dreadful pavements and all the ruts potholes and slippery surfaces on quiet streets along with better road markings and fund proper mandatory cycle training. Cleaning cycle routes and streets daily. Just like they do in Holland. ( Much of which is level )

    This is such a pointless exercise it beggars belief as it achieve nothing but division and is a gift for crime and misuse.

    • Faith Kenrick says:

      Your comment makes a lot of sense, l wish that it was forwarded to the reporters offended by extinction rebellion protests that made an ambulance have to delay it’s journey – they should realise these calming measures, imposedas you say suddenly at at some expense by local councils do anything but calm traffic. Dealing with existing problems like potholes first is quite reasonable, l would have thought, and requiring cyclists to have road sense also sensible.

  • George Adams says:

    As a result of the LTN in Ealing my fuel usage has increased by 10 litres a week and I am a low car user. Comments made by the very few who support this
    scheme suggest that my disabled 87 year old mother can cycle to her her main destinations. One has even suggested that I can carry 200kg of equipment and stock on my bike and cycle 15 miles to Brick Lane. The streets in Ealing are rarely cleaned and the pavements and roads are third world in nature. This moronic scheme has made parts of Ealing into a collection of ghettos. This should be put to a referendum in the areas affected .
    Traffic in my road has gone up greatly and many cyclists behave with a higher level of disregard than they did before. I agree with the sentiments of the comment above as do most sensible people.

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