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.