The secret to creating effective Low Traffic Neighbourhoods? Talk to people

If you want to get a conversation going on your first socially-distanced meet-up this Spring, ask your group for opinions on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). You’re bound to get a reaction one way or the other.

It’s an argument that has been played out across the country, and with over 140 schemes already in place from Manchester to Salisbury, it’s increasingly likely you will come across one this year if you live or work in an urban area.

But do LTNs actually work? And if they do, why are so many councils rowing back on them?

Creating healthier, safer neighbourhoods

‘Do LTN’s actually work?’ is usually the first question when the topic comes up.

Thanks to academic research undertaken since the first schemes were set up in 2014, we have a clear answer to that. If the purpose of LTNs is to increase walking and cycling, reduce car use, improve health, improve safety and reduce inequality then – yes – they work. Recent studies showed a massive 38% increase in walking in Brixton Railton Road LTN this year, while Islington’s Wharf Road scheme created a 52% increase in cycling trips.

Studies of Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland scheme show residents walk 115 minutes more and cycle 20 minutes per week more than their neighbours if they live in LTN areas. A recent Imperial College London study also showed a 18% reduction in street crime after three years, and a 75% reduction in the risk of being injured in a road traffic collision inside LTNs.

So if that is all true, why have nearly 30% of LTNs been altered or scrapped entirely by Local Authorities after they’ve been implemented?

Why Councils are scrapping schemes

When Grant Shapps announced the £250m Emergency Active Travel Fund in May 2020, Councils were quick to bring forward hundreds of schemes for pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements, junction improvements and cycle and bus-only corridors.

But while Government’s fast-track legislation explained Councils “need to consider the impact on all road users” when implementing LTNs, it did not place a legal requirement on them to formally consult the community. Plenty of local authorities therefore undertook rushed and poorly thought-out engagement with local groups, resulting in political unrest and the creation of large, well-organised opposition groups calling to end LTNs.

And that really isn’t a surprise. We were in the middle of a pandemic in Summer 2020 and councils were dealing with an unprecedented crisis. Comprehensive digital engagement on LTNs played second fiddle to the public health crisis.

Virtual consultation methods have come on leaps and bounds over the last year, so it’s time for Councils to undertake genuine public engagement so residents understand the facts about LTNs. The communities that have helped shape the route, timings and layout of LTNs have widely ended up supporting them. The communities who feel LTNs have been forced on them have overwhelmingly rejected them.

The secret to getting good LTNs in place is not so secret. It’s to engage properly with the communities who will be affected by them.

What do LTNs mean for the wider Housing and Planning industry?

BECG is hosting a Low Traffic Neighbourhoods webinar, looking at what we have learned from LTNs across the country, and what that means for the wider Housing and Planning industry on Monday 26 April from 14:00, with an expert panel including:

  • Mary Creagh, Chief Executive of Living Streets
  • Cllr Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader of Waltham Forest Council
  • Cllr Claire Holland, Deputy Leader of Lambeth Council
  • Dr Anthony Laverty, Lecturer of Imperial College

Find out more and book your free space here