Lessons Learned from London’s Low Traffic Neighbourhood Initiatives

During the COVID-19 pandemic, local councils have planned and implemented Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) across London’s boroughs and other major UK cities. The LTNs aim to reduce traffic levels within these areas, benefitting the environment and the health of their residents. However, they have faced opposition from locals who believe the LTNs are rushed and incomplete, and who feel that their concerns about potential harms to residents are being ignored.

LTNs are a traffic reduction measure consisting of planters or bollards used to restrict the entrance to residential side streets, preventing use by through traffic. This diverts traffic to main roads, increasing congestion and overall journey times, thus disincentivising the use of cars.The reduced traffic can be incredibly beneficial to communities within LTNs:

  • Cleaner air for residents alleviates the impact of air pollution on public health.
  • Improved road safety encourages walking, cycling, wheelchair use and children playing outside, helping to tackle the obesity crisis.
  • Reduced carbon emissions are essential to preventing climate change.

Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland Scheme is an excellent example of a successful LTN project, beginning in 2013, incorporating walking and cycling infrastructure, including widened paths, segregated cycle lanes, improved crossings, bike storage and increased streetlighting and greenspace. The scheme was effective, the Walthamstow Village area seeing a 56% average fall in traffic levels, and had a very positive reception among the community, winning 28 awards as of 2019.

However, residents from London boroughs including, Ealing, Lewisham, Lambeth, Hackney and Wandsworth, who live, work and attend school along main roads at the peripheries of LTNs, have raised major health concerns, particularly for children, about their increased exposure to air pollution caused by the intentionally displaced and congested traffic. Furthermore, these negative effects are claimed to disproportionately impact BAME and low income households, who are more likely to live on main roads. There have been calls for increased monitoring of air pollution on surrounding roads, and for LTNs to be immediately halted, if this reaches unsafe, illegal levels. Councils have responded, arguing that short-term increases in congestion are expected as part of the bedding-in period but will pass as people adjust their behaviour. However, for these residents, increased, harmful air pollution, temporary or not, cannot be ignored.

There has been strong opposition to Emergency Traffic Orders (ETOs), which allowed most LTNs to be quickly implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to any consultation with the community, with residents’ feedback being responded to once restrictions were in place. Residents have argued this lack of consultation has meant their concerns around harmful air pollution are being heard too late. They claim councillors, who expected negative backlash, are dismissing these concerns as temporary issues that will resolve themselves as the trials continue, instead focusing on positive feedback from those living within the LTNs. It is essential that residents feel their voices are being heard and that the LTNs are not being imposed upon them.

Furthermore, some feel that ETO use has led to rushed, poorly planned LTNs, which do not meet the standards of examples like Waltham Forest. They argue recent LTNs consist of planters and bollards, preventing through traffic, but lack supporting walking and cycling infrastructure, both within and surrounding LTNs. Consequently, car-users are inconvenienced and disincentivised but not provided with necessary incentives or viable alternatives to do otherwise. Also, with the current pandemic removing public transport as an option for many, and colder, shorter winter days likely to impact active travel, it is unclear when car traffic, and residents’ increased exposure to air pollution, will decrease.

Overall, it remains unclear when the promised results of the LTNs will come to fruition. In the meantime, it must be asked, is enough being done about issues that, for some residents, amount to far more than just teething problems? Moving forward, increasing community engagement, and influence over the direction of the schemes, could see them become a huge success, benefitting all affected communities.