Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – the time has come

Has the concept of the Low Traffic Neighbourhood reached a turning point that will see it going from a fringe idea to a national or international movement?  Will 90 years of car-oriented development now begin to be rolled back?  The 100 strong turn-out at the excellent UDG-London Living Streets event on 31 Jan 2019, attended by Peter Hale and Charles Harvey, would seem to suggest that the moment has come.

Chris Martin from Urban Movement opened the event by illustrating two diametrically different approaches to urban design, firstly, a road traffic interchange in Huston, Texas, and secondly the entire urban core of Florence, which would fit comfortably within it.   Points that he covered included the need to work with local people to identify and agree traffic cells, the connecting quiet streets, which streets will form the main traffic routes and which of these will need to be improved to become boulevards.   Providing safe crossings where the link streets cross main traffic routes was essential.

Feryal Demirci Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Health, Social Care, Transport and Parks, Hackney talked about the challenges and progress being made in the borough.  Hackney was experiencing rapid population expansion, very poor air quality, congestion, obesity especially in young people, and yet it had low car ownership and over 15 percent of residents cycled to work.    Some streets in the borough had high cycle flows, with Goldsmith Road recording 6000 cyclists per day.  The borough was repurposing kerbside space, with cycle hangers and parklets.  Footways were being prioritised with both cycle hangers and electric vehicle charging points going in the carriageway not on the footway.  School Streets were being promoted, involving timed traffic restrictions around schools, backed by cameras and signs.  Traffic flows were typically half previous levels.   The borough was also introducing restrictions on all but ultra low emission vehicles.  As to low traffic neighbourhoods, over 100 streets had now been filtered.  She gave the impression that while there could be opposition from vehicle users from outside the area, local communities were strongly behind the introduction of schemes.  Play streets had been made much easier and less costly to introduce following creative use of the provisions of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847

Fran Graham from the London Cycling Campaign, argued that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods were an effective response to the impact of Satnav, Google maps, Waze etc which has led to increased through-traffic disrupting residential areas in the search for quicker, congestion free routes.  Turning to cycling, she indicated that traffic levels as low as 2000, 1500, or 1000 PCU per day were preferred to enable safe cycling  (PCU – Passenger Car Unit ) This is on a par with  Manual for Streets which cites 100 vehicles per hour peak flow as a threshold level below which pedestrians will share highway space with motorists, and above which they will tend to treat the general path taken by motor vehicles as a ‘road’ to be crossed rather than as a space to occupy.

Laurie Johnston, from the Dulwich Safe Routes to school campaign, observed that regrettably, responsibility for safety is placed on children, not on drivers. (NB research shows that children do not have the cognitive abilities to take responsibility, the law also recognises that they do not have the same capacity as adults). One street is not enough, she said, what is needed is a network of safe door to door routes

Rachel Aldred, for the University of Westminster discussed the research available to date.  The Mini Holland schemes had been assessed comparing areas with interventions with control areas where no changes had been made.  The results were positive with a notable increase in active travel in year 1, which continued into year 2 where there was a recorded reduction in car use. A scheme in Hounslow which involved no more than 2 planters had led new pedestrian and cycle journeys being made, amounting to a £500,000 health benefit.   There were Equality Act reasons for considering low traffic neighbourhoods.  The statistics showed that disabled pedestrians suffered  4-5 times more injuries from motor vehicles per kilometre than the general population.

In the discussion issues that came up included:

·         Traffic Evaporation or Traffic Displacement

·         Using ped-sheds to get a far more accurate view of walkability than just drawing a circle around a point.

·         Local community roadwatch groups to control speeding

·         Involve schools – at least one member of staff to be advocate

·         School streets are valuable but more is needed – children do more than just go to school.

·         Funding of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – S106 funds can be a useful source

Further reading

Guide to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

https://londonlivingstreets.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/lcc021-low-traffic-neighbourhoods-detail-v9.pdf

This publication provides plenty of detailed information on the physical measures that can be applied, as well as a series of steps to follow to take a scheme from an idea to a safer, cleaner, healthier and more social environment.