About Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs)
- What are low traffic neighbourhoods?
- Why do we need low traffic neighbourhoods? Five reasons
- LTNs turn cars into ‘guests’
- What is a bus gate?
- Have we made this idea up?
- Opening up streets for all-age active travel
Effects within the LTN
- What about the elderly and disabled?
- How will I get home by car/ Why does it take longer to drive in or out?
- How will emergency services get in?
Effects on surrounding main roads
- What if I live on a main road?
- Won’t traffic displacement clog up main roads?
- What about the high street?
Current trials nearby
What are low traffic neighbourhoods?
A low traffic neighbourhood is a network of streets from which “through” motor traffic has been removed. It is usually a whole area, bordered by A-roads, railways or other boundaries, rather than one or two streets. Every street is still accessible by vehicle, but strategic road closures (using barriers like bollards, planters or ‘camera gates’) prevent vehicles taking a short cut across the area.
Why do we need low traffic neighbourhoods? Six reasons
1. Too many motor vehicles dominate our roads
Motor traffic has risen steeply in the last ten years across the country, and Barnet is no exception. Between 2009 and 2019, the number of miles driven on Barnet’s roads rose by 274,000,000 – one of the highest increases in London. 1.26 billion vehicle miles were traveled on roads in Barnet in 2019
2. Traffic has risen most on minor roads
While miles driven on A and B-roads has actually fallen slightly in the last ten years, on C or unclassified roads it’s risen by a massive 72% – no doubt thanks to sat navs directing drivers away from main roads.
3. Too much traffic on minor roads is dangerous
These minor, usually residential, streets aren’t designed to carry lots of traffic. They have blind corners, few crossings and more people are out and about. A driver cutting through a side street is much more likely to injure or kill than a driver on a main road.
On urban roads, driving a mile on a minor urban road is twice as likely to kill or seriously injure a child pedestrian, and three times more likely to kill or seriously injure a child cyclist, compared to driving a mile on an urban A road.DR RACHEL ALDRED ‘ARE ROUTE-FINDING APPS MAKING STREETS MORE DANGEROUS?’
4. Too much traffic on minor roads stops people walking & cycling
Our traffic-heavy streets put people off walking or cycling, especially more vulnerable groups like children and the elderly.
For those who have access to a car it means being more likely to drive. Traffic induces more traffic.
Perhaps this is why a third of Londoner’s car journeys are 2km or less, a distance that could be walked in 25 minutes.
This lack of physical activity is having a catastrophic effect on the nation’s health – cancer, heart disease and depression are all linked to sedentary lifestyles. Barnet is no different – our children have one of the worst rates of childhood obesity in the UK.
5. These problems can be solved by low traffic neighbourhoods
Low traffic neighbourhoods stop rat running motor vehicles, returning traffic to the strategic road network (unless they are simply accessing the neighbourhood). This can reduce vehicles inside the area by 50-90%, creating a quiet network of streets where anyone can walk, cycle or use their wheelchair in the middle of the road. They enable active travel, healthy lifestyles, less car use, fewer injuries and deaths, cleaner air and fewer carbon emissions. Read on to find out more.
Do LTNs reduce overall levels of traffic?
By removing through traffic from networks of minor roads, LTNs reduce the space available for traffic. Just as adding an extra lane to a motorway leads to an increase in traffic (induced demand for driving), removing neighbourhood streets from the strategic network leads to a decrease (reduced demand for driving).
This principle of ‘traffic evaporation’ is well documented. Though it seems hard to believe, reducing road capacity does actually reduce traffic. A major study from 1998, which used 150 sources for evidence, found that roads that had their capacity reduced saw an average 41% reduction in traffic. Less than half of the displaced traffic found other routes, while 25% disappeared entirely. See Wikipedia on “Disappearing Traffic”.
LTNs turn cars into ‘guests’
Streets in many residential neighbourhoods are treated as short cuts by drivers avoiding main roads. This through traffic often dominates, as vehicles take priority over all other road users and residents. Sometimes speed and volumes are at unacceptably dangerous levels. But low traffic neighbourhoods reverse the pecking order. On low traffic streets, kids can play, any age can walk or cycle, neighbours can socialise – and cars are ‘guests’. Once again, community can flourish as people spend more time on their streets.
What is a bus gate?
A bus gate is not a real gate but a sign-posted point on the road that bans motor vehicles (excepting buses and emergency services) from passing. Cameras monitor motorists’ license plates and trigger penalty notices. Bus gates have been introduced in areas where it would be inappropriate for a high volume of through traffic, such as residential areas, but which are heavily reliant on public transport.
A bus gate prioritises sustainable transport, opening up the street for families to cycle to school as well as commuters to work, forming the backbone of a healthy low traffic neighbourhood. Filters could be needed on surrounding streets to prevent traffic displacement.
Have we made this idea up?
Low traffic neighbourhoods are not a new idea. Many countries in Europe no longer design roads where people live or shop to be through routes for motor traffic. Low traffic neighbourhoods in London (such as Hackney, Waltham Forest) and elsewhere are inspired by Dutch cities and stand alongside approaches such as Barcelona’s “Superblocks”.
Opening up streets for all-age active travel
Low traffic neighbourhoods are ‘active travel engines’. In some residential areas, roads have such high traffic volumes and speeds that many people feel unable to walk or cycle on them, especially children and the elderly. A network of low-traffic streets would allow anyone to walk or cycle safely – and reach the main road cycle lanes on a bike.
Effects within the LTN
What about the elderly and disabled?
Anyone who needs to travel by car or taxi will still be able to. The streets will be much safer for a frail or disabled person to cross a road at their own pace, and for those who want to use a bike or trike as a mobility aid. Mobility scooters will be able get through the filters that stop cars.
Reducing traffic has been shown to boost communities in neighbourhoods; low traffic means more people are likely to consider their neighbours as friends (Donald Appleyard has famously studied this). The elderly could especially benefit from a stronger community on their street.
How will I get to my home by car?
Every street will still be accessible by car, emergency services, delivery vehicles and refuse trucks. To stop through traffic, some residents’ car journeys will be more indirect and may take a few minutes longer. For many people, this inconvenience is a price worth paying to have a quieter and safer neighbourhood and cleaner air. It also discourages people from making very short unnecessary journeys by car.
How will emergency services get access?
Every street in a low traffic neighbourhood is accessible by emergency vehicles. Emergency services are statutory consultees to highways schemes – and their views are taken very seriously. All three emergency services (police, ambulance and fire brigade) were consulted on the design of the Bowes and Fox Lane schemes. At their request some of the point closures use ‘camera gates’, rather than barriers, which emergency vehicles can pass straight through.
What does delay emergency services is congestion and badly parked cars in narrow side streets – just the things that low traffic neighbourhoods address.
In Waltham Forest, emergency services supported the low traffic neighbourhood schemes because they meant fewer injuries in road collisions. An FOI request made to the London Fire Brigade about Waltham Forest has shown that the average response times of fire appliances has even reduced. The Borough Commander states “It is my view that this data does not show a increase in response times and therefore that the road closures in Waltham Forest have not had a significant impact on our services”.
Effects on surrounding main roads
Doesn’t traffic displacement clog up main roads?
This is the first question most people ask: won’t all that through traffic be displaced onto other roads and cause gridlock? And during the ‘bedding in’ phase of any new LTN, surrounding roads will be more congested for weeks or months while drivers adjust to the new layout.
People tend to think that traffic is like water – block one route, and it will flood another. But traffic is the result of human choices. When walking and cycling are made more safe and convenient, and driving slightly less convenient for short trips, fewer people choose to get in their cars. Some people will stop making particular trips, combine multiple trips into one, change destination, travel at a less congested time, or switch to public transport, walking or cycling. This is known as ‘traffic evaporation’ and has been documented in similar situations all over the world.
We expect to see traffic build-up in the early weeks of a trial, followed by a steady decline in traffic as drivers adjust back to similar levels as before.
Initial figures from the Walthamstow Village area show traffic levels on main roads have increased by between 3% and 11%, but the number of vehicles in filtered roads has decreased by 56%. This means that across the overall area, there are around 10,000 fewer vehicles every day, an overall reduction in traffic of 16%. Since the schemes went in, traffic levels have started to fall on main roads back to previous levels too.
A Kings College study of the same area suggests that there has not been a decrease in air quality on main roads following the introduction of LTNs (see pages 8-9 of this report). Main roads are usually better suited to absorb traffic than residential side streets.
For more information, see Evaporating traffic? Impact of low traffic neighbourhoods on main roads.
What if I live on a main road?
Barnet Cycling Campaign also campaigns for healthy main roads, which are often just as much places where people live. It would not be practical to remove motorised traffic altogether from major through routes, but they can be made healthier in a number of ways. For instance:
- a 20mph limit
- more and better pedestrian crossings
- better, wider pavements
- safe space to cycle
- seating, greenery, shelter.
Low traffic neighbourhoods are a step towards reducing *overall* volumes of motor traffic, not just in neighbourhoods. We hope that the effect they have on encouraging people not to drive short journeys will benefit all of Barnet’s roads in the long term.
What about the high street?
Low traffic neighbourhoods with bordering high streets will make it easier and more pleasant for people to walk or cycle to their nearest shops. This should make shopping locally more attractive, rather than driving to shops further afield. There is plenty of evidence that good walking/cycling access to shops is good for business.
I live in a different area – when is it my turn?
Barnet already has 22 neighbourhoods with no through traffic, leaving about 3/4 of neighbourhoods that could benefit by becoming Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. Several new LTNs feature in Barnet’s long term transport strategy, so start by making your voice heard by contacting your local councillors – you can use https://www.writetothem.com to find out who they are.
The key to moving forward is community engagement and consultation. LCC and Urban Movement have published an excellent guide on how to talk to people about the future of their streets.