LTNs: friend or foe?

The backlash against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods being implemented increasingly in our cities are, perhaps, the first gasps of anguish at major change.

Most LTNs involve closing one end of a residential road so that it cannot be used as a ‘rat run’ by through traffic. The theory is that residents can access the street – albeit with a detour – but overall, there’s a huge traffic reduction which makes the street safer and reduces the pollution on that street. In general, they have been well received by residents in LTNs.

Not so much the non-residents, whose habit of using those streets has had to change. They find themselves displaced on to perimeter roads which were already congested at peak times, and are now worse. Opponents of LTNs say this just displaces the pollution and gives it to someone else. They’re right….but only if everyone in that traffic queue continues to make the same mistake.

There’s a latency in all major changes to traffic priority, during which the message slowly sinks in. In point of fact, almost half of all private car journeys in London are less than 3km, and a third under 2km. Only a fifth of all car journeys in London are connected to work. I feel the angst of essential car users stuck in that traffic, but why direct your ire at LTNs? The actual cause of your problem is the majority of drivers who should have walked, cycled or caught the bus for their non-essential journey.

When it comes to public protest, very few nations show the commitment of the French. Yet when in 2015, Paris’ Mayor Anne Hildago decided to close roads across the city and create a new cycling infrastructure, convert parking into bicycle parks and generally make car driving very difficult. There was minimal protest, mainly because traffic speeds were at an all-time low, and Parisians were fed up with the situation.

It’s Thanksgiving in LA…

Now, Paris has announced that it will be buying 3,500 new buses for 1.8 billion Euros in the next three years as Parisians get the message and use public transport. With some stick as well as carrot, modal shift can happen.

In this sense, perhaps the LTNs will support modal shift; making drivers’ lives hell until they, finally, look at alternative ways to get around. Logic suggests that there will then come a time when that 20% essential car users will have an easier journey to work as more of the 80% leisure drivers come to their senses.

This really isn’t a ‘war on motorists’ any more than green belt is a war on homeowners. In towns and cities, we physically cannot build more roadspace to accommodate unlimited cars, and at the cost per mile according to road builders, can’t really afford to Tarmac over the countryside either. I’m 67 this year, and have lived through the period when we convinced ourselves we can have unlimited use of private cars; it is becoming plain that we can’t, for our own good and that of the planet.

The road we’re now on is absolutely inevitable, and if you doubt that statement, take a look across The Pond at the ten-lane ‘freeways’ on any public holiday. The country that was created by the railways which has almost forsaken public transport. I was in New York last year, being gassed by passing Peterbilts in Times Square; we really, really don’t want that.

It’s telling that aside from the sigh of relief from homeowners in LTNs now that their kids can play outside a little more safely, there’s been another bonus; properties in LTNs are going up in price faster than their neighbours, according to estate agency Savills. So although some claim that LTN residents are angry about their own access to their homes, this isn’t borne out by the numbers.


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