A large demo in suburban Ealing was among the eye-catching sights of Saturday’s co-ordinated protests against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN) in several boroughs. Campaigners are frustrated at the lack of consultation before the start of trials and say the changes are causing more congestion, disrupting emergency services and disadvantaging some groups, including the disabled and carers.
LTNs are groups of residential streets where through-traffic is restricted by barriers such as bollards and planters. In May, transport secretary Grant Shapps invited local authorities to bid for £250 million emergency funding to introduce measures to boost cycling and walking, alongside statutory powers for councils to close roads and build cycle lanes without consultation. In London this was administered via TfL’s Streetspace for London scheme. In his letter to Sadiq Khan in May setting out the conditions for the government’s emergency funding for TfL, Shapps instructed TfL to spend “at least £55 million allocated in the [financial] support period” on an “ambitious Active Travel Plan” to include “closures of roads to through traffic”.
Cycling campaigner and LTN supporter Brian Jones has compiled figures showing there are around 200 LTN schemes underway in the capital and that they are present in almost every borough. LTNs are brought in under Experimental Traffic Orders, requiring six months monitoring and consultation before they can be made permanent. There’s been lively social media debate between opponents and supporters of the schemes.
In Ealing, protesters marched from Little Ealing Lane in W5, up Northfield Avenue and along Uxbridge Road to the Town Hall, where Lorna Malone of organisers Ealing Residents Against LTNs (ERALTN) addressed the crowd.
Eight thousand people have signed ERALTN’s petition. March organisers say they ran out of stickers for attendees when turnout reached 2000; some estimated total turnout at over 2,500. Campaigners held homemade signs with slogans including “residents are not rats!” (as in rat-running) and “Ealing: Queen of the Bollards”.
Ealing Central and Acton MP Rupa Huq wrote to Ealing Council’s transport planning service manager shortly before the protest about her fears that LTNs had been “poorly thought through and rushed”. Her letter raised 12 questions, including the rationale for LTNs’ location, the timing of the consultation period, the criteria for the trial’s success or failure and who will judge this, and about emergency services and equality impact assessments.
Among marchers On London spoke to, Catherine, who has young children, lives two roads away from her parents in West Ealing and says picking up her elderly father now involves a “convoluted” journey. Ricky, who works at Jay’s Superstore nearby, says: “It affects all residents. It takes me a long time to get to work. At 7.30 a.m. I’m stuck [nearby] in traffic for half an hour.”
Kate, on the march with husband Mike, who is a wheelchair-user, says LTN road changes have caused “a traffic jam practically throughout the day” where they live in Boston Manor, just over the border in Hounslow. “The main thing is that it’s totally undemocratic,” she says.
Rose Williams, wheeling a bike, says the policy is based on “an assumption – no evidence for it – that more people are going to drive to work” as a result of the pandemic.
Allan, who has lived on the Uxbridge Road for 21 years, thinks people living in flats along main roads and are suffering increased traffic and pollution as a result of LTNs are being ignored by the council. “The presumption is that main roads are not residential,” he says. “At the same time, the council is building tall buildings, allowing more traffic. This is all connected”.
But cycling campaigner Ben Owen, counting up the number of cars on Northfield Avenue and Uxbridge Road with just a single driver in them, believes the protest march disguised a “silent majority” who back LTNs and have no reason to protest. He said there’s an “irony in seeing children and families on bikes [on the march],” maintaining that they would not usually be cycling due to the heavy traffic. He thinks it important to draw attention to people still getting in their cars to travel short distances.
Local resident and business owner Adam Shailes draws a contrast between what neighbouring Hounslow Council did early in lockdown, saying it “produced a campaign for residents to tell them their problems with social distancing and transport,” and Ealing’s approach, which, he says, was “not to tell anybody” about LTNs until late on (residents were sent letters by the council a week before the schemes were introduced). As a result, Shailes says, Ealing residents are sceptical of the six month consultation: “No-one trusts it will be honoured.”
From the steps of the Town Hall, Malone told the crowd: “To all the drivers out there, we know we’ve slowed things down, but we don’t want to obstruct, we just want to make a point, and we want [council leader] Julian Bell to respond to us. There are thousands of complaints that have gone in and he’s not responding. We’re not going to stop until we get the respect we deserve from our elected representatives.”
A cheer went up as she and fellow campaigners brandished a bollard, which Malone said they had found in a skip, and would be returning to Councillor Bell. A project manager, Malone tells On London she’s not against lower traffic but that the LTNs are “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.” ERALTN is in contact with the other London anti-LTN campaign groups on a weekly basis, co-ordinated by the OneLambeth campaign, and they are considering a central petition.
At the same time as the Ealing protest, campaigners at Lambeth Town Hall were chanting “we want our streets back” and heard from a range of speakers. David Smith of anti-air pollution campaign Little Ninja claimed the trial of the ‘mini-Holland’ (another term for an LTN) in Waltham Forest had been a failure, since “those who walked, walked more, those who cycled, cycled more; those who drove, they still drove”.
Wheelchair user Sofia Sheakh from Shakespeare Road, Brixton, who lives near a waste management facility, said she and her neighbours had been heavily impacted: “Journey times have been doubled. Lots of people with disabilities, elderly people and carers have been affected”.
Sarah Dinwiddie from Oval, where Lambeth’s first LTN was installed, said the Oval Triangle lies on a critical route for emergency services, between St Thomas’s and both St George’s and King’s College hospitals. She understands that the London Ambulance Service is putting in dozens of complaints a week over delayed journeys.
But Lambeth Council cabinet member Jim Dickson tweeted confidently that, “Given the scale and rapid roll-out, a small Brixton gathering on a sunny Saturday to say no to #LTNs tells me that opponents are currently a minority. #LTNs are a necessary change & cllrs continue to listen to all!”
Pro-LTN campaigner Sarah Berry acknowledges that all councils could invest more in communicating the arguments for LTNs, complaining that comms to date have been “hit and miss”. She says she’s seen a “massive difference when it comes to road safety” within the Railton LTN: “Disabled folk [on scooters] are able to ride safely on the roads, kids can cycle and walk safely.” She says arguments made by some anti-campaigners suggesting LTNs leave the elderly trapped in their homes or that BME people are more likely to live on boundary roads and be disadvantaged are false.
In Islington, Saturday’s march along City Road was the sixth demonstration against LTNs in recent weeks. “We’re not asking for [LTNs] to be removed, we’re asking for some practicality. Come and talk to us and we’ll have a dialogue,” said a taxi driver member of a campaign group called Ludicrous Road Closures.
Anti-LTN campaigners have taken heart from Wandsworth Council suspending its trial of LTNs last Friday. “It is clear that [they] are not delivering the benefits we want to see,” said cabinet member John Locker. But protesters are still frustrated by TfL’s work to move bus stops and install a cycle route on the A24.
In August, planters were overturned and bollards uprooted in Ealing. Anti-LTN Northfields ward councillor David Millican helped with the clear-up effort, making plain that although he opposes the scheme, he also condemned the vandalism. And Bromley began legal moves to try and force Croydon to reverse an LTN scheme on the edge of a Bromley ward in Crystal Palace.
In the meantime, residents who came out onto the streets of Ealing and elsewhere to show how strongly they feel are waiting for answers from councillors.
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