The polarising effect of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) has again been underlined in recent days, with the London Brough of Hackney announcing plans to introduce more of the schemes and the launch in north London of a new organisation opposing to them across the UK, claiming they do not reduce road traffic but instead divert it to already-congested streets more likely to be populated and used by poorer people.
LTNs, sometimes known by different names, seek to restrict through-traffic in residential areas, with advocates claiming they help reduce overall car use and air pollution and simultaneously encourage people to walk or ride bicycles instead of driving.
They have long existed in the capital, but many more were introduced without advance consultation near the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when it was argued that their benefits would include facilitating social distancing.
Hackney, which already had some LTNs, has installed a further 19 since 2020 and now intends to increase the number again to cover 75 per cent of roads in the borough it controls within three years, consolidating its status as the London borough with the largest number.
Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville has challenged media characterisations of the plans as a “ban” on cars, pointing out that “all streets remain open for access to those who need to drive” and expressing pride in “prioritising people over private cars”.
His view is sharply at odds with that of Social and Environmental Justice (SEJ), a not-for-profit company which says it will fight what it calls “the injustice of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” Founding members of SEJ include John Stewart, who is chair of the long-standing Campaign for Better Transport which argues for more sustainable transport modes, and Hackney resident and activist Clair Battaglino, a director of SEJ who said at its launch, “The health and well-being of already disadvantaged people and their children are being put at further risk so others can have slightly cleaner air”.
Intense debates continue about the efficacy or otherwise of LTNs, particularly their implications for traffic levels and associated pollution on roads just outside LTN boundaries. A recently-published study by researchers at Imperial College of three LTNs installed in Islington between July and September 2020 concluded that it “effectively disproves the argument that low-traffic zones will necessarily cause an increase in traffic and air pollution in neighbouring streets”. However, the rigour and conclusions of the study have been strongly challenged.
Claims in another recent report, compiled by the University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy based on traffic count data relating to 46 London LTNs, have informed media coverage stating that LTNs “do not appear to push traffic on to boundary roads” and an assertion by one of its sponsors that “traffic is vanishing into thin air”.
But this work and its conclusions too have been contested, with former Hackney councillor and London TravelWatch officer Vincent Stops describing the headline claim of a tiny average increase in traffic on boundary roads as “spin” and drawing on Hackney data to demonstrate that in some cases there have been large increases.
Photograph shows a Covid-period LTN in Lewisham.
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