Mythbusters: eight common objections to LTNs – and why they are wrong

Mythbusters: eight common objections to LTNs – and why they are wrong

Not all low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) are perfect, or do exactly what is intended. But often the objections are based on assumptions that vary from the misplaced to the downright incorrect. Here are some of the myths.

Q&A What is a low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN)?

In essence, low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) are residential roads in which bollards, planters or strategic “point closures” allow vehicle access to all addresses in a neighbourhood but reduce through traffic. Along with vehicle barriers, pavement widening and other measures are also often introduced. This is intended to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists as well as reduce air and noise pollution.

They disproportionately benefit privileged people

It is often argued that because many LTNs focus on residential streets and because property prices tend to be lower on busier roads, all the schemes do is push pollution and noise towards poorer people. But the evidence does not bear this out. A University of Westminster study found that among all age, income and ethnic groups, almost 90% of people live on roads that could be part of an LTN, and that there were few noticeable differences across the various demographics.

More generally, moves to reduce overall motor traffic, which LTNs aim to do, tend to help poorer households, which are less likely to own and use cars but still suffer the impact of their ubiquity.

Roads are closed/blocked

This is a particularly common theme – to call LTNs “road blocks”. This is untrue, not least as pedestrians and cyclists have exactly the same access as before. But even for cars and vans, no address is cut off. The only block is to through traffic, intended to prevent residential streets being used as rat runs. Yes, some shorter car trips might take longer – but that is part of the point, to nudge people towards different modes of travel.

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They are undemocratic

There is an extent to which some objectors to LTNs have a point in that some arrived very quickly during the response to coronavirus, alongside assorted temporary bike lanes and wider pavements. This was while a lot of emergency measures were brought in for the pandemic.

The government has recognised that the next wave of LTNs need more consultation. But Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has told councils that this must be done objectively, and not merely as a chance for noisy objectors, if they are a minority, to block any plans.

They disadvantage disabled people

This annoys some disability transport campaigners, who say it is insulting to treat people with disabilities as a single bloc, with identical needs. Yes, some disabled people are heavily reliant on cars or taxis. But other find it easiest to get about using wheelchairs, or adapted bikes or trikes, where quieter streets are an advantage.

They slow down emergency services

This is a genuine factor that has to be taken into consideration with LTNs. Some councils have, after consulting fire or ambulance services, for example, changed a junction to replace physical barriers with camera-enforced signs.

But overall, there has been almost no pushback from emergency services – not least as the most common reason for delayed responses is congestion caused by motor vehicles.

They increase air pollution on other roads

This is the idea that LTNs do not “evaporate” traffic, they merely displace it, and in increasing congestion, they boost overall pollution levels.

This is a slightly complicated one, as the traffic-evaporation powers of LTNs and similar ideas require two things: a coherent scheme, and time. So yes, simply filtering one or two streets will most likely push rat-runners on to adjoining streets. But that is not an argument against LTNs, just against poorly planned ones.

Traffic evaporation is well established, particularly if you look at countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, where disincentivising car use on residential roads is an everyday event.

They are bad for local businesses

This is another common objection, and in many ways an understandable one. If you are a business owner already affected by coronavirus, yet more change can seem destabilising. This, however, does not seem to be backed by evidence.

Lots of studies in various cities have shown that business owners tend to overestimate the proportion of customers who arrive by car, and that they tend to do better when roads are safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

This is all tied in to a gradual change in urban culture, whereby cities compete less on rapid road transport networks, and more on liveability.

Only well-off white men cycle

The evidence on this is more nuanced than billed, but there are ways in which cycling tends to be skewed towards certain demographics. Some appear to be cultural – for example an analysis on cycling in London indicates people from Asian backgrounds are particularly unlikely to use bikes.

But much of it, notably the relative lack of women and older people, appears connected to infrastructure. Without quieter streets with coherent cycling networks, bike use is geared more towards hobbyists and enthusiasts, who do not mind mixing with motor traffic – and these are more likely to be male, and younger.

The counter-argument is that this presents the issue back-to-front, such as arguing against a bridge over a fast-flowing river, because the only people currently swimming across are young and hearty. In countries like the Netherlands, cycle use very much reflects the wider population.

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