Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are a key part of delivering safer, better, healthier streets in London by removing through (or “ratrun”) motor traffic from an entire residential area. They cut overall motor traffic and create large neighbourhoods where air pollution, carbon emissions, noise and congestion are dramatically lowered. These are great for walking and cycling, but also community cohesion – streets become inviting spaces where neighbours can chat to each other and kids play out again.
In their own way, however, these schemes can be as controversial as main road cycle tracks. Right now, the Walford Road area scheme in Hackney and Bethnal Green scheme in Tower Hamlets both need your support.
Please support both schemes today. And here’s why you should and why those against them are wrong…
In Bethnal Green, the issue residents seem most worried about is “community severance” – that elderly parents won’t be able to drive easily across the area to see their families, with a 400 metre drive becoming a 2 mile one.
While there are exceptions, it’s true that the vast majority of 400m drives simply don’t need to happen. And indeed, when we cut out rat running traffic from an area, it makes it much safer and more comfortable to walk and cycle around the area, so we start to see whole communities, including young kids, the disabled, the elderly, choosing to ditch cars for more journeys. This has the added benefit of making those journeys that absolutely need to be made by car easier, as there are fewer vehicles on the road.
The other usual myths about these schemes being widely talked about? They’re not really true. These schemes have been shown to increase walking and cycling rates; to cut retail vacancy rates; to cut car use; to cut air pollution; and not to cause significant issues for deliveries, emergency services etc.
We need to make sure we support these schemes and main road schemes too if we want to deliver a London where far more people can and do cycle and walk.
Clean air or low traffic?
In Hackney, “clean air” parent campaigners are fighting against these LTN proposals. Hackney has been filtering residential roads, getting rid of the ratruns, slowly, but steadily, for decades. But in the last few years these schemes have seen more and more unease and opposition. The opposition says these schemes displace traffic from residential ratruns onto main roads, increasing pollution, where there are schools, where kids live and walk and study. We think they are (mostly) wrong.
Most importantly, the kind of impacts on main roads that LTNs bring are temporary. Hackney has been doing LTNs for decades, Waltham Forest has done several in the last few years. Yet pollution has gone down on main roads in Waltham Forest since implementation, despite small rises in traffic immediately after the schemes went in. Bus journey times and delays for both boroughs are also basically identical to other, similar boroughs without any cycle schemes or LTNs. Traffic just spreads out across London where it can, in other words. And after a year, the main roads around such schemes are basically identical to other main roads across London.
Despite this, London’s progress on removing motor traffic, getting people out of cars and onto bikes and foot, is very fragmentary. We know what happens when you say to a council that a scheme has to be perfect; that you can only make residential areas quieter if you do the main road simultaneously or before it. We know, because it has happened often, including in Hackney, already – it led to the London Fields scheme collapsing. When residents push for perfection before action, schemes get delayed, they don’t happen or they get weaker. Nothing comes along quicker for the residential areas, or the main roads either.
The harsh truth is the best way to remove motor traffic, to get more people walking and cycling is to do schemes, fast, and then fix them as you go. Do schemes, monitor them, mitigate them, fix schemes, add to them, do more, to better, do faster.
Traffic displacement and bigger schemes
The Walford Road and Bethnal Green schemes are also just smaller versions of bigger schemes that remove motor traffic. The expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to the north and south circular in 2021, will almost certainly displace motor traffic outside the area. Millions of Londoners will have less traffic and better air, but some will suffer on main roads outside the zone. Does that mean we shouldn’t do the expansion?
Similarly, Hammersmith Bridge closing has seen some roads very negatively impacted, but overall motor traffic levels are way down. Should we be campaigning for it to reopen as rapidly as possible for motor traffic? Or monitoring how the traffic has reacted, and then mitigating and fix the issues the closure has caused?
The Royal Parks closing or reducing ratruns through its parks could finally return large swathes of iconic London green space to the people, with huge gains for London. Should we fight against this because schemes will inevitably push some traffic back onto borough roads? Or instead, support those boroughs then reducing motor traffic on their main roads too? It may be an uncomfortable answer, but it is a simple and realistic one: we cannot afford to wait for a perfect scheme that doesn’t displace any traffic for the sake of all London’s children.
Perhaps most tellingly, many of the anti-Walford Road area parents have continued to oppose Hackney’s scheme despite the council and Mayor having managed to bring forward plans for Stoke Newington Church Street – the nearest and most impacted main road. On top of other schemes, Hackney has already shown it has a roadmap to more than mitigate any issues the Walford Road scheme delivers. The end result? These “clean air” campaigners are now effectively campaigning against any changes to main roads or side streets. That surely can’t be the way forward?
For guides on what “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” are and why they are a great thing for walking, cycling and community, read London Cycling Campaign and Living Streets’ guide to them here.
Take action: help cut through traffic in Tower Hamlets & Hackney today – London Cycling Campaign
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are a key part of delivering safer, better, healthier streets in London by removing through (or “ratrun”) motor traffic from an entire residential area. They cut overall motor traffic and create large neighbourhoods where air pollution, carbon emissions, noise and congestion are dramatically lowered. These are great for walking and cycling,… [Read More]