Low traffic neighbourhoods have had a rough press over the last few months. Tales of congestion, controversy and cultural conflict. LTNs provoke strong reactions.
Responses have been polarised. The press mostly reports on the views of those clamouring for their removal. On the other hand, evidence is gradually accumulating that LTNs are in fact one of the most transformative and cost-effective public health interventions available to local government, with few if any of the negative impacts hurled against them. LTNs encourage active travel (walking and particularly cycling), reduce air pollution and promote local liveability and longer healthy lifespans.
The Government is convinced and behind this idea. The national policy document “Gear Change” sets out the ambition to roll out LTNs across the country. So why isn’t it happening? London Boroughs have led the way, bravely implementing around 100 LTN schemes encouraged by the London mayor and funding. But outside London, only a handful of other local authorities have dared to take up the challenge.
LTNs court controversy. Few politicians want to go there. But behind the noise and clamour, surveys show the idea is popular with the public, at least in theory. The first Covid 19 lockdown opened many people’s eyes and ears and minds to a new reality – a world where streets are quiet, child friendly and almost car free, where it is easy to cycle when and wherever you want, where you can hear birdsong during the day and sleep peacefully at night.
The TPM conference will add exciting perspectives to the LTN debate. Rachel Aldred as one of the leading experts will talk about the new evidence for their benefits. Our talk is about the challenge of introducing them. In Oxfordshire we were convinced of the benefits of LTNs, but we realised that we needed to understand people’s motivations - who supports and who opposes them and why.
So, when we proposed 3 new LTNs in Oxford covering around 6000 households, we asked residents many questions to try to find out more. We found various factors helped explain people’s preferences. One key factor was how they typically travelled. Another was what people said was important for their street and their local area.
The responses revealed two fundamentally different viewpoints on what roads are for. One view was that “roads are made for cars – what else could they be for?” and the other was a more inclusive view of streets as public spaces catering for all the community and many different ways of travelling.
Understanding this culture clash and how it relates to local demographics can help us and politicians everywhere make those brave decisions more confidently and help reap the transformative benefits of LTNs. We certainly hope so! We are proposing 6 more LTNs this year for 12,000 more households.
Disabled respondents were a key group of interest. We found that LTN support was sharply divided by different types of disability impairment.