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Pros and cons of low-traffic neighbourhoods

Low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) have been introduced by local councils across London with the goal of creating safer and healthier communities but critics say the scheme is in fact having the opposite effect.

LTNs have been implemented across various boroughs in London, and aim to restrict traffic on residential streets, prioritising pedestrians, cyclists and public spaces.

London has had LTNs “since the 1970s” reported The London Evening Standard, but a “flurry” of schemes have been implemented since 2020 as part of the Mayor of London’s plan for 80% of all trips in the capital to be by active or sustainable modes by 2041. 

Boroughs with LTNs include Camden, Croydon, Ealing, Hackney, Hounslow, Islington, Lambeth, Newham and Waltham Forest, with most boroughs having implemented the scheme in some form. 

But critics of the scheme say it can have unintended consequences that outweigh any potential benefits. The Week examines some of the arguments for and against LTNs. 

1

Pro: safer for pedestrians

One of the biggest advantages of LTNs is that they improve safety for pedestrians. According to data from Transport for London, 80% of deaths on London’s streets are people walking, cycling or on motorbikes and mopeds. By creating almost car-free zones, LTNs provide a safer environment for vulnerable road users.

2

Con: questionable effectiveness  

Critics argue that the effectiveness of LTNs in reducing traffic and emissions is questionable. A study by The Times found that traffic did not decrease in the London boroughs but “rose by an average of 41 million miles or 11.4% as traffic came back after the first lockdown”. 

In comparison, the two inner London boroughs that did not implement the scheme saw a rebound of only 29 million miles or 8.9%. The figures suggest that the schemes “may not be as green as their promoters suggest”, argued The Times, as “cars caught in jams or having to take longer journeys emit thousands of tonnes more carbon dioxide”.

3

Pro: improving air quality

According to a study conducted by Imperial College London in 2022, which analysed three distinct schemes implemented in Islington, north London, LTNs that used planters, barriers and cameras to limit vehicle access to residential streets resulted in a decrease in both traffic volume and nitrogen dioxide pollution. 

The study revealed that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide decreased by 5.7% within the LTNs and by just under 9% on the surrounding boundary roads, in comparison to the control sites.

4

Con: emergency services block

This is a “genuine factor” that should be taken into consideration when it comes to the implentation of LTNs, said The Guardian, and councils have had to make some alterations to the schemes – for example, using cameras instead of physical barriers on some roads – after consultation with fire and ambulance services. 

5

Pro: encouraging healthier habits

Encouraging more people to walk and cycle was a key aim of the government’s introduction of LTNS in 2020. According to the Centre for London, boroughs that tracked cycling over time found large increases in cycling both inside and outside LTNs, with greater increases inside LTNs.  

Between spring 2019 and 2021, cycling increased on average by 7% in inner London and 22% in outer London, as people sought alternative modes of transport during the pandemic and took advantage of quiet LTN streets to cycle. 

6

Con: pushing traffic to other areas

Opponents argue that LTNs can push traffic – and the problems created by traffic – into neighbouring areas. While this may improve the neighbourhoods in which LTNs have been implemented, critics argue that they effectively push the problems elsewhere. 

However, a study by the University of Westminster has suggested this fear could be unfounded. Researchers found that there was minimal increase in traffic on neighbouring roads.

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