Do Low Traffic Neighbourhoods Work?

While Europe was on its third wave of Covid19, and countries like India and Brazil were staggering under the midst of the worst number of pandemic deaths in the world, the UK was scoring nil points in the Eurovision song contest and arguing about enforced Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN's).

During the height of the Corona virus pandemic in the UK, our Government made special provisions to help people still get to work or travel safely without using public transport or cars. Money was given to Councils and emergency laws passed allowing local authorities to provide new cycle routes. Of course the easiest way to implement this was to ban cars from an area all together, but temporary traffic barriers were used and popup cycle lanes on roads were introduced. It caused a massive division (metaphorically) between car drivers and people who are seen as green sympathisers- cyclists.

image The relationship between people and their cars is long and complicated. 'According to a survey, consumers tend to personify their cars to the point that the relationship with them mirrors relationships with living beings in their lives' (Prnewswire 2013). I can personally confirm this and would go one step further- peoples resident characters are exaggerated once they're in their cars. Aggressive people are more aggressive in their cars, arrogant people like to tailgate you even when you're driving at the speed limit (as they believe you're in their way), indecisive people make unpredictable movements, daydreamers stray in road lanes or don't see cars or bikes causing accidents. Of course this is a generalisation of people, but as a cyclist, reading drivers body language has saved my life on many occasions. I digress, but if I was segregated from vehicles, I wouldn't need to be frightened about other peoples shortcomings in their driving.

image The anti-LTN's campaigners claim that the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods increase congestion and pollution, I agree, but with the UK's future policy on withdrawing fossil fuel vehicles, in the course of time, their argument doesn't hold water. The irony of the photograph is the people are doing exactly what LTN’s are hoping for- people walking instead of driving. Their banner informs us they want 'democracy and safety', admittedly the emergency measures were implemented and not discussed, but their reason is very much safety. Driving everywhere is a British (and American) trait, almost thought of as a right, and taking it away evokes as much animosity as the Americans repealing the right to bare arms. Time is a concept, commuters using internal combustion vehicles are complaining that now the LTN's are in place, their journey time is much longer, therefore polluting the air more than their shorter, older journey was. Surely, people are missing the point, the whole idea of an LTN is not just to divert a vehicle journey onto another street, but to alter the thought process of that journey altogether, to consider alternative transport. There's a good article on LTM's in the Guardian, have a read, you may consider a different mind set.

As a child I cycled to and from my High School everyday (a distance of around five miles one way), the danger then was traffic and is even more-so now. Here lies the conundrum- parents do not like their children cycling to school using the perceived dangers of predators as an excuse. What is a real, and confirmed peril- is the high levels of vehicle pollution which are more likely to cause harm and even death. Around half of the traffic between eight and nine in the morning is caused by the sole purpose of accompanying someone to school or college. Large quantities of traffic is the actual danger, both from the exhaust pipe and the physical dangers of being hit by the motor vehicle. I am still amazed by the poor standards of driving that I witness on a regular basis, one can't deny the incredible ignorance of some people during the school run, with incredibly dangerous parked cars around first bell and home time. I've even seen some triple parking with parents using the 'I'm only going to be a minute' attitude around school gates. Where I used to live, one lady used to put the kid in her car, sit there until the windscreen had demisted, then drive her kid to school. The highlight for me was walking the same distance from my house to drop my kid off and getting there at the same time as the lady who decided to drive. Yes, it irritated me. The government have set out a paper (the traffic management act 2004 updated 2021) to advise councils how to get kids to walk or cycle to school, but somehow, I don't think us Brits are ready for it yet.

image Britain's landscape was segregated into a patchwork of fields hundreds of years ago and villages were built around localised industry, our cities are basically made up of joined up hamlets, it is those reasons which have shaped our ancient meandering road network. We were also spared (with exceptions of course) the large scale infrastructure destruction most of Europe experienced in the war. If you had a blank canvas to design cities and interconnecting roads, wouldn't you choose to build a web of cycleways. In fact, after the destruction of many cities in Europe after WW2, that's exactly what happened. They redesigned and rebuilt cities and interconnecting roads with safe cycle lanes. Their cycling culture in now engraved into their very psyche. We could follow their lead, there's a great article in 'Cycling UK' about encouraging children to ride to school. Most children in Belgium, France, Spain, Holland, Germany (and many more) actually do cycle to school, with the absence of the real danger- traffic. Evidence has found 'substantial short-run increases in cycling in European cities due to new provisional cycling infrastructure. Independent of its potential impacts in reducing COVID-19 transmission, the net benefits of the intervention are likely to be large' (Pnas.org 2121).

Councils across the country quickly set about the exclusion of cars from certain areas, both with temporary and permanent structures, these began cropping up across the country. When the 'Popup' cycle lane appeared on busy roads, I can totally empathise if you're caught in the resultant traffic jam. I will acknowledge some cycleways are definitely ill-conceived and poorly implemented. I've seen a two lane road through Bristol city centre, converted to one lane with plastic bollards stuck in the road appearing over-night, forcing cars to queue so cyclists can have a clear lane. Surely, diverting cyclists through the old 'commuter rat runs' is better than diverting two lanes of traffic into one on the main road? Or, is it that some motorists have claimed ownership of these 'secret short-cuts' (worst kept secrets)? The point is, to do this apportionment we need to segregate space and share the road. The new craze of electric scooters is being actively encouraged, these in my opinion; are dangerous to mingle with traffic, so they do need their own lane. Bus lanes (hover or click over the image to see the bus lane) are old hat now, but I will admit; sat in traffic next to an empty bus lane makes me green-eyed and distrustful of why they're even there, especially when no bus goes past in twenty minutes (the time I'm in the queue), surely my journey is just as important as theirs? Though, when I'm on that bus gliding past the traffic in the bus lane, or on my motorbike in the bus lane, or on my push-bike in the bus lane (not on the motorway of course), it makes total sense. The fact is transport mode choices are influenced by a variety of behavioural effects that make people stick to their habits. It's my choice which mode of transport I use, if I'm sat in traffic that's my choice too.

Where I live, the council clearly spent a fortune on new cycle paths and repairing old ones, the problem is the paths they've concentrated on were not very long at all, and gave little benefit as they were already in acceptable condition. Meanwhile, the very roads next to the paths have potholes the size of beach balls, not one, but many, so many the cars weave back and forth across the road in an attempt to avoid them (the drivers may be steaming drunk for all I know). I'm not against new or refurbished cycle paths, just where they've choose to put them. For anyone who've ridden the Lands End to John O'Groats, cycle lanes are as rare as hens teeth. The section between Avonmouth and Aust (old Severn Bridge) is especially dangerous, a sporadic cycle path exists, but in-between that you have to run the gauntlet on the road with forty ton trucks continually passing beside you. There are many roads where a national network of cycle paths could be built, interconnecting villages and towns. Instead, cycle routes are shoved onto unclassified farm roads adding many more miles to a simple journey. If it's about wanting value for money, there are thousands of miles of disused railway lines still in the UK (that do connect communities), the infrastructure is already there, many many more could be converted into cycle paths.

Covid-19/ Coronavirus despite humanities best efforts is here to stay, like it or not the world has changed and we have to change too. UK residents are lucky and privileged, at the moment we are beating the disease, but the worst thing we can believe is we're safe, that the war is over, it's far from over. Some people just want their world to return how it was before Covid19, in your heart, you know that's not going to happen, the public simply doesn't like change and I can hold my hands up to that too. People genuinely believe (often on an unconscious level) that when you've been doing something a particular way for some time, it must be a good way to do things, and the longer you've been doing it that way, the better it is. During Covid, the planet has recovered a little, nature has showed us if we leave it alone it will recover. The virus has proved it's thrived on our lifestyle, surly we can alter that to fight it or do we keep relying on another multivariate of drugs to maintain our cultural existence?

Bibliography:

  • Prnewswire.com. 2021. Survey Reveals Relationships with Cars Mimic Relationships with People. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 May 2021].
  • Pnas.org. 2021. Provisional COVID-19 infrastructure induces large, rapid increases in cycling. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 May 2021].


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