Making streets good for walking and bikes

Submitted by AWL on 23 September, 2020 - 10:03 Author: Zack Muddle

Over 200 emergency low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN) schemes have been proposed or implemented across the country since May, when the government introduced new guidance and small amounts of funding to "promote active travel". These are proposed in at least 54 boroughs, particularly in large cities, with the majority in London.

The schemes introduce car barriers, preventing cars from using streets as "rat runs" as a way of bypassing main road traffic, and so reducing net traffic. That makes the back streets more pleasant for walking, cycling, for mobility and electric scooters, and the like.

Evidence suggests that such schemes can be successful in these aims. They bring in a net reduction of car use and ownership, and an increase in "active travel".

Schools and more workplaces reopening, coupled with anxieties about the Covid-risks of public transport, have shifted some public transport users to cars, and brought traffic congestion significantly exceeding 2019 levels in much of London.

Nationally, rail, tube and bus usage remain significantly below pre-lockdown levels (down to around one third, one third, and just under three fifths respectively). Cycling is up by over one fifth (with particular increases at weekends). Car use is up to 90% of February 2020 levels now, and at weekends exceeds it.

More needs to be done, and should have been done already, to support a move away from car use and towards walking, cycling, and public transport, as the economy restarts, restarting transport on a better basis. LTNs can play an important part.

There have been protests against LTNs, including by many Tories on a local level. Some opponents allege that the main beneficiaries are people in middle class neighbourhoods. They say traffic and hence pollution is displaced onto main roads, which more lower-income people live near. Some drivers feel they are, or genuinely may be, dependent on their cars.

It seems that such measures lead to a significant increase of overall walking and cycling, and a decrease of traffic not just in the immediate effected area. However, there are small rises in traffic in the surrounding areas.

Most of the decrease, but not all, seems to be people cycling, walking, etc. rather than driving different routes. Cycling and walking become more attractive. People who didn't previously cycle feel able to build up their confidence in low-traffic areas, and so people feel empowered to stop driving. Part of it, however, is just driving becoming more inconvenient.

So anti-LTN concerns cannot be dismissed as just fictions of car-obsessed people who don't care about the environment. Maybe some short term inconvenience to some workers is unavoidable in pursuing essential environmental aims. Exactly how the measures are implemented and communicated, and, more importantly, other measures taken alongside them, can change to what extent LTN change is and is experienced as an inconvenience.

With adequate Covid-precautions even the Tube could safely support significantly higher numbers than currently. We need improved, subsidised, affordable public transport. We need improved bike infrastructure, schemes for people to get free or cheap bikes and repairs. Extended low-emissions zones and wider pavements can mitigate potential issues with increased traffic on main roads. Schools should encourage student travel to school in "walking buses" or "cycling buses".

• More on the kind of measures we need

• The first youth climate strike since lockdown has been called for Friday 25 September, in a variety of forms around the world depending on Covid-19 circumstances. A year since the day which called on workers and trade unionists to join youth strikers, environmental action by workers and young people is more important than ever. A map of actions is here

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