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Yesterday evening the London Society and OnLondon hosted an online debate on LTNs - low traffic neighbourhoods. LTNs are groups of residential side-streets which block motor through-traffic, redirecting vehicles onto main roads instead. While varieties of LTN have existed for decades, a wave of them has been introduced by London boroughs since the summer under Experimental Traffic Orders, following Transport Secretary Grant Shapps providing emergency funding to promote walking and cycling after the pandemic and instructing Transport for London to spend at least £55 million on an “ambitious Active Travel Plan” including road closures. Consultation is to follow the installation of the schemes, rather than preceding them as is usual.

They have generated considerable argument, with vocal protests for and against the new measures, and with predictable wrath on social media. In the debate we attempted to generate light rather than heat, with a discussion between proponents and opponents of the schemes, and involving those who believe that although the principle is sound, the lack of consultation over their implementation is a hostage to fortune.

Speakers were Leonie Cooper, AM for Merton & Wandsworth; Caroline Russell, a London wide AM and Islington councillor; Charles Wright, a resident of the Bowes Primary Area Quieter Neighbourhood, and Puru Miah a Labour councillor for the Mile End ward in Tower Hamlets. The debate was chaired by Dave Hill of OnLondon.

The recording of the event is below, and after that are some of the comments from attendees during the debate. Please use the comment function to add your views.

It is a mistake to endlessly talk about ‘for pedestrians and cyclists’ as something other - it is for all people.

If not LTN, what other meaningful change can be done to discourage unnecessary use of cars and encourage more active travel? (note the difference between car use and car ownership - it's ok to use your car, but it's not OK to do it irresponsibly anymore)

  • Road charging, parking restrictions, re-phased traffic lights to favour pedestrians and cyclists etc
  • One thing would be Govt to stop the fuel freeze which has been going on for 10 years. Once you own a car it is cheaper to run it than use PT. Utility cycling needs to be promoted more - the image has been poorly represented for years as a sport activity. Needs to be utility cycling and for the elderly and the children.
  • low speed will not solve the issue of too many cars on the road. For me this is the main issue - our roads just can't support the levels of cars we have on all roads, whether they travel fast or slow
  • along with LTNs road pricing measures are needed and Congestion Charge needs 24/7 the whole inside of the M25.
  • we have lots of 20mph zones, this speed is not observed unfortunately - we have lots of speeding and boy racers and just generally inconsiderate driving. 

Councils needs to step up in communications but can only get funding for LTN if they implement it in 6 months with Traffic Experimental Orders, and then consult. They cannot consult before implement, there is no time or they don't get the money

  • Temporary schemes can give people an idea of what might be possible rather than consultations which automatically people use to reject any change.
  • Nobody was consulted when Waze turned our roads into rat runs - and no-one was consulted when cars became the monster size they are now.
  • I live in Wapping. There was a consultation on the introduction of the bus gate. The results were ignored and it was operated in a way which was against the wishes of the residents.
  • There is no democracy about the school run for example - those of us who cycled/walked had to cope for years with the jams, pollution and danger.
  • It's really tricky - we absolutely need consultation but how do we balance it with doing the right thing if the people are against the measures that benefit majority overall - smoking ban, reduction of cars, more active travel measures and infrastructure
  • people need to be engaged with - we were absolutely not engaged with about the size of cars people own, the rat running, Uber and Waze nor the fact that deliveries are allowed at any time day and night with no restriction.
  • Also, people using pavements have not been consulted in allowing car parking - all roads and pavements are parked on, on main and residential streets.

This whole issue reminds me of smoking ban inside - it seemed like the end of the world then but totally normal now.

People need to be engaged with, we all want to live in a greener city but we need to carry communities with us. Our scheme in Bowes was cooked up long before Covid so not sincere to say it is in response to it.

  • These schemes should never be rushed as they have been. They need much pre planning and full engagement with the communities they are to affect.
  • some councils have been consulting on "liveable streets" type changes for years...

Isn’t there a danger that the edge roads to LTNs become borders, separating neighbourhoods and granulating a city which is already arguable too granular?

  • neighbourhoods are not separated - you can walk or cycle anywhere - but what cuts people off esp the vulnerable and car less people find it too difficult to walk to their local shops or to chat to neighbours -my partner lives in a town west of Rotterdam where it has been in for years - filtered permeability - it works and people are friendlier, more independent and healthier.
  • Another issue that hasn't been highlighted from increased car use is erosion of community engagement and spirit, especially in boroughs with high car ownership. People are never out and about interacting, seeing and caring about where they live - they go from home to work to shops to friends so all areas in between are just ways to get somewhere as opposed to live in and interact with others

We have become a glorified traffic Island in the Bowes, and the councils communication with us has been shockingly awful. We are a long way from any shopping/service areas and the displaced traffic around is causing much misery and pollution.

  • In my ward we  look at LTN as a way to reduce air pollution and rat runs, and get to a more livable neighborhood
  • We had two areas where LTN introduced, outrage and protests are the loudest in the area that is more well off with more car ownership
  • A lot of poor people live on main roads because those houses are cheaper and people live who don't have other choices.  We need to find solutions to air quality on these roads.

The other main issue with LTN's is they have been introduced with no consultation including, it seems, no input from ambulance and fire services which if true is v problematic.

  •  the quality of consultation with emergency services varies across boroughs
  • all the Emergency Services were consulted - a few on the ground local ones have said mistakenly that there has not been consultation. And it is easier to get through where there is less traffic rather than gridlock.

The congestion in London is worse than it has been in the 45 years I have lived here.

  • Congestion is inevitable in a vibrant city.  Sort of Parkinson's law applies: traffic expands to fill the capacity available to it.

Tower Hamlets has low [vehicle] ownership, but concentrated in working class communities and also many households are reliant on intergenerational  support, also large number of independent businesses so impact is more near 50%

Why did the Government insist on spending the money too fast for consultation?

  • a more generous interpretation was an aim to stop people switching from public transport->car entirely.  I can't help feeling that unfortunately we need to hit the gridlock first before these schemes become palatable, rather than being seen incorrectly as the cause of higher traffic
  • because they knew people would avoid PT once going back to work etc and had to do something quickly - plus we really have an obesity, diabetes and air pollution problem.
  • national gov were too reluctant to say "don't get in your cars" - covid messaging was interpreted as 'drive' so people confused when LAs implement scehemes to discourage
  • was govt funding strictly for LTNs?  I thought it was (slightly) broader than that
  • Gov funding for LTNs pop up bike lanes and space for physical distancing on high streets
  • It’s difficult to change the rules of the game while things are in progress, so asking for a change now seems a bit pointless. That is what we have and have to deal with

Look at Waltham Forest mini-Holland - everyone hated what essentially was LTN but now more people who actually live there, love it!

  • Displaced traffic - there was a little bit of increase in Enfield as result of Waltham Forest changes but it was more than offset by reduction in traffic/pollution in WF so better overall for London

Agree with the fact that LTN weren't well implemented and that multiple measures are needed to change the culture and reduce cars on the roads

please can we have stricter rules for lorries/deliveries in London as we did in the days of the GLC.