carbonAugust 11, 2023by admin

The debate over low-traffic neighbourhoods

Air pollution stands as the most significant public health in the UK, resulting in an estimated annual toll of 28,000 to 36,000 deaths. This is according to data from the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities, It also projects the cost of air pollutants, specifically fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, to the NHS and social care system, to be between 2017 and 2025 is estimated at £1.6 billion. This alarming impact underscores the urgency of addressing the issue of air pollution, particularly in congested cities, where it poses a considerable threat to public well-being and contributes to premature deaths.

The government has had a response to this. It introduced what is called the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), also known as Low Traffic Areas (LTAs) or Healthy Streets schemes. This is a localised initiative by the government to tackle pressing environmental and public health challenges by curbing motorized traffic in specific residential areas within cities or towns. LTNs aim to reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, promote active transportation, and create safer spaces for pedestrians and cyclists.

The way LTNs work…

LTNs were introduced by the government to curb traffic in residential areas through a variety of measures. The goal is to decrease the number of vehicles on the roads, encourage more people to walk or cycle, and reduce crime rates. One of the key aims is to combat CO2 emissions in areas where LTNs are implemented. The idea is that by restricting “rat-running” – the use of residential roads as shortcuts by drivers – residents can access roads more efficiently, and emergency services can navigate major cities with greater ease. LTNs utilize barriers, bollards, road signs, planters, and, in some cases, automatic number plate recognition cameras to restrict motor vehicle access while allowing pedestrians and cyclists through. It was reported that nearly 7.5 million penalty notices were given to motorists in London in 2022. This was largely attributed to the scheme and revised school street regulations. The data revealed that the collective count of fines, with potential fees of up to £160, escalated by 2.2 million in comparison to the previous year, marking a substantial 41% surge.

Source: Newham

Reducing noise in the neighbourhoods…

The perspective of residents residing within LTN zones is predominantly positive, with many expressing appreciation for the positive transformations within their neighbourhoods. Notably, these improvements have garnered praise for enhancing the overall quality of life in these areas. Supporters of LTNs also assert that these initiatives foster heightened social interactions among neighbours, thereby bolstering the sense of community and neighbourhood cohesion. An additional positive outcome arises from the increased prevalence of walking, which benefits local businesses. This shift leads to more foot traffic passing by these establishments, augmenting their customer base and generating economic opportunities as pedestrians replace motorized transportation. In sum, LTNs deliver a multitude of benefits beyond pollution reduction, including the promotion of active lifestyles, improved community ties, and economic gains for local businesses.

Decarbonization benefits…

The primary advantage of LTNs lies in their instrumentality to mitigate air and noise pollution by curbing through traffic. However, the scheme also contributes to a reduction in carbon emissions, primarily due to reduced vehicle traffic. With fewer cars on the road, the air quality improves, and greenhouse gas emissions decrease. But, this benefit extends beyond a cleaner and quieter urban environment and also promotes active transportation modes such as walking and cycling. Data from Statistical reveal that the implementation of low-traffic neighbourhoods resulted in an overall 10% reduction in total street crime, with this effect becoming more significant over time, reaching an 18% decrease after three years. Notably, more severe categories of crime, such as violence and sexual offences, experienced even larger reductions. However, bicycle theft increased, likely due to higher cycling rates. While the veracity of this data has been a point of contention, proponents of LTNs argue that these initiatives facilitate improved access for emergency service vehicles, enabling quicker response times. However, the initiative is not rid of controversies, with critics accusing the government of ‘greenwashing’. However, evaluating the impact of LTNs on air pollution, road fatalities, and physical inactivity will shed light on their role in addressing public health issues associated with widespread car use.

‘Greenwashing’ and other criticisms…

In spite of these benefits, critics argue that LTNs may not be as effective as portrayed. Some have even labelled it a form of greenwashing. Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing tactic that misrepresents the environmental responsibility and sustainability of a product, service, or initiative. By exaggerating environmental benefits, it aims to attract environmentally conscious consumers. The critical question is whether they represent a sincere step towards greener and healthier cities or whether they merely serve as superficial measures, creating the illusion of sustainability without achieving substantial change. It is for instance posited that redirecting drivers to alternate routes has led to increased travel time. This extended travel duration results in increased emissions from vehicles. It is further argued that LTNs cannot be credited to the observation that traffic volumes on minor roads have flatlined in London since 2009. Despite arguments that LTNs could enhance access to emergency services, the way it is designed to prevent vehicles larger than bicycles from passing through warrants a situation where they cannot reach their destinations more efficiently than they could if there were no LTNs.

Sidestepping democratic consultations…

Another criticism is the labeling of the initiative as a ‘roadblock’ affair. However, this is not exactly accurate, especially given that pedestrians and cyclists maintain the same access as before. Even for motor vehicles, there is no complete closure of routes. The restriction only affects traffic, which aims to prevent residential roads from being used as shortcuts. While it’s true that certain short car trips might take longer, this inconvenience aligns with the objective of encouraging individuals to explore alternative modes of transportation. Some critics argue that LTNs lack democratic consultation, particularly in cases where they were swiftly implemented during the initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside other temporary measures like expanded bike lanes and wider sidewalks. This situation has prompted concerns about transparency and insufficient public engagement.

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