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orford road walthamstowOrford Road, Walthamstow - part of a successful low traffic neighbourhood

Two new publications set out the case for creating Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in London and explain the various design principles that can be used. 

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods - An Introduction for Policymakers and A Guide to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are revised versions of briefing documents that were issued jointly by London Living Streets and the London Cycling Campaign ahead of the recent council elections.  Despite the title of the first, they are both easily understood by non-specialist readers.

What is a "low traffic neighbourhood"?

As defined in the first document,

“Low traffic neighbourhoods” are groups of residential streets, bordered by main or “distributor” roads (the places where buses, lorries, non-local traffic should be), where “through” motor vehicle traffic is discouraged or removed. There’s lots of ways you can make a low traffic neighbourhood, but the main principle is that every resident can drive onto their street, get deliveries etc., but it’s harder or impossible to drive straight through from one main road to the next.

Why Low Traffic Neighbourhoods should be a priority for policy makers

low traffic street in walthamstow

  • To reduce air pollution, lower collision rates, increase community activity and increase the physical activity of residents, we need to enable a lot more people to walk and cycle. These ‘active’ modes of travel become the default in low traffic neighbourhoods partly because they feel very easy, safe and comfortable.
  • Active travel also goes up in low traffic neighbourhoods by making car use a bit less convenient. If car use is really convenient, people use the car (this is called “induced demand”), but by making some driving journeys a bit more inconvenient (while making other modes feel safe and comfortable), people switch modes, yet the main roads don’t suffer (this is called “traffic evaporation”).
  • The cost of putting in infrastructure is very cheap – entire neighbourhoods can often be calmed with a few well-placed bollards, planters, or signs. This also means you can experiment and adapt schemes at very low cost. More walking and cycling-friendly neighbourhoods are good for local business and can help local high streets thrive too.
  • These neighbourhoods align directly with the new Mayor’s Transport Strategy. So funding and support from TfL and City Hall should be easier to access – and cutting motor traffic from your neighbourhoods will help your borough fulfil its targets in the Transport Strategy.
  • Technology such as sat-nav apps like Waze and Google Maps, or services like Uber, increasingly route cars off main roads and onto residential streets to shave 30 seconds off a journey. That means many previously quiet roads are becoming increasingly busy and hostile for the people who live on them

Source: Low Traffic Neighbourhoods - An Introduction for Policy Makers

A low traffic neighbourhood would typically be of a size where it would take no more than fifteen minutes to walk across it.

The guide includes a "myth-busting" section to deal with common misconceptions.  For instance, a frequent reaction to schemes designed to remove through traffic from residential streets is to assume that they would cause congestion on main roads or on other residential streets, and would be problematical for emergency services and for elderly or mobility impaired people.  This is not the case.

How do Quieter Neighbourhoods fit in?

The original Mini Holland bid document submitted by Enfield council mentioned a long-term goal of creating a "Dutch-style network of residential cells across Enfield".  The bid says that the "Dutch approach to these cells is as shared spaces where speeds and through traffic are reduced [...]. The outer edges of these cells have consistent signage and design features, such as entry treatments that signal to motorists to lower their speeds".

The low-traffic neighbourhood principles that London Lliving Streets are promoting -  already tried and tested with great success by Waltham Forest council in Wallthamstow and Leyton - are the perfect way to create such residential cells.  Unfortunately, the actual proposals for "Quieter Neighbourhoods" (the new name that was adopted for the residential cells) have only partially lived up to this ambition.  There is little consistency between the approaches taken to individual QNs and the plans for two of the first QNs - "Connaught Gardens" and "Wolves Lane" - do absolutely nothing to tackle well known rat runs along the two streets that the neighbourhoods are named after.  It remains to be seen how successful the "Fox Lane" and "Fernleigh Road" schemes prove to be.

A low-traffic neighbourhood in Bowes ward?

One residential part of the borough that has not so far figured in the council's proposals for Quieter Neighbourhoods is the area in Bowes ward to the west of Green Lanes and south of the North Circular Road (Bowes Road).  In fact, this area includes two residential streets which are vying with one another for the dubious honour of being the worst affected by congestion in the whole of Enfield - Brownlow Road and Warwick Road - much of it caused by drivers trying to shave a few seconds off their journey along the North Circular Road by cutting through the area.

It's not as if the council isn't aware of the residents' problems - they are regularly voiced at ward forum meetings.  However, this is not a problem that could be solved by a few small changes, which would just shift the problem to other streets.  It can only be tackled using a comprehensive approach which would have to cover the entire area between the North Circular to the west and north (Telford Road and Bowes Road), Green Lanes to the east and Bounds Green Road to the south (or to - much of which is actually in another borough, Haringey.

Local campaigners Better Streets for Enfield see the solution being an area-wide low-traffic neighbourhood and have drawn up a draft scheme that would drastically reduce through traffic not just in Warwick and Brownlow Roads, but also in other residential streets, such as those between Green Lanes and Palmerston Road. For more information, see this article on their website.

This plan has also been adopted by Enfield Green Party.  Party members canvassing the area for the council elections reported considerable interest in the idea when talking to residents.

Liveable Neighbourhoods

A scheme of the kind described above would fall fairly and squarely within the parameters of the Mayor of London's Liveable Neighbourhoods scheme (yes, a third sort of "neighbourhood", I hope you're not getting too confused!).  Councils are able to apply for up to £10 million to pay for such schemes.  The Liveable Neighbourhoods concept is fairly flexible, as it depends on the context - for instance, Haringey will be implementing one to improve the area around the clocktower in Crouch End, which will obviously be very different from a residential cell-type scheme.

The guidance for Liveable Neighbourhoods stipulates that

A Liveable Neighbourhoods project will deliver attractive, healthy, accessible and safe neighbourhoods for people. Typically, this may involve changes to town centres and their surrounding residential areas to improve conditions for walking and cycling and reduce traffic dominance. This may include new pedestrian crossings, a network of good cycle routes, reduced parking provision, redesigned junctions, restrictions on motor traffic in town centres, high streets and residential streets, and wider improvements against each of the ten Healthy Streets Indicators

Time to be bolder?

Enfield Council has been subjected to a prolonged, vociferous and at times very unpleasant chorus of objections to its plans for cycle lanes and quieter neighbourhoods, and some individual councillors, notably Daniel Anderson and before him Chris Bond, have been singled out for abuse.  The local Conservatives campaigned against cycle lanes in the council elections, and much good it did them.  In other parts of London where Conservatives were campaigning against cycling infrastructure proposals, the swing against them was higher than average.  Of course, we don't know why people voted the way they did, but I think that Andrew Gilligan was right to say that "it does now seem clear that opposing cycling improvements and pandering to motorists is not, and probably never will be, a vote-winner in London or any other major city" (Guardian, 5 June 2018).

So if councillors can be forgiven for being a tad nervous in the face of the motorists' lobby before the election, they now know that changes desi.gned to correct the imbalance between cars and people on our streets will not lose them votes.  Time to be bolder, Enfield council?

This article was amended on 18th June 2018 to correct the boundaries of the area covered by the proposed low traffic neighbourhood scheme in Bowes ward.

Links

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods - An Introduction for Policy Makers (London Living Streets/London Cycling Campaign)

Guide to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (London Living Streets/London Cycling Campaign)

Hope for Better Streets in Bowes (Better Streets for Enfield)

Liveable Neighbourhoods Guidance (Transport for London)

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Adrian Day posted a reply #3926 18 Jun 2018 11:19

The whys and wherefores of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Thanks Basil. A clear and well-written articulation of Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods. Bring them on!
David Eden posted a reply #3927 18 Jun 2018 16:59

The whys and wherefores of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Totally agree. Great post/article and smashing concept - let's hope it rolls out in more places soon. Especially my old Bowes ward (which I didn't realise included Warwick Rd, have always seen Brownlow as the western boundary) where Palmerston Road is a bit of a shocker and a terrible choice for Quietway 10!

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