A review of LTNs has been ordered, a move that has made headline news over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that he has ordered a review of Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) across England.
LTNs are areas in which measures to reduce traffic have been enacted. They do not need to be officially designated as such; any area in which road signs, barriers, planters, bollards, or any other traffic control measure has been set up is effectively an LTN. These control measures are known as modal filters and have been in operation across the UK for decades. Nevertheless, LTNs have become a more well-known term in recent years, following the implementation of the first official “LTN” in 2020 in London as part of emergency pandemic relief measures.
LTNs offer a range of benefits. The most obvious is traffic reduction, as LTNs have been found to successfully reduce motor traffic. Additionally, reducing traffic goes hand-in-hand with reducing air pollution in the area – in fact, this was one of the main reasons behind the initial implementation of LTNs. Roads and streets within LTNs are quieter and have improved air quality, meaning that residents can spend time outside more comfortably and safely. There are also other benefits, however, many of which are not as obvious. LTNs have been shown to have benefits related to road safety, increased physical activity and health, mental well-being, noise pollution, and community cohesion, amongst others.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are also, however, criticisms of LTNs. Some suggest that they push redirected traffic into boundary routes, creating congestion there instead, while others take issue with the need to reroute their usual travel or commute routes that an LTN might impose upon them. It can understandably take time to adjust to new transport routes and ways of travelling, not to mention to reroute supply routes to local stores as necessary. As well as this, there have been concerns raised that physical LTNs may lead to the delay of critical medical care, if ambulances are unable to reach someone or if a resident is delayed in travelling to the hospital because they must take a longer route. There have also been suggestions that LTNs disproportionately affect lower-income households, who may not have access to affordable alternatives to private vehicle use and are therefore significantly impacted by the implementation of an LTN.
There are counterpoints to some of these criticisms – for example, Transport for London has stated that any increases in traffic elsewhere are unlikely to be permanent while a study by Imperial College London found that both traffic and air pollution levels in neighbouring areas decreased as a result of implementing an LTN – but some remain unconvinced of these. Furthermore, even LTN residents themselves have different stories to tell of their own experiences. Thus, the debate is still ongoing.
It is important to realise that LTNs do not affect everyone in the same manner. Although they enforce the same vehicle regulations upon everyone in a particular area, this can impact different groups of people very differently. For example, an LTN in an area with a strong public transport network unaffected by the LTN will have a lower impact on residents than an LTN in an area without one. This is because the public transport network serves as an accessible alternative to private transport which neither significantly extends travel times nor increases travel costs. If there is no public transport network, residents will have no alternative but to take longer routes to get around the LTN for journeys that they are unable to cut out or walk/cycle (such as commutes to work, grocery trips, and so on), at higher costs to themselves.
A key concern relating to the implementation of LTNs is that they may exacerbate transport-related social exclusion (TRSE), on which Temple has done extensive research with Transport for the North. This refers to a lack of access to key opportunities and services – including jobs, education, healthcare, recreation, and so on – as a result of a poor transport system. In a more rural area with poorer or lacking public infrastructure, for example, residents may rely on private vehicles to access these opportunities and services. This means that the imposition of an LTN may, by restricting their only means of access, prevent them from participating in these and in their wider community, creating or worsening TRSE in the area. TRSE has impacts on income, health, education, and well-being, and facing continued TRSE can create a cycle of “poverty, isolation, and poor access to basic services”. This is thus something that local and central governments alike would prefer to avoid, so the question then is…
It has been shown that there are some significant equity concerns when it comes to the implementation of LTNs. How, then, might they be implemented equitably?
Perhaps the best answer to this is that it depends on local contexts – and therefore, local communities, residents, and stakeholders should be consulted. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for LTNs; instead, a local council considering implementing an LTN should undertake extensive consultation with a diverse range of stakeholders to gain the best possible understanding of the impacts of an LTN in the area. There is no fixed list of who should be included in the consultation either; each area will have its unique context and stakeholders who should be considered and consulted with. This way, local priorities can be accounted for and tailored to, so that policy satisfaction and likelihood of success are maximised. LTNs can take a range of forms, including that electronic LTNs that use camera monitoring to prevent external traffic from passing through an area while allowing free travel by residents. It is possible to design a unique LTN specific to the local context, so even if, for example, physical traffic barrier LTNs seem unsuitable for the local area, there are other options available.
From here, engaging with local stakeholders is perhaps the most natural next step, and Temple offers an Engagement Toolkit of its own which can help with this. The Toolkit is divided into five levels of involvement: Informing, Asking, Discussing, Agreeing, and Including. For a topic as large and divisive as LTNs have become, ensuring appropriate, context-sensitive engagement will be key in moving the conversation in a constructive direction that prioritises both safety and carbon reduction.