The Case for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

The government is strongly supportive of cycling and active travel and rightly so – LTNs (Low Traffic Neighbourhoods) are about persuading some people out of their cars and to make more of their shorter journeys, particular in cities, by other modes of transport (so called modal shift) – the traffic doesn’t stay the same and relocate, much of the traffic is able bodied people making short journeys that are much better done by other modes of transport, and the journeys just disappear as people make more sensible choices (https://thecityfix.com/blog/traffic-evaporation-what-really-happens-when-road-space-is-reallocated-from-cars/).

The sudden deep and profound interest of people in disability access problems or the adaptability of small businesses to change is doubtless a good thing, but in reality it is almost always a proxy for ‘Why can’t I drive everywhere I want to as quickly and conveniently as possible with access to almost all of the the highway to the near exclusion of most other road users’.

Why is the government supporting Low Traffic Neighbourhoods? They tackle multiple major public policy problems in a way that is low cost and electorally popular (apart from amongst tiny vocal minorities) so of course they are doing this. They are trying to deal with climate change – not taking 2 tonnes of metal with you when you pop down the shops for a pint of milk or packet of fags is always going to be the easiest of easy wins when there will be much harder more expensive choices coming along to deal with the ever more obvious threat of climate change. We have a public health crisis due to lack of physical activity – diabetes is costing the NHS 10% of its entire budget (https://www.diabetes.co.uk/cost-of-diabetes.html), and in many cases this is a lifestyle disease with inactive lifestyles and obesity the main cause. Commuting to work by bike dramatically reduces someones chance of dying prematurely in middle age (https://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j1456) – if the health benefits of regular cycling could be put into a pill taken daily, it would be the most valuable new pharmaceutical ever discovered. Car dominated highways are one of the main barriers to active travel.

Cars take almost all the space on urban roads – its ludicrous to talk of a war on cars (As Conservative Home does again today) when cars dominate everything almost everywhere – they cause pollution, many thousands of deaths and serious injuries, and a clear majority of people don’t want their neighbourhoods dominated by them. This is not a new idea – changes have been happening for decades in the Netherlands, and in many cases in the UK. There are always a few angry people at first, then acceptance, then no-one would think of suggesting we go back to how things were before. Opposition to lower traffic neighbourhoods by local Conservative campaigns based on vocal minorities is not just a missed opportunity given the great lead being shown by national government – it is also electorally toxic as ultimately the changes are beneficial to communities and therefore electorally popular.