Why LTNs are Failing, and Deserve to Do So

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are still spreading over London but opposition to them is growing. Some have even been removed or substantially reduced already due to local opposition. It’s worth reviewing why they have failed or generated such opposition, and why they are even being installed in the first place.

The support for LTNs comes from a desire to reduce traffic, particularly on residential streets. This is promoted by their supporters as a way to reduce air pollution and to tackle climate change. A number of London councils have declared “climate emergencies” which they say justifies an attack on the use of vehicles, particularly internal combustion driven ones. But this has extended to halting the use of all vehicles which it is argued will  reduce traffic accidents, enable children to play in the streets and encourage people to walk and cycle, thereby making us healthier and live longer.

Even those who own vehicles (about 50% of London households own a car) would like to see less traffic as high traffic levels cause congestion and hence extended journey times. Many residents who own cars want to drive via the shortest and least congested routes possible but don’t want folks from adjacent neighbourhoods driving down their street.

There are undoubtedly good arguments for encouraging healthy life styles not just for your personal benefit but because it reduces the cost of the NHS which we all pay for out of taxes. However the introduction of LTNs as a solution to excessive traffic has followed the law of unintended consequences. Firstly they tend to simply redistribute traffic from minor roads onto surrounding major roads. Those roads become more congested and as the traffic is slow moving or stationary, it creates more air pollution for residents of those roads not less.

LTNs do not reduce the demand for travel. They might encourage the use of walking or cycling by the healthy and young cohort of the population but there is very little evidence of a significant change in the habits of existing car drivers. In other words, the claimed “modal shift” generated by “modal filters” and such like is frequently a mirage. The traffic does not “evaporate” as claimed but gets redistributed or delayed as circuitous routes are taken. The elderly and disabled are particularly disadvantaged as they may be unable to walk or cycle far, if at all. But their needs are frequently ignored by council planners who tend to be young and unsympathetic – indeed the Equalities Act which protects minorities is often not properly considered.

Of course it does depend to some extent on how well designed is an LTN. It has been long standing practice to close some minor roads to avoid excessive traffic which should be on major roads. At least that is the theory but in London even major roads are commonly roads on which people live in apartments, i.e. they are residential roads also.

Other roads such as major shopping “high streets” have been pedestrianised to the advantage of shoppers and retailers. This writer certainly has no objection to such measures which remove traffic to other roads as long as the needs of the disabled are taken into account.

Although overall vehicle ownership and traffic volumes have actually not been rising in London in the last few years, the closure of roads, the addition of cycle and bus lanes, and other measures such as removal of gyratories, more traffic lights with reduced timings and more pedestrian crossings have resulted in more congestion. The growth of ride hailing apps such as Uber have also contributed to more congestion in some parts of the capital.

The population of London has been rising rapidly, encouraged by Mayors of all political complexions. This has put more pressure on transport and on housing provision. Even public transport has become heavily congested while buses are delayed and become less attractive to use by the traffic congestion. The rise of deliveries of internet orders by LGVs has also increased markedly leading to higher use of minor roads which has also been supported by the use of Satnavs.

What can actually be done that would really reduce traffic in London and cut air pollution? Here are some more realistic ideas:

  • Reducing air pollution by obstructing traffic (a typical focus of LTNs) simply does not work. The solution is to produce vehicles that generate less pollution. In fact this is well on the way to being achieved by Government regulation and taxation, and by improved diesel/petrol engines.
  • Reducing the population of London would relieve the problem of traffic congestion, public transport congestion and housing insufficiency. Why does no politician advocate it?
  • Investing in expanding and improving the road network would also help while putting in LTNs does the opposite.

Note that none of those measures will actually do anything about climate change, whether you believe in man-made global warming or not. The contribution of road transport to CO2 emissions globally is only 18% and is falling while emissions from aircraft and shipping is rising. Meanwhile other sources such as home/office heating, industrial processes and construction are very big contributors. These emissions do of course directly relate to population levels so that’s another reason for reducing the population.

But global emissions are dominated by the big and populous countries such as the USA, China, India and Russia. The UK only contributes about 1%. So when local councillors such as Councillor Scott in Croydon suggest we are all doomed unless we cut vehicle use, he needs to go tell it to Joe Biden et al. 

The UK is already focussed on achieving net-zero carbon emissions and is well ahead of other countries in that objective. But whether it is economically practical to achieve that, or wise to even aim for it, has yet to be confirmed. But it is certainly the case that putting in LTNs in local boroughs will have absolutely no impact on the outcome.

Regrettably many local councillors seem to think they got elected to save the world rather than sticking to their job of listening to their local electorate and improving their borough by practical steps. Even central Government politicians have fallen into this trap, hence the encouragement with funding from Grant Shapps, Transport Minister, for LTNs.

In the meantime all LTNs are doing is creating enormous inconvenience for many of London’s residents to no purpose. It’s like a religion where supporters of LTNs claim benefits which are unproven but they think all you need to do is believe in them and the world will be a better place. No it will not be.

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5 thoughts on “Why LTNs are Failing, and Deserve to Do So

  1. Simple. Make public transport FREE as it should be in a developed society and not used as a tool for greed orientated profit. Otherwise we’ll forever be takling the same problem asking the same questions while more taxes are piled on car users with the excuse of saving the environment.

    • The problem with making public transport free is two fold: 1) demand will rise if something is free, adding to the cost of provision and increasing congestion on public transport; and 2) taxes would have to rise to pay for it. Often those taxes are imposed on those who do not consume much transport – but someone has to pay!. The consumers of public transport should pay for it.

  2. LTN’s are a silly idea. The majority of people who drive outside central London are not pleasure drivers.They drive because they have to. I work in south-east London and west London (Paddington)and carry my equipment with me. It is not possible for me to ride a bike or walk or even use an electric scooter! LTN’s punish the working man like me making my journey times 40 minutes longer, causing more pollution than than before LTN’s were introduced.The only thing that will be better for all of us is when electric vehicles are completely in use which will be in 9 years time. Each year however increases the number of electric vehicles so I think councilors like Councilor Scott should get off his high horse and stop making life difficult for us.

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