The justification for the Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) scheme in Lewisham was spelled out by Mayor Damien Egan in his webinar on the 22ndOctober (see https://tinyurl.com/LTNResidentsMeeting to watch a recording).
He said that the reasons the LTN was proposed was to a) Improve Air Quality; b) Making streets safer by reducing car journeys; and c) Making it easier to walk and cycle. He also said “road traffic is the number one cause of toxic air and toxic air kills”. Unfortunately he is wrong in several respects.
Toxic air is usually judged to be based on the level of particulates (dust) in the air and the level of nitrous oxides (NOX), although there is some debate as to whether NOX (mainly NO2) is actually damaging to health. Particulates, namely PM 2.5, are the major concern and to quote from the report in Reference 1 below “Road transport accounts for around a quarter of PM2.5 in London, with a large proportion also coming from construction, wood burning and commercial cooking”.
We covered the issue of the contribution of vehicles to air quality in a report we published two years ago – see Reference 2. The Conclusion in that report said this:
“In conclusion, let it be clear that we are supportive of improving air quality in the UK, particularly in urban areas and on particular roads where transport is a major generator of emissions. But there is no public health crisis and measures to improve air quality should be both reasonable and moderate. According to a recent report from Defra, since 1970 NOx emissions have fallen by 72% and Particulates (PM2.5) by 79%. The hysteria about air pollution is wrongly being used to generate tax revenues to local government (e.g. the ULEZ in London and similar proposals for other UK cities) without any justification in terms of cost/benefits. The likely improvement in air quality that will result will be unlikely to be noticed by residents because it will simply be too small and it will have no significant long-term impact on health”.
Even if you consider NOX to be of concern as a lot of it does come from transport, in practice LTNs mainly affect car users while the majority of NOX comes from buses and commercial vehicles – only 33% comes from petrol or diesel cars – see Reference 3 for the data from 2013 and it’s probably considerably less now.
Does “toxic air” kill, as the Mayor said? In reality it is very unlikely that the level of air pollution in Lewisham kills anyone at all. If you live on one of the worst streets for air pollution such as on the “A” roads where there is heavy traffic (particularly HGVs and buses), it is possible that life expectancy might be shortened by a few days. But you are likely to experience more exposure to particulates from domestic cooking and heating than from road transport. The exposure of smokers is also many times worse. Your life expectancy is most dependent on your lifestyle, domestic and work environments, not on background air pollution.
The Mayor also suggested that the streets would be safer if car journeys were reduced but diverting the journeys to main roads as the LTN is doing is not going to help. The accidents will move also to roads where higher speeds may be present. There is no evidence that overall road casualties will reduce by such an approach. In practice LTNs do not reduce car journeys significantly if a wider area is considered – they just divert journeys to longer routes.
As regards the comment that the LTN will make it easier to walk and cycle, there is no obvious problem in using either of those modes in the LTN and reducing traffic will not assist.
Another justification given in the webinar for the LTN was by CEO Kim Wright who said it supported the Climate Emergency Strategic Action Plan adopted by the Borough – see Reference 4. Many Lewisham Councillors clearly believe they are helping to save the world from global warming by cutting CO2 emissions. Without getting into a debate on the science of global warming, you can see how futile that is in terms of actions possible by the London Borough of Lewisham by considering this data:
Lewisham emitted 805,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2017/2018 which is 0.2% of UK emissions of 354 million tonnes in 2019. The UK proportion of world emissions is about 1%, so Lewisham’s contribution to world emissions is 0.2% of 1%, i.e. 0.002%. The UK is taking vigorous actions to reduce overall emissions while countries such as China (28% of world emissions) are still building hundreds of coal-fired power plants. Any actions by Lewisham will have negligible impact on emissions in the UK let alone the world, and actions to tackle excessive CO2 emissions should be taken at a national level where it can be most effective.
In fact LTNs are unlikely to have any impact on CO2 emissions for another reason. Over 50% of CO2 emissions arise in housing – mainly domestic heating, and only 14.7% arise from cars.
In summary the main reason for the introduction of LTNs in Lewisham given by the Mayor of Lewisham simply do not stand up to scrutiny. The dogma about the need to reduce vehicles on our roads is not only unjustifiable on any cost/benefit analysis, it is simply unjustifiable full stop.
This virtue signalling by Lewisham councillors is imposing enormous inconvenience and costs on Lewisham residents that cannot be justified. Journey times have increased enormously, while air pollution on roads that already had high levels has clearly worsened.
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods do not solve anything and are based on irrational opposition to the use of vehicles which the world has come to rely on.
Reference 1: Air Pollution Monitoring Data in London: https://tinyurl.com/y57nucz9
Reference 2: Air Quality and Vehicles: The Truth: https://tinyurl.com/yx9bk9kg
Reference 3: Lewisham Air Quality Action Plan (2016-2021): https://tinyurl.com/y2n684bz
Reference 4; Lewisham Climate Emergency Strategic Action Plan: https://tinyurl.com/y34bwcnj
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