Improving Road Safety with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Hokman Wong (specialist brain injury solicitor at Islington firm Bolt Burdon Kemp) looks at the evidence for making streets safer with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.

Following a period of decline, road fatalities and serious injuries have plateaued from 2010. The need to improve this situation has now been in part recognised by the Department of Transport. In 2020 there were two consultations (road policing review and review of the Highway Code) on aspects of this problem.

In August 2020 I wrote about how low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) may help drive improvements in road safety and reduce road danger in Islington. Seven months on there has been a study on the effect of LTNs on road traffic injuries; and findings from Islington Council’s LTN six month monitoring report have been published. So what do these studies these tell us about how LTNs can help reduce the numbers of people killed and injured on our roads?

Islington Council LTN six month monitoring report

An LTN is an area in which “through” motor vehicle traffic is discouraged or removed. As well as reducing overall traffic levels, research has shown that LTNs can help to improve air quality, reduce noise pollution and make streets safer for people to walk and cycle and children to play.

In July 2020, Islington’s first LTN was put in place in St Peter’s Ward on an experimental basis with both residents’ and users’ views being collected during the experimental period. After an 18 month experimental period a final decision will be made. Islington Council’s six month monitoring report has been published and the key findings are:

  1. Traffic in streets within the LTN fell overall by 57%.
  2. Speeding (above the 20mph limit) on streets within the LTN fell by 65%.
  3. Overall across boundary roads, total volumes of motorised traffic showed a negligible change (-2%). Traffic on one boundary road (New North Road) rose by 32%.Journey times increased by an average of 26 seconds.
  4. There has been no significant impact on London Fire Brigade response times.
  5. As of 1st March 2021 there have not been any reported delays in London Ambulance Service response times.
  6. Air quality within the LTN has improved.
  7. There has been no significant impact on anti-social behaviour and crime rates.

The findings show significant reductions in traffic levels and speeding within the LTN. Intuitively one could reasonably conclude this ought to improve road safety. The study below sheds light on whether this is the case.

The Impact of Introducing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods on Road Traffic Injuries

This study was published in January 2021. It looked at LTNs introduced in 2015 and 2016 in the London Borough of Waltham Forest and police injury data (STATS19) from 2012 to 2019. The findings were:

  1. Inside the LTNs, injury numbers fell three fold.
  2. There were no identifiable changes in injury numbers on the LTN boundary roads.
  3. Analyses of fatalities and serious injuries showed similar patterns to 1) & 2) but small numbers meant changes were not statistically significant.
  4. Traffic counts inside the LTN areas show motor vehicle trips fell by 56% from February 2014 to July 2016.

This study concluded that both absolute injury numbers and injury risk decreased substantially inside an LTN. The introduction of LTNs should be seen as an intervention that improves road safety as well as improving health through increased physical activity. Simultaneous interventions on boundary roads (e.g. building cycle tracks) may further enhance safety improvements.

Conclusion

The evidence above shows LTNs work to improve road safety within their boundaries. In some situations, there may be increased traffic on individual boundary roads, but this does not equate to increased numbers of injuries. Simultaneous interventions on boundary roads may counter any increased risk.

In the face of a failure to reduce the numbers of fatal and serious casualties on the UK’s road over the last decade and as traffic volumes have risen sharply on neighbourhood streets thanks to the take up of Sat-Nav technology, LTNs can be a much needed and effective tool to make our roads safer.

Continuing the Drive to Improve Road Safety in Islington with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Hokman Wong (specialist brain injury solicitor at Islington firm Bolt Burdon Kemp) looks at road safety in Islington and making streets safer with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.

Road traffic collisions are the main cause of severe traumatic brain injury in people aged 10 to 50.

Every day I work on cases involving brain injuries. I see the profound effect brain injury has on a person’s life and those around them. Knowing what I know about road traffic collisions and brain injuries, I realise the importance of improving road safety. Since I became a father two years ago, I’ve felt even more passionate about making streets safer for little ones, and big ones too.

Continue reading “Continuing the Drive to Improve Road Safety in Islington with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods”

Street Parks for London

One of the few benefits of lockdown has been the quietness of the streets in my neighbourhood. Without motor traffic, people thronged into them as never before: families walking and cycling, teenagers skateboarding, children on scooters – all enjoying the empty roads. As the buds on the trees burst into leaf, and the spring air filled with birdsong, it seemed as if the area had become a park. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, if we could keep this when lockdown ended. Would it be possible to create a ‘Street Park’: a collection of streets where people feel it is as safe and pleasant to walk and cycle as in a park?

People walking and cycling freely down the middle of their local streets to maintain social distance during the Covid pandemic
People have used all of their streets during lockdown Photos: Martin Gorst

While I was mulling this over, in mid May, Transport for London launched Streetspace for London – a programme to create more space on roads so people can walk or cycle while social distancing. Looking at the documents TfL posted online, I saw it had carried out some impressive research. Among the maps was one showing areas of London, marked in blue, where the street layout creates conditions for rat running.

Map from TfL Streetspace document showing areas where low traffic neighbourhoods should be a priority
TfL’s priority locations for low-traffic neighbourhoods in London

Transport for London would like to transform these areas into emergency low-traffic neighbourhoods – places where councils could quickly install low-cost objects such as planters to remove rat-running motor traffic. To make it happen, local councils need to bid to TfL for the money, but many will only bid if they feel the scheme has local support.

Will people get excited enough about low traffic neighbourhoods to ask their councillors for one? While the concept is great, the term itself is about as appealing as ‘low-calorie diet’. You don’t immediately think “that sounds nice”. As a low-traffic neighbourhood is almost identical to a street park, I wondered if the term ‘Street Park’ would work better. The only way to find out was to put it to the test.

Three wooden planters placed across the carrigeway to block motor vehicles but allow walkers and cyclists free passage
Simple modal filter promoting active travel Photo: London Cycling Campaign

Based on the rat-running areas TfL has identified in Ealing, I’ve mapped out 13 potential ‘street parks’. On average, it would require about five bicycle filters and one bus filter to create each of these areas. That’s about 200 planters – not a lot of money to reduce pollution for thousands of people.

Map showing how south-west Ealing could easily be divided into a number of Street Park areas
Potential Street parks in Ealing Image: Martin Gorst / Open Streetmap

While street parks have lots of benefits, it’s important to acknowledge their down side. The modal filters that remove rat-running traffic can make some car journeys longer for residents. In the past, this has been a major objection to low-traffic neighbourhoods. However, after experiencing the joy of quiet streets in the last two months, many people don’t want a return to busy roads.

Slide listing key characteristics of street parks: Resident parking unaffected, Delivery access to all properties, pleasant place to meet, safe for children to cycle,quiet, less damage to cars from rat-running vehicles
Street Parks Image: Martin Gorst

In the past few weeks I’ve presented this idea to several different groups, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. People immediately get the idea of street parks. Why wouldn’t you want a park in your area? I’ve also sent it to my local council. At the time of writing, I hear they are bidding for at least two of the schemes, hopefully they will bid for more. The results of these bids will be announced around 18th June and there will be be a further funding opportunity for councils judged to have used the initial funding well.

TfL is aiming to fund street parks (‘low-traffic neighbourhoods’) all across London. So why not ask your local councillors for one in your area.

Concluding image showing people enjoying quiet, safe, street
Street Parks Image: Martin Gorst

View from the Street: Less Traffic – More Life

View over the square in DeBeavour Town, Hakney

Dido Penny recalls life in one of London’s pioneer low traffic neighbourhoods and looks forward to seeing the benefits as Councils are asked to re-prioritise people over traffic our streets.

A few years ago I shared a flat on De Beauvoir Square in Dalston with a couple of friends. We were lucky in lots of ways – the flat had lots of natural light, views of the square, and a big living area that was great for parties. It even had a tiny garden. But one of the best things about living there was that we didn’t really need a garden at all with the square only a few yards away. We spent a lot of time out there in the summer – picnic breakfasts, afternoons lying in the sun and early evening cocktails where we would take it in turns to run in and get ice. We weren’t the only ones who loved it- most people who lived on the square seemed to spend a lot of time there and it was rarely empty.

Picnic in the square – Photo: Dido Penny

There are lots of reasons why De Beauvoir works so well as a community space. There is a summer fair and various other events (such as the annual dog show), and an active neighbourhood association. And the square is well maintained, with a playground, lots of trees and a rose garden, as well as being a beautiful space to begin with.

But one of the main reasons that people treat it as an extension of their homes is the almost complete lack of any traffic. The whole De Beauvoir area is well filtered; it’s possible to access any street by car, but there are only a few designated through routes without modal filters. So although there are parked cars on the square, and a stream of commuting cyclists for a few hours every day, it’s pretty much car free. It is a real example of how much more pleasant pedestrian areas are, and how a lack of traffic makes people feel that they own the space around their houses and spend more time outside. There were so many things people wouldn’t do if the square was a busy roundabout – picnicking on the grass only a few yards from the road, chatting to their neighbours in the street, letting dogs off their leads or children play in the playground supervised from a distance.

Pedestrians and child cyclists move easily through filtered streets
Pedestrians and cyclists given priority of movement. Photo: Hackney Cycling Campaign

I now live in central Hackney, and though I love the area, there is much less sense of communal space. But walking around the area during the lockdown when there was very little traffic save the occasional delivery van, I noticed that many people seemed to be using the space around their houses in a way that reminded me of De Beauvoir. On my daily walks around familiar streets, people were outdoors much more than they would be in normal times. I noticed several families on the same street washing their cars together, and chatting to each other from across the road (from a safe distance!). People were sitting in the little front yards between their houses and the pavement. I saw one couple having brunch on a table they had set up on the pavement outside their front door, complete with prosecco. The lack of any traffic didn’t just make the streets quieter and the air cleaner, but seemed to create a different atmosphere for the residents as well. On a sunny weekend it felt like this was one of the few positives in this strange situation.

Of course this is partly because many people were not at work and children not at school, and parks were either shut or limited to exercise. In an area where most flats have a small balcony at best, people were improvising to find ways to relax in the sun. But it was also a consequence of there being virtually no traffic to the extent that the streets felt pretty much pedestrianised. The streets in my area are in fact fairly well filtered already and set back from main roads. But despite this the streets normally feel just slightly too busy, and the risk of speeding cars is too real for them to feel truly safe.

In the past couple of weeks since the lockdown has been relaxed, it seems that unfortunately the traffic is returning to normal and I’ve noticed far fewer people using their front gardens and porches and the green spaces next to the blocks of flats. But the nearest park to me is very busy on weekday evenings and weekends as it’s now officially OK to meet friends outside. It seems that just a slight increase in traffic- or even just the perception that people will be driving again – makes quite a big difference. Reducing the number of cars in a residential area can have a big impact on the way people perceive and use the space around them.

The lockdown has also given many a renewed appreciation of their local area- I certainly found that being limited to where I could walk within an hour made me very grateful for the local shops and green spaces. And the importance of a local community and support network has proved to be of real value during the lockdown. Much has been written about how the Covid Mutual Aid groups have connected neighbours and created support networks ready to help those self-isolating. Even the weekly clap for Care Workers has meant that people feel more connected to their neighbours- in some cases actually seeing them for the first time. It would be a really positive outcome if this sense of community could be maintained and built upon.

Having read a little about the history of De Beauvoir square and why it is such a successful low traffic neighbourhood, I learned that the measures to prioritise pedestrians were a result of a long campaign from the local residents in the late 60s and early 70s. Following years of pressure on the council and demonstrations where residents blocked the roads, they succeeded in making most of the area filtered to traffic. It’s a virtuous circle where a determined group of people created a desirable area to live, which itself continues to foster a strong community spirit. I hope that the few weeks of lockdown, which, though so difficult in many ways, give residents in Hackney and other areas a sense of what the area could be like without cars, and that this is something worth fighting for.

Broadway Market open to people walking and cycling
Broadway Market, Hackney with filtered access to allow social distancing. Photo: Brenda Puech

What’s exciting is that changes are already happening. Hackney Council have already closed Broadway Market to traffic, and on the 22nd May announced three further road closures. This is in addition to the  120 road closures proposed in Hackney as part of the London wide StreetSpace plan. This is one of many reasons why Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, which many London Boroughs are now installing, and attractive low pollution walking routes such as the Central London Walking Network, are so important. Streets that prioritise pedestrians are not only safer and healthier, but also more fun to live in and encourage a sense of community.