Low traffic neighbourhoods: anti-car or pro-people?

Low-traffic neighbourhoods, known as LTNs are small scale area-based interventions that use low-cost changes to roads (planters, bollards or camera gates) to restrict through-traffic and limit vehicle speeds on residential streets. Recently such schemes have been characterised as anti-car and anti-motorist, but this misses the point. Designing our neighbourhoods and cities around cars, and prioritising car and vehicle movement on our streets, is not a neutral policy. In fact, continuing to prioritise cars in the way that we make and shape places is fundamentally ‘anti…

…children. Since 1980, when playing outside was still a normal part of children’s lives, car ownership in the UK has doubled. Many residential streets have become ‘rat-runs’, and car storage areas, pushing people and especially children out of what was once a shared, communal space. Many studies have shown that increased traffic danger is the main reason children play out less than they used to. And there is a vicious cycle: the less children are seen outside, the more roads become just for cars. Play is widely recognised as fundamental to every child’s health, happiness and development and is a human right, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children are losing out and being excluded from streets by cars.

…older and differently-abled people. EU data shows that about 50% of all pedestrian fatalities are people aged 65 and older. For many people public transportation and walkable communities which meet their needs, in close proximity to their homes, are essential for their mobility, independence, and quality of life. Walkability includes thinking about shade, shelter, benches for rest and inclusive wayfinding. Some people may need longer to cross junctions, have slower reaction speeds, impaired eyesight and hearing and lower levels of mobility, all of which make them more vulnerable in car dominated environments. Others need more space on pavements and are hindered in safely moving around by cars parked on pavements and blocking pedestrian routes.

…poor. In 2021 over 17 million people lived in a household with no car. Car ownership is expensive – maintenance, insurance, fuel. By prioritising cars, we are embedding inequality in the way we treat and use public space. Better sharing of streets is a social justice issue. Streets should be for public transportation, safe cycling, wheeling and walking as well as play, rest and socialising.

…planet. The Government acknowledge that transport is the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, producing 24% of the UK’s total emissions in 2020. Cars also emit gases and other substances which don’t have a significant greenhouse gas effect but do have significant health consequences. The Government’s decarbonisation plan seeks to deliver fundamentally better transport for everyone, every day, through accelerating shifts to public and active transport options, using cars differently and, importantly, less often.

…health. Physical inactivity is responsible for one in six UK deaths (equal to smoking) and is estimated to cost the UK £7.4 billion annually (including £0.9 billion to the NHS alone). Neighbourhoods and places built for cars promote inactivity and inactivity is linked to over 20 chronic conditions and diseases, including some cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and depression. Transport is also a significant source of emissions of air pollution and poor air quality shortens lives and contributes to chronic illness all of which affect productivity, wealth and happiness.

…safety. Everyday people are killed and injured on our streets and roads. Prioritising cars and efficiency is most often translated as the need for vehicles to move faster. Faster speeds result in higher levels of traffic accidents, higher levels of serious injury and ultimately higher numbers of deaths. The most vulnerable users of streets and roads are too often the least prioritised despite the Highway Code setting out the hierarchy of users which recognises that those most likely to be injured in the event of a collision are pedestrians, in particular children, older adults and disabled people, followed by cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists.

No-one sensible is suggesting that LTNs and traffic and transport schemes alone are going to change the trajectory of our planet in terms of climate change, or our health and wellbeing in terms of high levels of ill-health and mental illness, but they have a part to play in changing the way we live so that we have a chance for human and planetary thriving.

Changing and reducing how we use cars is actually pro-people, pro-walkability, pro-health, and pro-planet. The choice is ours.

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