Cllr Danny Adilypour is the Cabinet Member for Sustainable Transport, Environment & Clean Air (job-share) and a councillor in Streatham South ward.
The use of low traffic neighbourhoods by local councils across the country has generated lots of attention, with passionate views expressed both for and against such interventions. The noise generated by this debate means the reasons for introducing low traffic neighbourhoods are often lost in the cacophony, when this is something that should matter to us all.
In the London borough of Lambeth, which I represent, it has been clear for some time that our road network is well beyond capacity. Our main roads are congested and our smaller residential streets without controls such as traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and speed reduction measures are acting as pressure valves, taking significant levels of through traffic.
Not only is this adding to the already serious air pollution problem that impacts the health and wellbeing of our residents and leads to thousands of Londoners dying from our city’s toxic air, it also has a significantly detrimental impact on community cohesion, reducing interactions between neighbours and hampering the independence of many residents.
The Covid-19 pandemic meant this already critical situation became something where urgent action was required. Social distancing restrictions and the reduction of public transport services meant our key workers and other residents who couldn’t work from home had to find other ways to get to their jobs.
For those workers who don’t have access to their own car – disproportionately our lower-income residents, women and black residents – local authorities had to take urgent action to create safe corridors that allowed people to walk and cycle without the dangers of vehicle collisions and toxic air.
This is where low traffic neighbourhoods come in as a key tool to achieve these aims. In Lambeth, like many other local authorities, we took a decision to implement low traffic neighbourhood trials, taking swift and decisive action to make our streets safer and improve the quality of life of our residents by attempting to reduce vehicle traffic and increase the number of people walking and cycling.
It’s fair to say the introduction of these trials led to a strong reaction, both from those passionately supportive of the measures and those vehemently opposed. Indeed, this has been the case wherever low traffic neighbourhood schemes have been introduced, with some councils taking the decision to scrap or suspend their trials in the face of continuous protests.
However the evidence shows that the vast majority of people support reducing vehicle traffic and tackling air pollution, and there is clear support for the use of low traffic neighbourhoods to achieve this. Crucially these schemes need to be given time to bed in, so that their effects in reducing traffic, increasing active travel and improving air quality can be monitored and demonstrated.
That’s why in Lambeth we continued with all five of our low traffic neighbourhood trials so we can properly monitor whether they are achieving their objectives, rather than hastily abandoning measures that are shown to work. The results are beginning to speak for themselves.
We’ve seen reductions of 25-63 per cent in vehicle traffic in the low traffic neighbourhoods we are now consulting in, cycling rates have increased by 87-92 per cent and the feedback we’ve received from residents is that their streets feel safer and cleaner.
If low traffic neighbourhood schemes are to win public support, it is clear that residents need to be engaged throughout the process. Now that we are consulting our residents on the future of our low traffic neighbourhoods, we are doing so backed up not only by data showing that they are having the desired impact, but also with the feedback we have had from residents and organisations to ensure their implementation is as fair as possible.
Changing entrenched behaviour isn’t easy, but as political leaders we cannot shy away from this. We have to reduce our dependence on cars to make short journeys if we are to stand any chance of preventing our capital and other major cities from becoming gridlocked, dangerous and over-polluted places where nobody would want to live.
Local councils have an important role to play in this – by continuing to implement evidence-based policies proven to work, resisting siren calls to scrap them before they have been given a chance and giving residents all the information they need when consulting on their future.
Cllr Danny Adilypour