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Low-traffic schemes benefit most-deprived Londoners, study finds

Antonio Voce and Peter Walker
·4-min read

Low-traffic neighbourhoods, which use filters to try to reduce motor traffic on residential streets, do not disproportionately benefit more privileged communities, the most comprehensive study of their rollout so far has concluded.

The research, which examined about 400 filters created in London last year, seemingly demolishes the main argument by opponents of such schemes: that they tend to shunt vehicles from richer residential areas on to roads lived in by more deprived people.

One media report last month used an analysis of house prices to support this objection, saying homes tended to be more expensive in streets that benefited from low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs). Controversy over the neighbourhoods, created in cities across the UK by using planters or bollards to prevent through-traffic while leaving the route open for cyclists and walkers, has led to several being scrapped.

But the new study, led by Rachel Aldred, a professor of transport at Westminster University in London, uses detailed and sophisticated data to compare streets, including occupants’ age, ethnicity, disability, employment and car ownership, and the government’s index of multiple deprivation, down to micro-areas of about 300 residents.

Aldred’s team examined all LTNs introduced in the capital between March and September, and found that across the city, people in the most deprived quarter of areas were 2.7 times more likely to live in one of the new LTNs than the least deprived quarter of people.

People without cars were more likely to live in an LTN overall, and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) Londoners were slightly more likely to than white residents, although this varied by ethnicity, with Asian people slightly less likely to do so than white locals.

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At the very local level, the research found, people living inside LTNs tended to be demographically similar to those living just outside it, on streets that connected with an LTN boundary road.

Amid the general figures there was significant variation between local areas over equity, Aldred found, although the median district was more likely to have the most deprived areas in an LTN than the least deprived.

The research, the team concluded, showed that the rollout of LTNs in London had been “broadly equitable at the city level and at the micro level but not always at the district level”.

Groups campaigning for more walking and cycling said the findings meant LTNs should be created more widely, rather than scrapped because of objections, often from a minority of residents.

Mary Creagh, the chief executive of Living Streets, said: “National policymakers and politicians must ensure this levelling up approach is baked into the upcoming rollout of LTNs, so that more people, from all walks of life, can enjoy the health benefits that come from safer, cleaner and less congested streets.”

Simon Munk, a senior infrastructure campaigner at London Cycling Campaign, said the research “adds to the growing body of evidence that demonstrates how important low-traffic neighbourhoods are to improving Londoners’ lives”.

He said: “The boroughs and the mayor must ensure all of these measures are delivered equitably, and this research shows that most schemes delivered in the last year have been. The damaging impact of unnecessary motor traffic across London is felt unequally, and schemes like these help address this.”

However many residents in and around LTNs may continue to have objections. When the Guardian asked readers what they thought of the schemes last year, although many had positive views, we also heard of worries over traffic gridlock and increased pollution around the projects. Some were concerned about negatives impacts on local businesses, or that delivery services might be held up.

Contacted by the Guardian about the findings, Ian Barnes, the deputy leader of Enfield council, said: “Our first LTNs have been implemented in areas where there has been considerable contact and representation from residents in local communities who have asked us about the possibility of introducing an LTN, which has meant plans were further in their development.

“We have plans to engage with residents across the borough to identify future areas for LTNs, including the eastern part of Enfield. The council has recently invested in a major segregated cycling project in the less affluent wards in the borough which provides foundations for more LTN projects.”

The mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville, said: “This new research helps dispel some of the myths about low-traffic neighbourhoods and sets out why, for us, taking action on air quality and sustainable travel is a social justice issue”.

Late last year, Aldred led a separate study that examined the equity of LTNs by data based on demographic differences between people who live on residential streets and main roads. The research showed there were few that could be detected.