One of our ten asks is that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are rolled out across the borough to create networks of quieter streets where children can play outside, neighbours can catch up, air pollution is lower and walking and cycling are the natural choice for everyday journeys. They also connect to main roads with cycle tracks and crossings to create an active travel network.
LTNs are created by closing roads and streets to motor traffic using features called “modal filters” which can be gates, bollards, planters, short walking and cycling links as well as other features such as bus gates.
LTNs are places where through motor vehicle traffic has been removed or significantly reduced with the space given back to residents and those passing through on foot or cycle. Residents, their visitors, emergency vehicles, deliveries and services still have full motor access to every part of an LTN, it’s just those with legitimate business are prioritised over those driving through to get elsewhere – traffic which should be using the main roads which have been designed for high volumes and which are managed and maintained for such.
The neighbourhoods (also called cells) which are formed should ideally be around 1 square kilometre in size and no more than 15 minutes to walk across. Any larger and people will be tempted to drive within them which reduces some of their point and certainly their benefits.
Unfortunately, LTNs have been a bit of political football over the last couple of years, especially with people and politicians who think that side streets should provide motor traffic capacity, often because the main roads are already congested. Those who take that view simply cannot see a different vision of places which people can enjoy.
Last year, Havering council’s Cabinet Member for Environment, Cllr Osman Dervish said;
“Unlike many other boroughs who chose to tear up their streets for the LTNs scheme – we chose to listen to our residents.” [He alleged these schemes have] “increased pollution” [elsewhere and sometimes] “had to be reversed”.
Romford Recorder 12/7/2021.
We’ll come back to why the councillor’s statement was wrong later, although as far as we are aware, the council has never asked people about how they view LTNs (and indeed having alternatives to the car), but you (and Cllr Dervish) might be surprised at just how many LTNs Havering already has. In fact the term “Low Traffic Neighbourhood” was only coined in the last few years and once something has a name, then supporting or objecting to that thing becomes easier, often without actually having any understanding of the detail (which is maybe a reflection on UK political discourse at the moment).
Back in 1963, Colin Buchanan, professor of transport at Imperial College published his report “Traffic in Towns“. The report was commissioned by the government and it was very influential on public policy in terms of how new developments were designed and how towns and cities approached the problem of the increasing use of the private motor car. Looking back at this almost 60 years later, we are still suffering the same problems and in many ways, we are still having the same arguments.
One of the concepts in the Buchanan Report was the “environmental area”, places which were free of external traffic. In other words, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. The report was far more than just this, but the roll out of environmental areas became very popular in the years after the report was published. From the perspective of Havering, the borough was established in 1965 and in terms of LTNs, nothing really happened for the first few years, although there were a series of traffic orders in the late 1960s/ early 1970s which were concerned with improving traffic flow and safety on the borough’s trunk roads. For example, the gaps in the central reservation of the A13 New Road (now A1306) were closed at Askwith Road, Betterton Road and Philip Road were closed by the Minister for Transport in 1969.
In November 1972, the council proposed the right turn bans which exist to this day at the junction of Rainham Road and Cherry Tree Lane, with the traffic order coming into force on 18th January 1973. We don’t know for sure, but the banned turns probably dealt with a level of drivers cutting through the more residential Cherry Tree Lane from the northwest to avoid Dover’s Corner. The traffic order was called “The Havering (Prescribed Routes) (No.1) Traffic Order 1973” and we think the first on borough roads following the creation of Havering. Interestingly, traffic orders were dealt with by the Greater London Council (GLC) back then and that is because in London, traffic powers were with the GLC by virtue of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967.
In terms of LTNs, we think that Havering’s first was Durham Avenue and Elvet Avenue in Gidea Park. On 12th February 1973, “The Havering (Prescribed Route) (No.1) Experimental Traffic Order, 1973” was published which essentially stopped people using the side streets to cut between Upper Brentwood Road and Squirrels Heath Road with a road closure at the western end of Durham Avenue.
Through the 1970s, there were plenty of other traffic orders coming through which were connected with road schemes such as the Hornchurch Gyratory and the Hall Lane interchange with the A127. On 30th May 1975, “The Havering (Prescribed Routes) (No.2) Traffic Order, 1975” was published and would close Maylands Avenue at the junction with South End Road which we think was Havering’s second LTN.
The development of LTNs continued across the borough in the years which followed, with experimental schemes popping up every so often. The experimental traffic order process allows schemes to be deployed and tried for size as part of public consultation with a decision being taken later to make permanent. There were schemes which developed the Romford Ring Road and Rom Valley Way in stages and which essentially created LTNs such as the areas northwest and southeast of Thurloe Gardens, although that in itself made them less useful for walking and cycling because of the barrier created by the Ring Road.
As the years rolled on, traffic orders continued to be deployed. Blacksmiths Lane in South Hornchurch was closed to traffic in April 1980 at Rainham Road, Mildmay Road in Romford became one-way in August 1985 after another experimental scheme and in April 1993, Taunton Road in Harold Hill was closed to through traffic at its junction with Noak Hill Road by experimental traffic order.
In the 2000s, there appears to be little activity in terms of LTNs, although plenty of weight and width restrictions were brought in. Although these do reduce traffic volumes by vehicle class, they are not LTNs in the sense that we campaign for. In March 2014, the existing road closure in Highview Gardens, Upminster (already a long-standing LTN), was tweaked to allow cycling as were the existing closures in Repton Avenue and The Ridgeway, Romford, in Feburary 2015 and Queens Park Road, Harold Wood, in February 2016.
During 2016 and 2017, the council developed an experimental scheme in Cedar Road, Romford which completed a much larger LTN started in the 1970s. A closure to motor traffic was placed southwest of the junction with Chesham Close as the experiment and the position was slightly adjusted in 2017 as part of the permanent scheme. The most recent LTN was established last year in Minster Way, Hornchurch. This commenced as an experimental scheme to stop the street being used by drivers to cut through to avoid the Doggett’s Corner traffic signals, but sadly, Cllr Dervish didn’t hold his nerve with this useful (and successful) little scheme and he revoked the experiment in November.
Havering council has been rolling out LTNs for nearly 50 years and at the time of writing, we have found nearly 30 which would meet our broad idea of what an LTN is. Some have been created by traffic order with the streets being retrofitted with bollards, planting, gates and signs and some have been created through new developments and you can browse our developing map HERE – do let us know if we have missed anything or got it wrong.
So, from the LTNs we have described and shown in our photographs, it’s pretty clear that contrary to Cllr Dervish’s comments, none of these schemes actually involved tearing up any streets. In fact, we would argue that keeping through traffic on appropriate streets actually stopped LTN streets being torn up through wear and tear from inappropriate traffic use. Schemes such the updating of Highfield Road, The Ridgeway and Como Street actually added a little bit of planting to the street scene. Other schemes in London such as the wonderful filter on Old Bethnal Green Road in Tower Hamlets has actually added usable open space for the community.
What of Cllr Dervish’s claims about pollution? Well at the heart of the matter is that it is the overuse of motor vehicles which is causing pollution (engines, tyres and road wear), not the traffic management concepts being used to try and tame and even reduce it. Evidence for the benefits of LTNs keeps coming out, but here’s information about pollution in Enfield’s Bowes scheme and Hackney’s Homerton scheme – both encouraging. This isn’t universal because local conditions might mean localised increases in traffic on boundary roads, but as with other matters, this is specific rather than a problem with principles. Lambeth, for example, has generally been very positive in air quality terms, although the borough is looking at adjustments to its Railton LTN where there are localised issues.
In fact, there are lots of myths around LTNs and sometimes it’s hard to get under the skin of the motivation of the people citing them.
- Displaced traffic
- More main road pollution
- More main road danger
- Impact on emergency services
- Impact on bus journey times
- Impact on Disabled people
- Increases in crime
In our opinion, some people do have genuine concerns which need to be worked through and public engagement is key. Some people simply want to drive short distances through side streets and we wish those people could be honest about that. However, evidence which directly contradicts the myths is being published all the time – if you search “low traffic neighbourhoods” on Findings.org, there is a wealth of academic information available. There is also a guide to LTNs published by London Living Streets and the London Cycling Campaign plus other useful background available HERE.
On the other side, LTNs provide so many advantages that councils that aren’t rolling them out are really not delivering transport and community benefits for their citizens;
- Quieter streets
- Walking and cycling boosts
- Reduced pollution across entire areas
- Space for children to play
- Space available for landscaping and water management
- Improved safety (objective and subjective)
- Reduction of “friction” at main road junctions from people turning in and out
LTNs will never solve all local transport issues, but they are a strong foundation for more transport choice, community safety & cohesion as well as, frankly, getting people out of their cars as well as benefiting those who cannot or do not drive. One of the clever ways in which LTNs are being used is to combine them with crossings on main roads to connect neighbourhoods up so that continuous routes for walking and cycling can be developed. It doesn’t remove the need to radically change main roads, but it is certainly a cost effective way to give people options.
So, we are fans of LTNs and think that as many citizens as possible should be able to live within them. For those who live on main and boundary roads, they will still gain benefits from having access to quieter streets for walking and cycling, but traffic volumes and the safety issues arising from them absolutely need tackling. Unfortunately, a “do nothing” approach no longer cuts it and we are confident that pressure to deal with motor traffic in Havering will only grow and the politicians brave enough to grasp that will leave a long term legacy for the borough and future generations.