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Topic: Low-traffic neighbourhoods

Low-traffic neighbourhoods
22 Jul 2017 23:08 #3113

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Clare Rogers makes the case for low-traffic neighbourhoods. This article was originally published on the Better Streets for Enfield website.

Would you let your child or grandchild play out on your street? Do you feel able to ride a bike around your neighbourhood? Or does the traffic put you off? For many of us, streets in our residential areas have become conduits for through traffic, rather than places where residents can walk, cycle, meet or play.

Yet in countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany, residential areas give priority to people over traffic and tend to be access-only, not through routes. As a result, children can play and travel more independently, and older people can be active and mobile. We think this is the key to a much healthier, happier population.

Mayor Transport Strategy image filter 1 1024x563A residential street closed to through traffic - an image from the Mayor of London's draft Transport Strategy

Better Streets is asking for a radical change in our neighbourhoods:

Remove through traffic from residential areas to create ‘low-traffic neighbourhoods’ – allowing walking, cycling and socialising, while maintaining access for residents by car

What’s the problem?

The vast majority of Enfield’s public space is made up of streets in residential areas. Yet most have become little more than conduits for traffic. It’s common to find a street with, say, 150 households being used by between 1,000 and 3,500 vehicles a day. Drivers pass through to shave seconds off a longer journey, and as non-residents they may have little interest in taking care or slowing down. With sat navs and apps like Waze around, this problem isn’t going away.

Halstead Road crash 2017 1

The photo above was taken on a residential road in Bush Hill Park – one of five collisions in just over a year. Residents wonder when someone will get killed. However, the worst effects of heavy through traffic are invisible:

  • Parents don’t let their children play outdoors – meaning less exercise, independence and making friends in the neighbourhood
  • Not many choose to walk or cycle locally, feeling safer inside a car – meaning less physical activity and more danger for everyone
  • Little time spent out on the street means no sense of community between neighbours – isolating more vulnerable people like the elderly
  • Air pollution can be dangerously high – increasing disease and shortening lives
  • Traffic noise is also harmful to health – linked to stress, sleep disturbance, hypertension and heart disease

The good news is that London is waking up to the idea of ‘healthy streets’ – in other words, streets where all sorts of people, including young and old, choose to walk, cycle and spend time. This is now part of the Mayor of London’s draft Transport Strategy.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods

Traffic-calming measures like speed bumps and road narrowing can reduce speeds. This is of some benefit, but they won’t cut traffic volume. They won’t discourage drivers from using a street as a short cut. So we are calling for street design that stops through traffic across a whole area, creating a ‘low-traffic neighbourhood’. There are a few ways to achieve this, including alternating one-way streets, but the most effective measure seems to be ‘modal filters’.

Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland sets a recent example. Certain streets in Walthamstow and the Blackhorse Road area have strategically placed ‘filters’  – gates, bollards or planters – allowing cycles through, but not cars. In the whole cell of residential streets, there is no direct route through for traffic, but every resident can still drive to their own street.

Before and after Waltham Forest streetThe same street in Waltham Forest before and after it was closed to through traffic. Here, the large planter acts as a filter. Image: Jakob Hartmann

The same street in Waltham Forest before and after it was closed to through traffic. Here, the large planter acts as a filter. Image: Jakob Hartmann
The difference is dramatic. You can now hear birdsong on those streets, and children play outdoors independently. Any drivers entering or leaving the area are either residents or professionals (like delivery drivers) so they take far more care. Within the areas, collision rates have dropped dramatically, car journeys have reduced by 50 to 90 per cent, and there is a rise in walking and cycling, including families on the school run.

Doesn’t that just displace traffic onto main roads?

This is the first question most people ask, and it was a concern for residents in Waltham Forest too: won’t all that through traffic be displaced onto other roads and cause gridlock?

In fact, in Walthamstow’s low-traffic neighbourhood the increase in traffic on surrounding main roads has been manageable; average bus journeys times have not changed. While some car journeys have been displaced, a large  number have simply stopped. There are 10,000 fewer car journeys per day across the Walthamstow Village area, including the surrounding main roads – a decrease of 16%.  This is known as ‘traffic evaporation’ and has been documented in similar situations all over the world.

People tend to think that traffic is like water – block one route, and it will flood another. But traffic is the result of human choices. When walking and cycling are made more safe and convenient, and driving slightly less convenient for short trips, fewer people choose to get in their cars.

In any case, why should residential streets be part of the main road network? That’s not their function. Many of our residential streets were laid out before cars came to dominate the roads and were not intended to carry through traffic. If you look at any post-war housing development, the streets will not be through routes, but a network of cul-de-sacs. Our older streets should be updated to have the same design. In fact, this may even smooth traffic flow on main roads, since lots of cars turning in and out of side streets can make everyone’s journey slower.

Would this work in Enfield?

Waltham Forest is not the only place with filtered roads. In Enfield certain streets have been closed to through traffic for decades, resulting in better quality of life for residents and safe passage for anyone who wants to cycle.

Broomfield Ave filterBroomfield Avenue, N13. These bollards stop traffic entering from Aldermans Hill, turning a street that used to carry more than 6,000 vehicles a day into a quiet street for residents (and for walking and cycling through)

As Enfield Council embarks on its Quieter Neighbourhoods programme, we encourage it to aim high. We think that the lessons learnt in Waltham Forest, Hackney and elsewhere can be adapted in Enfield to create our own low-traffic neighbourhoods. Even good quality bike lanes on main roads won’t increase cycling rates unless people feel safe to cycle to them; low-traffic neighbourhoods will make that possible. With our population growing by 5,000 a year, we desperately need to cut the number of car journeys, and a more active population will take pressure off the local NHS. Apart from that, it just isn’t fair on residents to have lots of traffic racing along their street.

Would you like to see this in your area? If you use a car, would you mind driving by a slightly longer route to access your street, if it meant less traffic going through? Let the council know.  There is a perception survey for Quieter Neighbourhoods here, and you can also contact your local ward councillors via this website.

It sounds like a radical ask – but it’s common sense. Enfield Council has shown plenty of political courage by building high-quality cycle infrastructure, despite some vocal opposition. Now we call on the council to transform our neighbourhood streets and make life better for everyone.

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Low-traffic neighbourhoods
24 Jul 2017 12:05 #3114

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Thanks for sharing the survey. I think it's always a nice ambition but needs to be extremely thoroughly thought through to get it right - in particular decing which roads should benefit and which are key to keep open.

Personally I'd like priority given to the speed cameras along the likes of Alderman's Hill, Cannon Hill, Wilmer & Powys etc.

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Low-traffic neighbourhoods
25 Jul 2017 12:13 #3127

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Thanks for the thoughtful article, Clare, I think it makes complete sense. I'd like to go further, and make Enfield a "twenty's plenty" borough, just excepting the very major through roads like the A10 and the North Circular. There's a great deal of evidence that lower speed limits in urban areas reduce death and injury rates on the roads, with surprisingly little effect on overall car journey times - and pollution levels should be lowered too. I agree with David that more policing via speed cameras is needed - as a regular walker up Alderman's Hill, for example, I'm shocked at the massive breaches of the - 30mph - speed limit by much of the traffic.
Ivor Evans.

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Low-traffic neighbourhoods
25 Jul 2017 15:25 #3128

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The only problem I see with 20s plenty, is that a lot of evidence also suggests it's routinely ignored and, from what I've seen and experienced, where it is achieved it's as much down to traffic and other road measures as the limit itself. Works in more central/congested areas but Enfield roads are much clearer and therefore would provide greater scope for regular breach of a 20 limit (especially as Council inaction suggests 30 isn't enforced with much enthusiasm as it is).

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Low-traffic neighbourhoods
25 Jul 2017 15:49 #3129

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I fear that David Eden's reservations about a 20mph are likely to be realistic. For example, such a zone on roads between Aldermans Hill and Fox Lane would not be an effective control against the drivers who currently exceed the 30 mph limit.

The workshops on the Quieter Neighbourhoods discussed a variety of physical and "psychological" barriers as a way of slowing traffic down. It was suggested that some of these ideas could be trialled before any permanent decisions were made. I await with interest whether any of these ideas will be tried out and whether we will have a chance to influence matters further.

I have heard in various fora that no "single road"solutions, such as road closures, will be included unless it can be demonstrated that they won't just displace the problem.

As a matter of interest, the traffic counting sensors' rubber tubes across Lakeside Road have been deliberately severed. It wasn't obvious, so people might want to examine other rubber tubes and report any which have been similarly attacked.

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Liveable Neighbourhoods
01 Aug 2017 20:46 #3151

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The new Liveable Neighbourhoods that were announced by City Hall last week aren't the same as the Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods that Clare writes about, but are certainly part of the same overall approach:

A new £85.9 million Liveable Neighbourhoods programme will give boroughs the opportunity to bid for funding for long-term schemes that encourage walking, cycling and the use of public transport, in line with the Mayor’s Healthy Streets approach.

The programme will provide grants of between £1 million and £10 million for a wide range of community-supported projects, potentially including the creation of green spaces, new cycling infrastructure, redesigned junctions and the widening of walking routes to improve access to local shops, businesses and public transport. By supporting projects which have local support, the funding will particularly target schemes that are shown to improve boroughs and reduce car trips – improving health and air quality.

The Liveable Neighbourhoods programme is a key part of the Mayor’s draft Transport Strategy, which last month detailed plans to create a fairer, greener, healthier and more prosperous city by making London’s streets more welcoming and encouraging active travel and public transport.

Liveable Neighbourhoods is a long-term funding programme. Boroughs can submit bids at any time however submissions for each financial year will close in October (20 October for 2017) with announcements of the successful bids made each December.

The Liveable Neighbourhoods programme is being funded through the Mayor’s Healthy Streets portfolio, which aims to improve air quality and reduce congestion through transforming communities, making them greener, healthier and more attractive places to live and do business. More details regarding Healthy Streets can be found at www.content.tfl.gov.uk/healthy-streets-for-london.pdf

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