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The newly published results of a study by the environmental charity Possible shows that excessive car use on London's roads causes significant delays to fire engines and ambulances and is likely to contribute to deaths of patients. The researchers took advantage of the huge drops in traffic during the 2020 lockdowns to compare emergency service response times during these periods with response times and before and since. During lockdowns response times fell dramatically, particularly for inner London fire stations. The research does not support claims that cycle lanes and low-traffic neighbourhoods cause delays to emergency services.

Traffic is holding up emergency vehicles

We all know that the pollution from private cars is shortening lives, but our new research shows that traffic is cutting our lives short in another way.

delayed response report coverToday, we released our report which finds that excess traffic and congestion is likely to be the most significant contributor to delays in ambulance and fire engine response times in London.

Our report uses data from the time of Covid-19 lockdowns when congestion virtually vanished from London’s streets to investigate the impact of road traffic on emergency vehicles response times.

The key message fxxxrom our research suggests that the most impactful improvement to emergency response times could be achieved through measures that reduce overall traffic and congestion, namely, getting more cars off the roads.

Our key findings:

By analysing the data during the first lockdown in 2020, we found that the average response times for 999 calls to the London Fire Brigade dropped dramatically, especially for inner London fire stations who often experience the heaviest congestion levels. Examples include a reduction of 41 seconds in Euston, 57s in Tooting and a massive 1 minute and 31 seconds in Soho.

Importantly, all of the time savings recorded during London’s lockdowns were exclusively in travel time. This means that these reductions are directly caused by the fall in congestion levels in this period.

Our report finds that with each percentage point increase in congestion on the roads results in a one second delay to response times!

We found a similar trend in the average response times of the London Ambulance Service. There was a 47 second reduction in response time to the most serious medical emergencies and a much larger drop of 2 minutes and 39 seconds for emergencies where patients were conveyed to hospital via a full-sized ambulance.

Implications of this report:

The traffic-calming measures introduced during the lockdown were accused as being a cause for delays to emergency vehicles. However, research does not support these claims but instead shows that the real problem is excess car use causing traffic and congestion.

Our report makes the case that the most impactful way to improve emergency vehicle response times is to introduce measures that reduce overall congestion levels. When it comes to saving lives, every second counts.

Read the full report


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Ann Jones's Avatar
Ann Jones posted a reply #6434 28 Apr 2022 12:30
The conclusion of this report is bizarre to say the least – they say congestion delays ambulances, which of course it does. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods cause congestion therefore they delay ambulances but this Trumpian-style conclusion is that they don’t. Here’s this morning’s image of congestion on Bourne Hill, and there was similar on Winchmore Hill Road and High Street as people travel extra miles to get to their destination causing increased congestion, 19 months since LTN was introduced. So now we have confirmation that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods delay emergency services in two ways. The other way is the LTN bollards which London Ambulance Service repeatedly request should be replaced by ANPR cameras. The Council initially issued a Traffic Order to do just that but rescinded it a week later for reasons that have not been explained and now 5 life-threatening bollards remain.These bollards are responsible for 25 delays to emergency ambulances, the most recent just a few weeks ago. Yet pro-LTN supporters and Enfield Council want to retain these bollards on spurious grounds, including ‘to use roadspace for planters’ or as stated by Enfield Council’s Richard Eason to retain it for some communal use. These arguments are frankly a bit sickening. I have witnessed a blue light emergency ambulance fail to pass through these bollards and have to drive over 2km to reach its emergency patient. As we know every moment counts in an emergency. The other argument put forward is that these bollards are safer for children but that seems to ignore the fact that these roads are already busy with vehicles in this high car ownership LTN not to mention the service and delivery vehicles and motorbikes. Motorbikes, sometimes at speed, just go through the gap between the bollard now anyway -- which arguably they wouldn’t do if there was ANPR camera to stop them. It is also striking that Enfield Council and BSFE support school streets enforced by ANPR cameras. The Council is putting in 12 cameras at primary schools now. So ANPR cameras are considered safe enough for thousands of school children but not for the precious children on these special LTN roads. They would rather risk residents lives than give up their bollards. It is shameful. London Ambulance Service are the experts and they continue to request these bollards be replaced by ANPR cameras. Please let us not delay any longer.
Karl Brown's Avatar
Karl Brown posted a reply #6435 28 Apr 2022 22:00
I suspect this debate might be at the margin of the actual problem being experienced – a friend’s near 90 year old mother living on Aldermans hill falls, crawls to the phone and most likely has a broken hip. Quoted ETA for the ambulance was 4 hours. That was not bollards, or congestion, rather system issues which seem to have gone from bad to worse to intolerable over the last dozen years of this government.
Adrian Day's Avatar
Adrian Day posted a reply #6438 29 Apr 2022 11:15
The only cause of congestion is traffic - if people used their cars less there would be less traffic. Low traffic neighbourhoods have less traffic because they encourage people to consider other modes of transport. That's why Better Streets is campaigning for low traffic neighbourhoods throughout Enfield. Please let the party leaders know that we need to end high traffic neighbourhoods.
Ediz Mevlitt's Avatar
Ediz Mevlitt posted a reply #6439 29 Apr 2022 13:07
I see the usual spin ….. imagine pushing congestion upon others for self gain and delay ES and then blaming everyone else …. It honestly makes me feel very uncomfortable that others are willing to use others as collateral damage just to get a quiet road. As a former 999 responder I can categorically say closures like this delay ES and increases crime. Thanks

Whos family is currently choking due to LTNs and won’t reach the age of 50.
Adrian Day's Avatar
Adrian Day posted a reply #6440 29 Apr 2022 18:53
It's not spin - it's an evidence based, thoughtful and considered report. Would be good to see your data counteracting the evidenced arguments in the report please. At Better Streets we are campaigning to end high traffic neighbourhoods throughout the Borough as just one of several measures to reduce traffic and speed the journeys for emergency vehicles.
Adrian Day's Avatar
Adrian Day posted a reply #6441 03 May 2022 13:12