What is a Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN)? In essence, an LTN is a residential area that does not have through-traffic. For example, housing estates since around the 1980s have typically been designed as cul-de-sacs, making them LTNs. Most have pedestrian/cycle cut-throughs, but many do not, especially in outer suburbs, where people are expected to drive everywhere.
Older residential streets usually connect to main roads at both ends, making them susceptible for use as ‘rat runs’. For decades we’ve solved this by stopping them up with bollards or gates (called ‘modal filters’, as they still allow pedestrians, cycles and, in some cases, buses to pass); creating one-way systems; or putting in ‘traffic calming’ measures, like speed humps, pinch points and chicanes.
Then everyone started using satnavs, which direct drivers through residential streets to avoid congestion, with no consideration of the cumulative impact on local residents of hundreds – or even thousands – of drivers doing the same every day.
Much has changed in recent years. We are more aware of how bad for our health air pollution is; we have experienced the peace of lower traffic levels through COVID lockdowns; and the government is providing funding for new modal filters. Communities are now campaigning for their neighbourhoods to be included, including around Arbury Road, Coldham’s Lane, Rustat Road and Milton.
What about traffic displaced back to other ‘main’ roads? Even though the amount of traffic displaced is always much less than people imagine, there is nevertheless a sense of unfairness. LTNs must therefore be paired with measures to reduce motor traffic generally, so that all neighbourhoods have more walkable, less polluted streets.
That requires campaigning not only to block through-traffic, but to improve the environment on main roads too: wider pavements, protected or raised cycle lanes, more cycle parking, loading bays, car club spaces and bus shelters – any of which may require giving up some on-street car parking. It also means being receptive to more radical changes, such as stricter parking controls and variable road pricing.
In short, we should campaign for LTNs as part of a wider set of changes that will benefit everyone.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 3 February 2021.