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Research reveals keys to public support for low traffic neighbourhoods

07 December 2021

Approximately 100 people living with low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) in London and Birmingham have taken part in a deliberative research project to develop recommendations for how to improve future schemes. Residents want to see thorough engagement with local communities at proposal stage, and a more sensitive and gradual introduction of schemes, alongside additional measures to make it easier to get around without driving.

The new study, from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), is designed to help ensure that lessons are learned from Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) introduced during the first COVID-19 lockdown. The Government’s Net Zero Strategy and the COP26 summit reaffirmed the urgency of tackling traffic pollution, which is set to be a big topic of discussion heading into local elections next May.

NatCen led deliberative workshops with almost 100 people living in or near LTNs in the London boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth, and the Lozells district of Birmingham. The workshops provided residents - selected to ensure diversity and a wide range of views on LTNs - with impartial evidence and space for in-depth debate about schemes that local councils have implemented with government funding since last spring.

Following an expert presentation, participants demonstrated a broad understanding of the rationale for LTNs – to provide more space for cycling and walking as well as reducing traffic and pollution on residential streets – and generally expressed openness to efforts designed to meet these goals. However, despite making sense on paper, when reflecting on their own lived experience, they felt the model needed improvement to better translate into reality.

Participants reflected on the information they were given and explored each other’s points of view, borne out of different needs, preferences and values, and came to an agreement on good practice principles for future schemes.

In particular, they recommended:

  • more information and opportunity to have a say about LTN proposals, with efforts made to engage a cross-section of local residents on an ongoing basis;
  • more sensitive implementation, with clearly visible cameras and signage, and grace periods where warnings are given rather than fines;
  • and more investment in other measures, such as cycle lanes and bus services to make it easier to leave the car at home.

Participants welcomed the opportunity to exchange views and understand one another. In a questionnaire after the workshops, around half (31 out of 63 respondents) said they had changed their views on LTNs as a result of taking part, while around half (32 out of 63 respondents) said they had not. Among those who changed their views, around 50% supported LTNs to a greater extent, while around a third were more opposed than when they began deliberations.

The main reasons given for supporting them more were that they felt better informed about the reasons behind the introduction of LTNs and more aware of the environmental, health and safety benefits of LTNs. The main reason given for opposing them more was that they became aware of how they impacted other people, including local businesses and more vulnerable residents.

Dr Ceri Davies, Director of NatCen’s Centre for Deliberative Research, said: “This research strongly reflects the value of citizen engagement for generating solutions to contested and complex policy issues. We hope the insights from this research will support consultation on, and implementation of, successful sustainable transport schemes in the UK in the years to come.”

10 ways to make a success of LTNs, according to residents

Despite the wide range of views on LTNs, residents largely agreed on key recommendations for securing public support for future active travel schemes: 

Consultation and engagement

1. Local authorities to engage with LTN residents, boundary residents and businesses from the very start, and provide relevant information.

2. Any consultation or resident engagement to be on an ongoing basis and ensure that it is inclusive and accessible to all e.g. taking account of low literacy in English or digital exclusion.

3. A credible rationale for LTNs including an explanation of why they are needed in a particular area and the likely benefits e.g. any evidence for the reduction of traffic and improvement in air quality.

Implementation

4. Local authorities to provide a map of all the LTNs across their borough and neighbouring boroughs to help residents navigate them effectively. In addition to this, the introduction of LTNs (and any changes to them) to be updated on sat-nav systems.

5.  LTNs and any new measures to be introduced gradually and include a “grace period” to allow residents time to understand and adjust to new measures, e.g. issuing a warning and not a fine on the first one or two incidents.

6. Exemptions and resident passes to be available for those who need exemptions under the right conditions e.g. Blue Badge holders.

7. Signage and traffic cameras to be clearly visible so that they cannot be missed.

8. Barriers and planters to be more flexible to allow access for key groups such as emergency services.

Complementary measures to promote alternatives to car use

9. Incentivising people to walk (by introducing better street lighting), and cycle (by making roads safer), as well as providing more secure on street bike storage.

10. Better communications around cycling and walking options within LTNs as well as improved public transport services that are more frequent, comfortable, accessible and affordable. 

These recommendations are backed by a range of interest groups who served on an Advisory Group offering guidance and support on designing, implementing and communicating the research. Organisations representing a range of different perspectives were invited to join the Advisory Group.

Quotes from the Advisory Group

Helena Bennett, Senior Policy Adviser, Green Alliance, said: “LTNs could play an important role in helping people rely less on cars, which in turn will help cut emissions, so we really welcome the insights and recommendations of this report. In particular, we’re pleased the report considers the priorities of different demographics; this is key to ensuring LTNs are appropriate and work for everyone. It’s also encouraging that the deliberation process increased awareness of the environmental case for LTNs, even amongst people who don’t fully support their implementation.”

Polly Billington, Chief Executive of UK100, a network of local leaders, said: “This is a welcome report which identifies that, on average, LTNs have made a real improvement in reducing traffic on affected roads, without a big increase in roads nearby. Clearly, the public want to see the evidence that supports LTNs and for sensible tweaks to be made to ensure that they benefit everyone in the community, cutting air pollution and helping us meet our climate change obligations.”

Quotes from the participants

“After taking part last night I feel a lot more educated about LTNs and their purpose. I think they can really help the local community, reduce pollution, asthma in younger children and make the streets and roads nearby to me safer for everybody. I fully support LTNs in my area and other areas but it has to be a coordinated effort, so all the different London boroughs come [together] to get LTNs working properly.” Resident from Wandsworth

“Yes [my views have changed], I was completely supportive of LTNs before this session but now understand from other participants that there are negative impacts of LTNs for some residents who live in the surrounding area.” Resident from Lambeth

“I still believe fundamentally LTNs are a good idea, just the council needed to consult the residents and wider community better.” Resident from Lozells

“I now have a better understanding of LTNs however my view has not changed completely about introducing them. I believe other measures should be implemented before LTNs, particularly in urban areas.” Resident from Wandsworth

“It’s nice in theory but in reality we don’t have all the other measures to go with it that would actually improve how we’re going to get somewhere.” Resident from Lambeth                                                                                            

ENDS

Download the full report (pdf).

With all media enquiries please contact:

Oliver Paynel, Communications Manager, National Centre for Social Research
email: oliver.paynel@natcen.ac.uk, tel: 0207 549 9550, mob: 07734 960 071

Katie Crabb, Head of Marketing and Communications, National Centre for Social Research
email: katie.crabb@natcen.ac.uk, tel: 0207 549 8504

Notes to editors

1. The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to promote a better-informed society through high quality social research (www.natcen.ac.uk).

2. This study was commissioned by the European Climate Foundation and designed to help ensure that lessons are learned from the implementation of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including what factors led to schemes being more or less successful, in order to inform future implementation of LTNs and other similar measures by central government and local authorities.

3. The research was undertaken in two phases – a scoping phase, conducted in August 2021, and online deliberative workshops with residents, conducted between 13-27th September 2021.

4. The scoping phase assessed the broader LTN landscape, involving a review of key national and local documents and media coverage, as well as identifying and focusing on the three case study areas. Areas were selected which had implemented LTNs since May 2020 and that varied in terms of public perceptions towards them. In addition, areas were selected based on the status of their schemes (two areas where one or more schemes were adjusted or cancelled and one where schemes remained in place without significant adjustment), their geographical context (at least one inner city area and one outer urban area with attention paid to proximity to trunk roads and high streets), social diversity (schemes in areas of higher and lower deprivation), different demographics (for example ethnic composition, age) and political leadership (schemes in boroughs run by different political parties). Interviews were conducted with key council personnel in case study areas to gain a deeper understanding of the status of LTN implementation and debate to identify three case study areas which would form the focus of the research.

5. While participants were selected to include a wide range of experiences, demographics and views on LTNs, due to the small sample sizes the findings of the research and the post-workshop questionnaire should not be considered a representative survey of public opinion.

6. The online deliberative workshops were held with residents in each of the case study areas, and a follow-up workshop which brought together a sample of the participants from across all three case study areas to consolidate ideas and recommendations. Deliberative research is valuable for providing insight into public attitudes to policy problems that are contested, complex or uncertain. This approach focuses on uncovering attitudes after participants have been provided with impartial evidence and ‘good conditions’ to discuss the issues in question (versus traditional survey methods that seek to understand current viewpoints).