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Low traffic neighbourhoods

What are low traffic neighbourhoods?

A low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) is a residential area, bordered by main roads (the places where buses, lorries, non-local traffic should be), where "through" motor vehicle traffic is discouraged or removed. Strategic road closures (like bollards or planters) prevent through traffic. Every street is still accessible by vehicle.There are many ways to design a low traffic neighbourhood, but the main principle is that every resident can drive onto their street, get deliveries etc., but it’s harder or impossible to drive straight through from one main road to the next.
The aims of LTNs include:

  • deterring traffic from diverting from congested main roads to residential streets as rat runs
  • making it safer for pedestrians to social distance, for instance by walking in the street where pavements are narrower than the recommended two metres
  • encouraging people to use bikes where possible by reducing traffic that many find intimidating and off-putting for cycle journeys, especially short, local trips
  • encouraging people to walk for short journeys such as local shopping trips rather than taking the car
  • securing gains made during lockdown, such as cleaner air, neighbourliness and reduced noise
  • reducing traffic on residential streets, creating low-traffic corridors across Merton so more people can walk and cycle as part of their daily routine

Becoming a LTN means residents retain motor vehicle access, as do delivery vehicles, visitors and emergency and waste services. The goal is to deter drive-through access by those trying to avoid the main roads. This can be achieved by a variety of means, ranging from ANPR camera enforcement, narrowed access points, banned movements such as ‘no left/right turn’ restrictions, removable bollards, to street end closures. For example this already exists in the residential streets located to the north of Merton High Street.

Why low traffic neighbourhoods?

Merton has too many car journeys that affects:

  • climate change: London’s roads produce at least 20% of its carbon emissions. Vehicles account for nearly a quarter of Merton’s emissions.
  • air pollution: causes 9,500 premature deaths in London per year.
  • road danger: Merton sees 100s of injuries and some deaths on its roads every year.
  • physical inactivity: we are so car-dependent we don’t get the exercise we need. Merton's rate of childhood obesity means that 1 in 3 pupils are obese by the time they leave primary school.

Low traffic neighbourhoods reduce car journeys and boost walking and cycling for all ages. They help combat the climate emergency, reduce road casualties, clean up our air and enable our residents to lead healthier lifestyles.

Kings College found that Waltham Forest’s low traffic neighbourhoods reduced air pollution and boosted healthy active travel significantly – leading to a longer life expectancy for residents.

Children in the area are once again playing on the street, people routinely walk in the middle of the road and it’s so quiet you can hear birdsong.

Better Streets tour of the Walthamstow LTN

It's time to put people before cars

Streets in many residential neighbourhoods are treated as short cuts by drivers avoiding main roads. This through traffic often dominates, as vehicles take priority over all other road users and residents. Sometimes speed and volumes are at unacceptably dangerous levels. But low traffic neighbourhoods reverse the pecking order.
On low traffic streets, kids can play, any age can walk or cycle, neighbours can socialise – and cars are ‘guests’. Once again, communities can flourish as people spend more time on their streets.

Has Merton made this idea up?

Low traffic neighbourhoods are not a new idea. Many countries in Europe no longer design roads where people live or shop to be through routes for motor traffic.

Low traffic neighbourhoods in London (such as Hackney, Waltham Forest, Enfield, Lambeth) are an exception; inspired by Dutch urban planning and Barcelona’s "Superblocks".

In response to coronavirus, the Government and Transport for London are expecting Council‘s to make radical changes to streets to promote a step change in active travel.
Merton already has a number of older road closures that create low traffic neighbourhoods. They were installed primarily to stop rat running after resident complaints.

The difference now is that the context has shifted. We can’t just close off the odd street because residents complain of rat-running. Displacing traffic to the next residential street does not solve the problem.

Therefore a neighbourhood level approach is needed. A neighbourhood approach brings associated health and environmental benefits too.

Examples already in Merton Include

South Wimbledon
Hamilton, Hardy, Nelson, Victory, Trafalgar Hotham, Norman, Grove, Laburnum, Leyton and Milner Roads.

Colliers Wood
East and West of the High Street are all no-through traffic neighbourhoods.

Mitcham
Lewis Road, Love Lane, Mitcham Park, Sandy Lane, Tamworth Park
St Georges Rd and Ashbourne Rd.

Opening up streets for active travel

Low traffic neighbourhoods are ‘active travel engines’ for all ages.
In some residential areas, roads have such high traffic volumes and speeds that many people feel unable to walk or cycle on them, especially children and the elderly.
A network of low-traffic streets would allow anyone to walk or cycle safely – and reach the main road cycle lanes on a bike.

Effects within LTNS

What about the elderly and disabled?

Anyone who needs to travel by car or taxi will still be able to.
The streets will be much safer for a frail or disabled person to cross a road at their own pace, and for those who want to use a bike or trike as a mobility aid. Mobility scooters will be able get through the filters that stop cars.
Reducing traffic has been shown to boost communities in neighbourhoods; low traffic means more people are likely to consider their neighbours as friends. The elderly could especially benefit from a stronger community on their street.

How will I get to my home by car?

Every street will still be accessible by car, emergency services, delivery vehicles and refuse trucks.
To stop through traffic, some residents’ car journeys will be more indirect and may take a few minutes longer. For many people, this inconvenience is a price worth paying to have a quieter and safer neighbourhood and cleaner air. It also discourages people from making very short unnecessary journeys by car. Most trips in Merton are for less than 2km and can easily be walked.
A safer environment will encourage more walking.

How will emergency services get access?

Every street is accessible by emergency vehicles. A bus gate – which may be desirable in some low traffic neighbourhood schemes – is a point that prevents all through-traffic except buses, cycles and emergency services.
In Waltham Forest, emergency services supported the low traffic neighbourhood schemes because they meant fewer injuries in road collisions.

Effects on surrounding main roads

Won’t traffic displacement clog up main roads?

Walthamstow’s first low traffic neighbourhood saw some increases in traffic on surrounding main roads, but the increase was not catastrophic.
One study showed that average bus journeys times were not affected (see Chapter 4 of this Living Streets report) and a Kings College study of the same area suggests that there has not been a decrease in air quality on main roads following the introduction of LTNs (see pages 8-9 of this Waltham Forest report).
Main roads are better suited to absorb traffic than residential neighbourhoods, with a wider carriageway ; its what main roads are for.
We would expect to see some traffic build-up in the early weeks of a trial, followed by a steady decline in traffic as drivers adjust back to similar levels as before.
Not all of the traffic from Walthamstow’s low traffic neighbourhood was displaced onto main roads – many car journeys simply disappeared. 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.
For more information, see Evaporating traffic? Effect of low traffic neighbourhoods on surrounding main roads by London Living Streets.

What if I live on a main road?

Merton Council also supports healthy main roads, which are often just as much places where people live.
It would not be practical to remove motorised traffic altogether from major through routes, but they can be made healthier in a number of ways.

  • a 20mph limit
  • more and better pedestrian crossings
  • better, wider pavements
  • safe space to cycle
  • seating, greenery, shelter.

Low traffic neighbourhoods are a step towards reducing *overall* volumes of motor traffic, not just in neighbourhoods. We hope that the effect they have on encouraging people not to drive short journeys will benefit all of Merton’s roads in the long term.

What about the high street?

Low traffic neighbourhoods bordering high streets will make it easier and more pleasant for people to walk or cycle to their nearest shops.
This should make shopping locally more attractive, rather than driving to shops further afield. There is plenty of evidence that good walking/cycling access to shops is good for business. Coronavirus has led us all to stay local and explore our own neighbourhoods, parks and local shops

How will LTN's be implemented?

Consultation process

The proposed measures will be introduced under an Experimental Traffic Management Order.

  • This allows the Council to implement the measures during the consultation period.
  • It allows the Council to assess and monitor the measures, their effectiveness and impact.
  • It will enable the residents and other road users to experience the LTN measures thereby allowing them to make informed comments.

The restrictions and the Order will be in place for a maximum of 18 months.
Anyone can object and make representations within the first six months (the statutory/formal consultation period) of the experimental Order coming into force and the implementation of the works. Consultees (mainly residents) are encouraged to make their comments at least 3 months after implementation. Consultees will have 6 months to respond to the consultation. All representations will be considered prior to making a final decision which could include its removal, making some modifications or making it permanent. In addition to a newsletter, yellow notices will also be erected within the vicinity of the proposals to inform residents and road users of the start of the restrictions and the statutory consultation. We will invite feedback via the council‘s traffic management webpages which will allow officers to collate and manage data effectively; given the large number of concurrent projects being delivered.

Notification letters sent to residents

Experimental orders