The concept of ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ is based on closing local routes to through traffic, making car journeys inconvenient for locals and forcing them into ‘active travel’, like walking, cycling and public transport. As people abandon their cars, so the mantra goes, traffic simply ‘evaporates’. Problem solved!
At Keep Highbury Moving we believe this is a draconian solution. Proponents make much of ‘Dutch schemes’ and the first LTN implemented in greater London at Waltham Forest. But Holland isn’t Highbury, and outer London isn’t comparable to inner city Islington. LTNs won’t work here. Here’s why:
There is little scope in Highbury for traffic to ‘evaporate’:
Most traffic in our neighbourhood is commercial (60%), not private cars or taxis (based on DfT analysis) - targeting residents for active travel does nothing to address the bulk of necessary journeys made by businesses and tradespeople.
Islington has very low levels of private vehicle ownership, with less than a quarter of households having access to a private car. This is the lowest level in London excepting the City - Most people who don’t require cars, don’t have them. And those that do typically need them for essential purposes given the costs and restrictions already in place.
Islington has some of the highest levels of active travel in London, exceeding (at 81%) the Mayor’s target for 80% of journeys to be by walking, cycling or public transport - this reflects our excellent public transport links and the fact that the bulk of younger and physically able residents already choose to walk and cycle where they can.
There is nowhere for displaced traffic to go:
Islington is more densely populated that Bogota, Beijing and Delhi. Indeed our population density that is 3 times the London average (according to the Cripplegate Foundation 2019) - blocking local routes without evaporating traffic only displaces it onto already congested main-roads, as evident in the gridlock that has been observed since the scheme’s operation.
We have mostly single lane arterial roads that struggle to handle traffic volumes - unlike for example LTNs that have been implemented in some parts of Barcelona, where grid pattern blocks are surrounded by multi-lane boulevards with ample capacity. ‘Improvements’ like the pedestrianisation of Highbury Corner and extension of bus lanes on Holloway Road have further reduced the capacity of our main roads in recent years.
Congestion will massively worsen after lockdown and full LTN implementation - LTNs have been rushed in using Experimental Traffic Orders at a time when traffic levels are suppressed by up to 40% during lockdown. The full plan however envisages 20 such schemes in Islington alone. The combined impact of LTNs and a return to normal traffic has not been modelled by the council.
The Highbury LTNs are driving up distance travelled, journey times and pollution:
LTNs are forcing traffic to make much longer journeys – Blocking neighbourhood routes forces local residents and visitors alike to take circuitous routes, sometimes to get from one end of a partitioned street to another. The upshot will be more miles driven, not less, flying in the face of the Council’s stated aim of reducing this by over 15%.
Congestion is lengthening journey times for all road users, including buses - since the introduction of the Highbury West and Highbury Fields LTNs there has frequently been standing traffic on Highbury Barn, Blackstock Road, Holloway Road and around Finsbury Park. Getting around the borough including ‘actively’ on public transport, is already significantly more challenging for local residents.
Stationary traffic is adding more pollution on those roads already badly affected - LTNs are effectively creating High Traffic Neighbourhoods on our arterial roads, with empty streets inside the blockaded neighbourhoods and bumper-to-bumper traffic on the periphery. These streets were already our most polluted, and are now far more unpleasant places for those unfortunate enough to live alongside us, and for the rest of us who work or shop there.
Why Walthamstow’s ‘Mini Holland’ isn’t
the right model:
As a solution to Islington’s traffic problems the Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) in Waltham Forest is frequently held up as the model we should be aiming for. Since its introduction in 2014 much traffic inside the restricted zone has ‘evaporated’ and it is hailed as a ’20 minute neighbourhood’. Here, the able bodied can readily make essential journeys without the need for a car. Quieter streets have also led to ‘green gentrification’, benefitting more affluent residents. Property prices in Walthamstow have risen by 117% since 2010, outstripping anywhere else in the capital.
But will our Council’s plans for 20 LTNs cause the traffic to evaporate here as well? And is this ‘villagisation’ an appropriate goal for us? As London’s most densely populated borough, with an inner-city location and a markedly different demographic, there are plenty of reasons to doubt the ‘mini holland’ model will work in Islington. Here are five obvious differences:
There isn’t the same scope to reduce car ownership as there is in outer London locations – Car ownership in Islington, at 32%, is amongst the lowest in London already. By comparison, 54% of Waltham Forest residents own their own vehicle.
We use our cars only about half as much as the residents of Waltham Forest do - Islington residents drive an estimated 393m kms a year, compared with 734m kms in Waltham Forest. In addition, we have reduced car use far more substantially, by 18% (between 2001 and 2017) compared with Waltham Forest residents’ more modest 5% reduction.
Our inner-city position means that a lot more of our traffic comes from outside of the borough – This is simply a feature of Islington being adjacent to the City and West End, and more centrally located than London’s leafier outer suburbs. Delivery drivers, tradespeople, commuters and visitors all converge on inner London and these vehicles make up a greater proportion of our road users.
Those that can in Islington already widely embrace ‘active travel’ – 82% of the journeys made by local residents are classified as sustainable (i.e. are on foot, by bike or by public transport). This exceeds the Mayor’s target, and reflects our excellent rail, tube and bus services. The equivalent figure in Waltham Forest is only 65%.
There is nowhere for displaced traffic to go – A strategy that forces traffic onto our arterial roads, which are already over polluted and over crowded, only makes matters worse when our arterial roads typically include long stretches that are two lanes and cannot be widened.
Overall then, we can’t be nearly so confident of traffic evaporation here, because inner-city Islington is really quite a different place to Waltham Forest. We already rely far less on cars for non-essential journeys , and our central location means that we will always attract a heavy element of through traffic.
Instead of traffic simply disappearing, it’s more likely that fully adopting LTNs across the borough will cause vehicle miles to increase, as residents and visitors alike are forced out onto circuitous routes around restricted areas, often in gridlocked traffic, to get to destinations that are sometimes a few hundred metres away under a more direct route.
Nobody is arguing that traffic, congestion and pollution need to be managed. We are however arguing that traffic, here in Islington, can’t simply be abolished by imposing LTNs as an ill-fitting, poorly thought through ‘nuclear option’. There are plenty of alternative solutions to achieve a better balance. But there needs to be a recognition that some level of car use will always be a necessary part of life at the heart of a vibrant, thriving metropolis.
As for appropriateness, LTNs are already dividing our community (metaphorically as well as physically). We see leafier enclaves, now mostly devoid of traffic, enhancing the village feel that has benefitted some homeowners of Walthamstow. But roads along the periphery, inhabited often by less affluent members of the community, are choked in pollution and bumper to bumper traffic, further embedding inequalities in one of the UKs most deprived neighbourhoods.
All statistics referred to above pre-date the Highbury LTNs.