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Let’s embrace safer, healthier streets this World Car Free Day

Darren Shirley's picture
Low Traffic Neighbourhood

We have had many months of lockdown over the summer where families and communities celebrated daily life on their street with less traffic. As we head into Autumn, and World Car Free Day on 22 September, let’s celebrate the benefits we have seen so far this year. 

Lockdown prompted many of us to explore our local areas, especially on foot and by bike. Traffic, noise and air pollution fell, while new cycle lanes and wider pavements sprang up in cities. But in recent weeks, the return to workplaces and schools has seen traffic levels rise in many areas to match – or exceed – pre-lockdown levels.  

The trouble with increased traffic has been made only too clear over lockdown: higher carbon emissions, worse air pollution, and streets that put people off walking and cycling. 

So while some journeys will always have to be made by car or van, much more can be done to make our streets safe and attractive, without rat running through residential streets. One way that local authorities are doing this is by introducing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. These are groups of residential streets where drivers are discouraged or prevented from making through journeys: they can only drive in to access homes or businesses. This can be achieved by blocking the road with planters or bollards (which can be unlocked by emergency services) or using camera-enforced 'gates'.

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods make streets safer, allowing people to walk and cycle who might not otherwise have done so. They improve people’s health by enabling more active travel and cleaning up the local air. And on high streets they can bring benefits to local businesses, increasing footfall and making space for things like customer seating. 

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods have attracted some vocal opposition - a trial scheme in Wandsworth was abandoned after local opposition - but where they’ve been allowed to bed in, the schemes are improving many people’s streets and lives, and are popular with residents. 

The Low Traffic Neighbourhood in Waltham Forest was launched in 2015. Despite some initial opposition it’s now supported by residents and business owners who have seen the wide range of benefits that less traffic has brought. In Walthamstow Village, traffic levels have fallen by over 90 per cent on some streets and by 56 per cent on average. More than 51,000 households in Waltham Forest are no longer living in areas with dangerously high levels of air pollution compared to a decade ago.

Councils should not succumb to the will of a vocal minority who wish to thwart Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. They bring real benefits to people's health and local environments, and are a simple, easy to implement measure needed if our country is to meet the target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This World Car Free Day, let's celebrate efforts to make streets safer, greener and healthier.

Photos © jonchallicom / Living Streets. 

London Cycling Campaign and Living Streets have published a mythbusting Guide to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

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