Low traffic neighbourhoods in London are not mainly introduced in more affluent areas, researchers find

New research into recently installed low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) in London shows that contrary to one of the chief arguments deployed by opponents of such schemes, which are aimed at curbing traffic in residential areas, they are not implemented primarily in wealthier areas, thereby displacing motor vehicles to less affluent ones.

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Across Greater London, people residing in the most deprived areas, according to Census and other data, were found to be nearly three times more likely to live in a new LTN than residents of the city’s least deprived areas, researchers found – although there were big variations by borough.

Led by the University of Westminster’s Professor of Transport Dr Rachel Aldred, who is also Director of its Active Travel Academy, the results of the research have been published in a paper entitled Equity in New Active Travel Infrastructure: A Spatial Analysis of London’s New Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.

In the paper, researchers assessed the impact of LTNs introduced by boroughs across the capital in response to the coronavirus crisis between March and September last year, and which were still in place at the end of October, typically using modal filters such as planters and bollards.

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“Such approaches to traffic management are traditional in the Netherlands, but relatively new in London and other global cities such as Barcelona,” researchers said.

“LTNs are often controversial, with one criticism being that they are implemented in affluent areas and hence benefit richer residents.

“London represents an excellent opportunity to investigate the extent to which these rapidly introduced schemes have so far been equitably distributed.”

They matched LTN locations, and the roads forming their boundaries with Census output areas (OAs), which according to the Office for National Statistics reflect “the lowest geographical level at which census estimates are provided,” and comprising around 300 residents.

Researchers were then able to analyse “the extent to which LTN implementation was associated with age, ethnicity, disability, employment and car ownership (Census 2011) and small-area deprivation (Index of Multiple Deprivation 2019).”

Analysis showed that “across London as a whole, people in the most deprived quarter of OAs were 2.7 times more likely to live in a new LTN, compared to Londoners in the least deprived quarter.

“While overall Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people were slightly more likely than White Londoners to live in a new LTN, this varied by ethnic group.

“Specifically, Black Londoners were somewhat more likely, and Asian Londoners somewhat less likely than White people to live in a new LTN. Car-free households were more likely to live in a new LTN.”

“Wide variation” in the results was found when analysing them by individual borough – referred to in the paper as “districts” – however. 

“In the median (‘typical’) district, people in more deprived areas were more likely to live in an LTN than people in less deprived areas, suggesting that, on average, individual districts have prioritised their more deprived areas,” researchers said.

“However, in the median district, BAME residents were slightly less likely to live in an LTN than White residents. Finally, at the micro level, residents living in LTNs were demographically similar to neighbours living in OAs that touched an LTN boundary road.

“We conclude that LTN implementation has been broadly equitable at the city level and at the micro level, but not always at the district level,” they said.

“Such metrics should be used in policy and research to monitor and improve the equity of active travel interventions.”

Commenting on the findings of the research in the Guardian – whose article includes graphic analysis of the results – London Cycling Campaign Infrastructure Campaigner Simon Munk said it “adds to the growing body of evidence that demonstrates how important low-traffic neighbourhoods are to improving Londoners’ lives.

“The boroughs and the mayor must ensure all of these measures are delivered equitably, and this research shows that most schemes delivered in the last year have been.”

He added: “The damaging impact of unnecessary motor traffic across London is felt unequally, and schemes like these help address this.”