Urban car drivers are seeing a sharp rise in road closures as local councils rush to spend some of the Government’s £2billion funding allocated to boosting cycling and walking. Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes, where selected roads are closed to through traffic, have been pushed through by many local authorities under emergency Covid-19 legislation. While cycling associations welcome the changes, local community action groups are protesting the lack of consultation and additional traffic and pollution pushed onto neighbouring streets.
The London Cycling Campaign describes their vision of an LTN for residents: “With through traffic gone, the streets in a low traffic neighbourhood see dramatic reductions in motor traffic levels and often speeds too. And it’s not just the passing traffic that tends to go down. While residents in a low traffic neighbourhood can still do all their journeys by car if they want or need to, some trips will be a bit more circuitous. This, combined with far quieter, safer-feeling streets, enables residents to switch to more healthy ways of getting around, particularly for short journeys.
In the London Borough of Lambeth, which received £2,639,000 of government funding towards emergency traffic measures, several neighbourhood groups are voicing criticism of rushed road closures. The OneOval Resident’s Group released a statement calling the LTN scheme near the Oval “botched” and a risk to the health of children on the roads which now carry all the displaced traffic. They raise urgent concerns about access and obstructions for emergency services, pointing out that the roads that now carry displaced traffic are vital routes for ambulances travelling to and between the four major South London teaching hospitals. Elsewhere in the borough, residents of the Ferndale Road LTN have been posting videos on social media of idling traffic and heavy congestion day and night which is causing cars, cyclists, and motorcyclists to mount pavements in a bid to get through.
Opponents of LTNs have raised concerns that if roads carrying displaced traffic are at a standstill now and public transport is full due to social-distancing measures, how much worse it will be in the Autumn when students return to school and more people are travelling to work.
In Enfield, a local action group sprang to life when bollards and planters sprang up overnight, blocking vehicle access for 13 streets without prior consultation. The only way for residents to access their streets is to join the A406 urban motorway, “joining the masses on the North Circular”, as one neighbour described it.
OnLondon magazine describes the Enfield closures as: “A rush job, apparently to meet the strict requirements of the funding — made available in London to promote “active travel” and counter the gridlock threat of a “car-led” recovery by reallocating road space for cycling and walking and, in this case, tackling rat-runs.”
Transport for London received £45 million from the Government for councils to spend on emergency transport measures in the wake of Covid-19 – as of July nearly half the funding has been allocated.
Outside of London, several towns and cities, such as Bath, appear to be carrying out a detailed consultation process with residents prior to implementing road closures.
In Bristol, after 6 years of lobbying by local businesses, one of Bristol’s most historic streets has been pedestrianised. The businesses of King Street, home of the Old Vic and some of Bristol’s best-loved pubs, bars and restaurants, successfully campaigned for the cobbled street to become a car-free space.