Liveable neighbourhoods

A liveable neighbourhood (LN), also known as “low-traffic neighbourhood” or “LTN”, is an area roughly one-half to one square kilometre where people are better able to enjoy their street and public realm due to a diminished presence of the automobile.

Although LNs might use speed humps, chicanes, signalised crossings and other ‘traffic calming’ measures to try to tame the car’s influence on our residential areas, they go significantly further than this:

  • In an area where one or more roads are used as a cut-through by out-of-area traffic, the LN will design-out such cut-through traffic through the use of modal filters. A modal filter is a physical barrier to motorised traffic, permeable to cycles, pedestrians, wheelchairs, prams, etc. The best practice is to design filters that also serve as pocket parks, with benches, planters and other amenities, ideally whose custody is handed over to local residents. An LN leaves absolutely no route for through traffic within its perimeter.
  • All LNs can contain additional inducements to reward residents for their use of sustainable modes of transport. One example is the on-street cycle hanger. These reclaim a piece of carriageway normally utilised for car parking and install a car-sized, lockable fully enclosed cycle storage unit (typically storing six bikes). Another example is plentiful, dedicated car-club parking bays in the LN. Experience shows that one car-club vehicle replaces eight privately owned vehicles.
  • LNs can include “B” roads and high streets. If bus access is required on such routes, it can be accommodated through the use of a ‘bus gate’. This is an ANPR camera that fines motorists for using the route in disregard of clearly posted warnings. These interventions are transformational. By removing on-street parking, they give big chunks of carriageway back to the traders on the high street and to the community to enjoy their high street. Great examples include Orford Road and Francis Road in Waltham Forest, London.

Background

Many of us and/or our parents grew up at a time when it was normal for children to play in the street and to cycle for school. It may also have been the case that many adults used the cycle to get to and from their workplace. Main roads in Oxford as recently as the 1970s, for example, were full of bicycles at rush-hour.

As the years have gone by, car ownership has increased dramatically and so to the proportion of journeys made by private car. The influence on our neighbourhoods has been dramatic. One indicator is the prevalence of journeys taken by bicycle:

Another indicator is the cost to social connections. This is not to say communities today are not thriving. It is only to say that social connections in heavily-trafficked residential streets are shown to be less than what they would be on less-trafficked streets:

Liveable neighbourhoods today

Today, the best examples of liveable neighbourhoods are in the outer-London borough of Waltham Forest. Visiting this area is a must for anyone keen on the LN concept. To put it succinctly: Seeing is believing. Have a start with this video from the Waltham Forest Council — bearing in mind that LNs are just one element of the Enjoy Waltham Forest programme.

OLS commissioned a study in 2019 by the officer in charge of the Enjoy Waltham Forest programme to cost an LN application in one neighbourhood in the east of Oxford. The result is a document you can use to get a sense of costings and design features you might want locally. See https://oxlivsts.org.uk/school-run/costing-a-low-traffic-neighbourhood-in-oxford/

COVID-19

LNs suit the need to maintain physical distancing, by giving people more space in their public realm. They also reduce the impression of the private car, thereby improving our air quality. Air pollution is thought to be a contributor to vulnerability in COVID-19 cases.

Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority in our county, has embraced the LN concept. It has passed a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) for Oxford, with LNs an explicit pillar. The county’s Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP) contains LNs as an explicit concept. For communities that want to push ahead with LN deployment, the key is to work with the local authority. Develop your LN plan locally and work with the council to progress it to consultation stage, and then work hard to ensure that your neighbourhood is informed and ready to return a positive consultation response. OLS can help!

A final word

LNs are a step-change in how we use our public realm. They confront a pattern that has been in process for decades. For that very reason, they will always meet resistance. There are ways to manage this process, largely learned from experience in Waltham Forest and elsewhere. In preparation for your own discussions locally, you might want to avail yourself of the myth-busters page written by the We Support Waltham Forest Mini Holland campaign: https://wesupportmh.wordpress.com/myths/