What is a low-traffic neighbourhood?
A low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN) also known as a liveable neighbourhood is a local area where people are better able to walk, cycle, scoot, wheelchair, and enjoy their street and public realm due to a lower level of through traffic. Shortcutting traffic is prevented through the use of modal filters and bus gates. An LTN leaves no route for through traffic within its perimeter and is usually bounded by main roads and other features such as railway lines or rivers.
A modal filter is a physical barrier to motorised traffic, but with gaps that allow people cycling walking or in wheelchairs, buggies etc through. These barriers are usually planters or bollards placed on the highway at carefully considered points. Bus gates similarly allow only buses and taxis, cyclists etc to pass along a road whilst other general traffic is restricted. Both types of restriction can be enforced by police and are backed up by legal orders.
Oxfordshire County Council is hoping to introduce these LTNs across the county where there is local demand. For Cowley the introduction will be in two phases. The proposal in phase one is for the introduction of modal filters at particular points across Church Cowley, Temple Cowley and Florence Park. This is being done as part of Covid-19 emergency planning to encourage more walking and cycling as we ease out of lockdown. This is the “low-traffic” element of the work. Phase two would be more about creating the “liveable neighbourhood” aspect. Through careful placement of the filters this can create opportunities to create pocket parks, with benches, planters and other amenities, ideally whose custody is handed over to local residents.
Why is the council doing this here?
Oxford has very high bus use levels and current Government guidelines on Covid-19 social distancing say that buses must only carry 20% of their normal loadings. This means that as we ease out of lockdown and people need to travel around Oxford once more, alternatives such as cycling and walking need to be considered. If every bus user who owns a car makes the car their first choice for getting about then Oxford will be at a standstill. Temple Cowley, Church Cowley and Florence Park have been chosen as these neighbourhoods have high bus use and are on main cycle routes. The area also suffers from many out-of-area drivers taking shortcuts on our residential streets. This currently makes cycling and walking appear dangerous and unappealing. County Councillor John Sanders wants to make this area a really great place to live and is very supportive of this initiative.
When will this happen?
If the funding comes through and there are no problems along the way then this first phase could be in place by the end of July or August 2020. We will update this website as we get news of progress.
What!! Why am I only just hearing about this?
Oxfordshire County Council would normally take a lot longer to introduce a scheme like this, with wide community engagement. Because this is a legal requirement from Central Government as part of the Covid-19 emergency planning, the Council is having to compress work that might normally take two years down to a few weeks. Community groups such as Oxfordshire Liveable Streets are therefore working hard to help to spread the word. Please talk to your neighbours too and tell them about this website.
This sounds good in theory but what if I don’t like it in reality, are we stuck with it for ever?
No, everything is being created using temporary or experimental road traffic regulation orders. Because of the emergency nature of the scheme the County Council is not undertaking its usual very thorough level of consultation. This is why the community group Oxfordshire Liveable Streets is working hard to get the message out to people. Once the scheme has settled down the County Council will undertake monitoring and a proper review, taking into account what residents think over the next year to 18 months.
Will I be able to get to my home in my car and how will I get out and about?
All the streets will continue to be fully accessible. The difference will be that whilst currently in your car you may have a choice of several different routes to leave your neighbourhood you will most likely only have one. It will be like living in a cul-de-sac with all the benefits that brings.
Won’t I be inconvenienced when driving my car?
For the sake of a moderate inconvenience of driving your car say around three sides of a small square instead of one for some of your journeys, you will get to live in a neighbourhood that is safe and quiet with cleaner air and feels much more like a neighbourhood for people. A lot of people have said that they enjoyed the roads around Cowley being quiet during lockdown and would like this to continue.
Will I be able to park my car? Will there still be a need for a controlled parking zone (CPZ)?
All roads will still be fully accessible and parking won’t change as a result of this scheme. In the future, on-street car parking is likely to improve with the introduction of Controlled Parking Zones to prevent outside commuter parking. CPZs address a different set of issues locally and are being introduced across the city as a separate strand of work on a less urgent timescale to this. The County Council will be undertaking a full consultation on this at the time.
Hang on a minute. Doesn’t this all just move the problem? Won’t the main roads get gridlocked, they’re bad enough as it is!
By making the local streets safer and quieter, people making short journeys are more likely to walk and cycle. Evidence from London LTNs shows that they have very little impact on overall traffic levels around the perimeter. Buses on adjacent roads where such schemes have been implemented in London have kept to their original timetables. The County Council are actively considering future plans for our main roads through the “Connecting Oxford” proposals. These would reduce traffic on Iffley Road, Church Cowley Road, Between Towns Road, Oxford Road and Hollow Way.
What if it’s difficult to turn out of my street onto a main road?
Over the medium-term traffic on the main roads is predicted to fall from pre-Covid-19 levels once the Connecting Oxford plans are implemented, especially with the introduction of bus gates in the city centre and on Hollow Way. It should therefore generally become easier for residents to enter and exit the neighbourhoods. If there are any problems, the Council will see what can be done. The Council also have future plans to improve some of the junctions in Cowley.
I already live in a cul-de-sac so why should I be inconvenienced with no benefit to me?
It’s really great living in a cul-de-sac. Ask any estate agent! LTNs mean that more local people get to live in a cul-de-sac too. It means that when you are out and about locally you get to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere that you currently only get to enjoy in your immediate vicinity. It will be quieter and air quality will improve. It will be safer for children to play outside and get to schools and parks by scooter, cycle or walking.
What will stop people driving faster if there is less traffic on our local roads?
Research suggests that drivers who are taking shortcuts through an area to get from A to B go faster than local residents. With more cyclists and pedestrians around and access only streets the character of the street will change; People will feel safer and are more likely to take up more of the carriageway when walking or cycling. With public realm improvements such as planters, benches and different road surfaces this will change the character of the street. These changes also change driver behaviour. There has been an overall speed reduction in LTN streets in Waltham Forest in London.
Won’t my local shops close down without passing trade?
Evidence from Waltham Forest and other research shows that shops stay vibrant as more people find walking locally enjoyable and are more likely to shop locally. In fact, shopping streets in Waltham Forest have thrived with the addition of local markets bringing in new customers.
Will I still be able to get deliveries made?
Yes, all of the streets will still have full access. Those local businesses that receive deliveries or have car parks will still be able to operate as they do currently. Ensuring there are places where delivery vehicles can turn will be considered by the County Council engineers.
What about parents who have to drop off school children by car?
The introduction of LTNs means that all streets will still be fully accessible so parents will still be able to drop children off at school by car. In some instances, it may be more practical for parents to park further away and walk a short way. Hopefully for people living locally it will become evident to them that walking and cycling to school will be much safer and a great way to chat and get some regular exercise.
What is a bus gate and will it work?
A bus gate is a type of modal filter which allows buses and taxis and cyclists to go along a road but not general traffic. This can be done with signage only or with the addition of automatic number plate recognition cameras. Bus gates give bus users a time advantage over general traffic and thus make bus travel more appealing. Their use in the Cowley scheme enables the number 16 bus route to stay as it is. Initially the bus gates here will be signage only. As part of the review in a year’s time the additional use of cameras will be considered by the County Council.
Will the buses have to be diverted? Will the bus stops stay in the same place?
The buses will still be following their same routes and all of the bus stops will stay in the same place.
What about using a taxi?
Taxis and private hire vehicles will be able to pass through bus gates lawfully. For other streets, as with all other drivers they will have full access but not be able to pass through modal filters.
What about emergency services?
Because all of the streets will be accessible by vehicle then emergency services will still be able to get about. In Waltham Forest in London which has a half-dozen highly successful LTNs, the emergency services have not had problems with the new road layouts.
Will my dustbins still get emptied?
Yes the scheme will be implemented taking into account the requirements for refuse vehicle movements.
Isn’t the country broke? Is there enough money to do this?
The Department for Transport is providing emergency funding for this scheme as a way to help with social distancing in high public transport use areas. The money is being provided in two phases. This scheme is part of phase one. The second phase will only be provided if the first money is used to implement schemes within eight weeks of the County Council receiving the money. The second phase will be used elsewhere across the city and wider county. Funding to improve the public realm will come from local funding at a later date, yet to be determined.
Where will the modal filters be located? Can I suggest an alternative location for a filter?
You can see the suggested locations of modal filters here. Because of the tight timelines involved, it will not be possible to do a consultation before the filters go in. Instead, the filters will go in, and people will be given a chance to experience them, and then will be asked about them. If you see a particular problem with a filter location, contact your county councillor now.