Our new campaign: Join the Dots

Streets for People are pleased to announce the launch of our new campaign: “Join the Dots”. The meaning of this phrase is threefold:

  • geographical – join up the pockets of safe active transport areas with each other to create routes that enable travel around the entire community 
  • demographical – allow for the different communities living in Levenshulme and Burnage to travel freely without relying on cars and feel connected to each other – especially those regions with low car ownership
  • organisational – enable meaningful change to our transport infrastructure by encouraging links between the councillors, the highways dept, TfGM, and other involved parties

Though we have consistently maintained pressure on the council to provide improvements that extend further, given the surrounding uncertainty, making sure that the first round of modal filters were implemented has been our primary focus to date. While ensuring that this trial is a success and the filters remain in place will remain a core focus, we believe now is the time to extend the focus of our campaign.

Featured in our collective letter calling for improvements in active transport and air quality is the sentence: “We want these positive changes for everyone who lives, works or goes to school in our neighbourhood, of every age, ability and background, whichever street they live on”. This is not a vague platitude, but a statement of intent.

Our campaign now has three formal demands of the council to improve active transport infrastructure in Levenshulme and North Burnage:

  1. Take action on boundary roads
  2. Strengthen the network of modal filters to make safer routes rather than individually filtered streets
  3. Encourage walking and cycling via other measures, including School Streets and walking buses, improvements to pavements, provision for cycle parking, etc.

Please sign our petition [link to be added] to the council to ensure that these changes are meaningfully implemented. We justify the first two of these demands more fully below. For more on School Streets and walking buses, please check our blog.

Boundary Roads – Reframing the Argument

The unfiltered roads that surround Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (the so-called ‘boundary roads’) have dominated much of the discussion around the pros and cons of the schemes, both nationally and here in Levenshulme and Burnage. Fears of traffic being simply “displaced” from the filtered streets has led to the idea that LTNs are incompatible with improvements to these boundary roads, and that support for these schemes means advocating that residents on those roads should continue to suffer.

Appreciating that improvements to boundary roads and side roads are not mutually exclusive, but instead may be mutually reinforcing, is key to understanding this campaign. This position is based on learnings from LTN schemes elsewhere, as well as decades of road traffic research, which we will now briefly outline.

Central to much of the debate has been the concept of ‘traffic evaporation’. This is the observation that if the overall capacity of an area for cars is decreased, then the cars attempting to use that area will decrease, and the traffic overall may not be any worse. This may sound strange at first, but starts to make sense when its opposite is considered: induced demand.

‘Induced demand’ is the phenomenon whereby if the road capacity for motor vehicles is increased, then after a period of adjustment, motor traffic is no better than it was before – there are simply more cars occupying the now increased space. Most of us will have seen road widening or bypass schemes that have created easier car journeys to begin with, but have soon just ended up with a wider road – or just more road – that is just as clogged as its predecessor. Ultimately if you make something easier, more people will do it, and if you make it harder, fewer will attempt it. 

Boundary Roads – Traffic Evaporation and LTNs

Traffic evaporation may seem an abstract concept, but on reflection of the data from schemes elsewhere it is undeniably a real result of low traffic neighbourhood schemes. The original scheme that the first Levenshulme & Burnage LTN proposal referenced frequently, in Waltham Forest, had detailed traffic monitoring that allow a thorough comparison of traffic patterns before and after the scheme was implemented. 

Traffic counts for the filtered area in the Walthamstow Village LTN unsurprisingly show a large decrease (56%) in traffic after implementation of the scheme. However, even including the three roads that surround the scheme, total motor vehicle journeys decreased by 10,000 per day. That is to say that 10,000 journeys per day vanished or “evaporated” from the area – they were not simply “displaced” from within the scheme to the surrounding roads.

It wouldn’t be fair to talk about this scheme without acknowledging that there were increases in traffic on the boundary roads, however for two of the three roads these were small percentages (3% and 11%). The remaining road – starting from much lower initial figures – had a comparable absolute increase but a much larger relative increase (28%). The traffic levels on this road after the scheme were actually significantly lower (more than a 20% decrease) than those measured even earlier, before other changes to road layout that predate the creation of the LTN. It has also been suggested that this road could be improved with a bus gate and/or school street.

When judging these figures it is important to note that traffic has been consistently increasing in recent years, and it is important to take the increases seen in context of what would be expected had no modal filters been installed. Crucially, the increases in traffic between counts on the already busy roads surrounding the Walthamstow Village scheme were either equivalent to or less than the increases in traffic seen across London as a whole over the same time period (11%). The average of the increases on all three boundary roads was 11%, matching the expectation for that time period had the LTN not been implemented.

More recently, the Railton LTN in Lambeth has shown that journeys on the boundary roads actually decreased as a result of the introduction of modal filters to the side streets, an observation that alone demonstrates traffic evaporation in action, and that “traffic displacement”, though easier to understand, does not in fact take place on a large scale.

Streets for People do appreciate that there still remain concerns from residents on unfiltered streets – it is after all true that Levenshulme is not Waltham Forest (or anywhere else), and it will be a challenge to get objective feedback on the scheme here given the sparsity of traffic and pollution monitoring locally – something we have repeatedly raised with the council. Nonetheless, it is important to view our own scheme from the perspective of similar schemes elsewhere, and the evidence that they provide: interventions on the side streets does not cause significant increases in traffic on the boundary roads.

That being the case, it is entirely unnecessary to treat side streets and boundary roads as being in opposition to each other, and there is no reason why we cannot campaign for a final scheme that improves both, through a combination of different measures. In fact, not only are improvements to side and boundary roads not mutually exclusive, but they are mutually reinforcing: to get the best result from either, the other is necessary.

Any traffic calming measures on boundary roads in the absence of filtered zones would only serve to create a “slow traffic neighbourhood”, not a low traffic neighbourhood, since it would do little to discourage unnecessary car journeys with rat running through the side streets remaining an option. Likewise, the creation of a filtered neighbourhood in itself does not create safe walking and cycling routes, since these would inevitably end when they meet a boundary road. The two must therefore go hand in hand.

Viewed this way, it is clear that frustration at the lack of currently planned interventions on boundary roads ought to lead us to campaign for measures in addition to the existing filters, not instead of them. This is especially true in the context of unlocking further funding from the Mayor’s Challenge Fund by demonstrating that the current installations can serve as part of the solution to our local transport woes, and that there is a real local appetite for change.

Proposals for boundary roads are discussed in detail in a separate post (coming soon).

Safe Routes, Not Just Safe Streets

We should remind ourselves at this point that the goal of the LTN scheme is to create safe routes through entire areas, and not just individual islands of safe streets that do not meaningfully link amenities to each other. With this in mind, it is worth revisiting the decisions behind the placement and coordination between the filters that have been installed.

Although Streets for People do not believe that any scheme that fails to match the scope of the original proposals cannot yield real improvements, we do note that the current implementation has left many through routes through narrow side streets open, and in some cases has even created new rat runs down previously quiet streets. The original proposals created a series of zones with a single entry and exit point, with each filter working in tandem. This design concept falls apart if the filters are treated individually as the council have unfortunately done.

The removal of key filters from the original plan – even while retaining the majority in any one zone – has created ‘leaky’ zones that still allow cars to rule at the expense of other road users. In other words, some of the installed filters are ineffective due to a lack of coordination with others that are missing. These issues must be resolved if we are to create a proper scheme that serves the needs of those who rely on safe routes to travel without the use of a car.

Proposals for changes to the filtered ‘zones’ are discussed in a separate post. (coming soon!)