Along for the Ride #147
What Can US Cities Learn from Sustainable Transport Initiatives in London?
Heya friends, happy Friday!
Before we dig into this week’s guest author, Abigail, I wanted to call your attention to how the collective “we” can be of support to the Buffalo Black community this week (and moving forward). Last Saturday, a young, white gunman opened fire at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighbourhood, killing at least ten people. I’d encourage you to consider how you can take action to support the Black community in Buffalo and your city. Some resources below:
A fantastic twitter thread on organizations in Buffalo you can donate to (as you are able).
Consider donations to your local Black Lives Matter chapter, showing up at vigils being held in your city, and sharing resources with your friends, family, and other networks.
And of course! The more education we have on white supremacy, how it spreads, and how White folks (myself, and a substantial portion of my newsletter subscribers included!) continue to uplift systems of injustice, the better equipped we are to recognize when we are perpetuating systems of harm and oppression. I am personally committing to re-reading Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy this month, join me?
What Can US Cities Learn from Sustainable Transport Initiatives in London?
I’m Abigail. I became an urbanist only a few years ago when I moved to a dense city for the first time. I’m from small town Oklahoma where this is very radical. Now I’m a Transport Planner working on (mostly) active travel projects across the UK. Prior to this, I worked in policy roles for several years before studying a Master’s in Transport and City Planning at UCL in London.
On Monday, the USDOT announced a new Safe Streets and Roads for All Grant of $5B ($1B in the fiscal year 2022) for cities and towns to implement road safety infrastructural, behavioural and operational safety activities to support Secretary Pete’s Vision Zero plan. Across the Atlantic, the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) offered a similar allocation of £2B ($2.5B) for local authorities to improve roads for cyclists and pedestrians in May of 2020 in an attempt to reduce traffic and air pollution as people avoided public transport.
The Emergency Active Travel Fund, a subset of the DfT’s £2B allocation, allowed local authorities throughout the country to implement new cycleways, wider pavements, safer cycle crossings and some Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) as a response to the pandemic. LTNs close some residential streets to through traffic, or “rat-running” through physical barriers or ANPR cameras. Across London’s 32 Boroughs of varying socioeconomic statuses and political leanings, 160 LTNs were proposed since the 2020 travel fund, of which, 97 LTNs were implemented.
As many of you will know, the LTNs were vehemently opposed by some vocal residents, including the very powerful black cab lobby and even some disability advocacy groups. The London Borough of Lambeth was taken to court for its alleged disregard of disabled residents, while anti-LTN groups popped up around the capital including, Horrendous Hackney Road Closures and OneGreenwich. One transport campaigner called LTNs the “biggest transport controversy of the century”. In response to the opposition, some Boroughs removed most of their LTNs altogether, while others gave exemptions to taxi drivers and blue badge holders, and another to all residents in the Borough, undermining the LTN altogether. In total, 27 schemes have been cancelled and another 29 have been paused or suspended.
But despite the vocal opposition, LTNs in London have a long – and overwhelmingly successful – history. LTNs were first introduced in London in the 1970s, some of which were spurred by protests against through traffic. In 2014, three Boroughs, including my home of Waltham Forest, in partnership with the Westminster University’s Active Travel Academy (ATA) built segregated cycle lanes, improved pedestrian crossing and introduced road filters to vehicles to reduce through traffic. Early research from the ATA shows that people in high-dose areas walked and cycled an average of 41 minutes more per week as well as a 20-year health economic benefit of £724M ($900M).
More recent studies of LTNs in Lambeth and Southwark in south London show a decrease in traffic volumes across the LTN and only a slight increase in traffic volumes on the boundary road. Cycling volumes increased by an average of 63% and, over time, car ownership is shown to decrease among residents of the LTN. Another study found that LTNs are more likely to benefit communities of high deprivation, despite claims that LTNs exist only to benefit the rich.
If the local elections across Britain last week were a litmus test of public support for sustainable transport initiatives, then there is at least some support for LTNs across London. In Southwark, the pro-LTN Labour candidates emerged victorious over anti-LTN opponents. In Ealing, the Labour party increased its majority despite removing some LTNs ahead of the election and replacing the council leader. Meanwhile, pro-LTN candidates elected in Westminster could open the possibility of a pedestrianised Oxford Circus. The Chief Executive of the think tank Centre for London, Nick Bowes, called LTNs “the dog that didn’t bark” in London’s council elections.
As of December 2020, a social media analytics tool found that “20 of the most engaged Twitter users were responsible for half of the total for and against activity about LTNs.” Unsurprisingly, black cab drivers made up 8% of the 120 most active anti-LTN accounts. Maybe the dog barks, but it doesn’t bite.
Over the last two years, LTNs have divided local officials along party lines with most Labour candidates in favour and Tory candidates opposed. But unlike in the US where Fox News depicts Secretary Buttigeig with devil horns, active travel initiatives in the UK aren’t inherently partisan. The Mini-Holland scheme was announced by then-mayor Boris Johnson who also prioritised cycle superhighways to connect Outer London to the City Centre. He is also (partly) responsible for the Santander bike share scheme, referred to by most as “Boris Bikes”.
In January of this year, Boris announced the new government agency Active Travel England headed by former Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman to help the country reach its goal of 50% of journeys in the country to be made by cycle or foot by 2030. This is a level not even achieved by our notoriously sustainable Dutch neighbours (which has a nationwide active mode share of about 44%).
The unique partisan divide of LTNs in the UK makes it comparable to, well… American policy. What then can US cities learn from the past two years of London’s rapid implementation of active travel schemes? First, we can look at the London Borough of Haringey which has been slow on the uptake and is only rolling out its first LTNs in June of 2022. Haringey is incorporating exemptions to the scheme from the beginning, aimed at inclusivity of people with disabilities and potentially those with mental health challenges or severe ‘invisible disabilities’ whose conditions would be made worse by sitting in the car for a longer period. They’re likely hoping this will limit opposition from disability advocates and quell legal challenges.
More importantly, infrastructure works - even if that infrastructure is diluted to appease the public. Hammersmith and Fulham, referenced above as the Borough that allows all residents of the Borough to drive through the LTN, still limits vehicles driving through the Borough from rat-running. There has still been a significant traffic reduction on LTN roads, and public opinion of LTNs went from 87% in opposition to 91% in favour of the schemes.
There is hope for Londoners and cities looking to LTNs to form their own policies. Local authorities keep pressing on with traffic reduction schemes. 70% of Hackney’s streets are now considered LTNs, and as exemption policies become more inclusive of those with disabilities, opposition is fading. Businesses are seeing the benefit of pedestrianised streets. Similar School Streets schemes and new cycle lanes, alongside the LTNs are slowly turning London into a safe cycling city.
If you have questions about this piece or want to learn more, please reach out via email (email@example.com) or Twitter (@abigaildbaker).
See you next week for another edition!