Birmingham and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN)
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods have become a controversial topic in Birmingham over the past six months. There were LTN’s in Birmingham already. like this one on Tessall Lane, but they had gone under the radar. Covid 19 led to the emergency transport active travel fund. This fund from central government was designed to fund measures for walking and cycling to be installed quickly. Motor traffic levels were drastically lower than normal in March and so this was the perfect opportunity to encourage active travel, with public transport being off limits to all but key workers. Prior to March Birmingham City Council (BCC) had their own Emergency Travel Plan to encourage, public transport, as well as walking and cycling. Birmingham suffers from the premature deaths of 900 people a year from air pollution. BCC had been mandated to reduce these premature deaths, through the forthcoming clean air zone and through other measures to discourage car use and encourage other modes of transport.
One of the measures that have been enacted to try to reduce car use and encourage people to travel differently are LTN’s. Generally speaking a LTN restricts access to motor traffic on residential roads to access only, so cars can’t use them to drive through on their way to other places. Those that live their can still park their cars where they live. If the roads are quieter, they become more attractive to walk and cycle on, for children to play on the roads that they live. Without LTN residential roads can often be congested and intimidating places to be as car drivers dominate them. Speeding is a common problem on residential roads. LTN’s are designed to stop this from happening, whilst being designed to allow the Emergency Services access when required.
The evidence on how successful LTN’s have been is scarce. We have little academic research. The Active Travel Academy have conducted some research on the impact of LTN’s in London with some encouraging results. They did not find that congestion was displaced to other nearby roads and that everybody who lived in an near a LTN benefitted. The research from Professor Rachel Aldred and Ersilia Verlinghier also suggested that there is a majority of people who are in favour of LTN’s, but the vocal minority from the motor lobby are louder than the majority. Plenty of more research needs to be conducted.
Kings Heath LTN
Kings Heath is an area that I know well. I went to school in this suburb and still frequently visit. The area does not have an active passenger railway station and so modal movement is almost completely through the road network. Congestion is a serious problem in Kings Heath and local residents have complained of speeding drivers and congested residential roads as commuters try to avoid congestion by using residential roads, bringing additional congestion to these roads instead. As elsewhere LTN’s have proved to be controversial in Kings Heath with ferocious arguments from both sides. A couple of weekends ago I cycled to Kings Heath to check out some of the newly installed LTN infrastructure. Some local residents may not want a LTN on their road as it could add minutes to their journey as they may have to follow a different route in and out of the road.
As a cycled down Kings Heath High Street, I noted how each road that has a LTN on it has a sign that says it is a dead end to motor traffic on it. This means drivers are warned before they turn onto the road of a LTN. Silver Street has a Lidl on it with a car park so the LTN starts just past the Lidl. I thought it worked incredibly well. I could see walkers and cyclists casually using the road space of the LTN side of the street. I also observed a steady stream of car drivers get to the bollards and have to perform a U turn as their path was blocked. Those that wanted to drive to Lidl could still do so, but they could not carry on down the road. Instead they would have to exit the road onto the High Street.
York Road has quite a few businesses on it. Some of the businesses have objected to the LTN causing one of the bollards to be removed to allow for deliveries. Planters are by the edge of the road with signs saying no access for cars, but without the bollard they are routinely ignored by some car drivers. The part of the road without the bollard felt like any normal road. The space was dominated by parked cars and car drivers performing U turns. The planters might as well not been there.
The second set of planters with essential bollard did stop motor vehicles from dominating the space beyond the bollard. Walking and cycling the other side of York Road felt much more pleasant than the part of the “LTN” with the parked and moving cars.
The third road that I visited was Poplar road, which is on the other side of the High Street. A few minutes walk from Poplar Road is a school and so this is a prime location for a LTN. School time traffic can be dangerous for school children. Without meaning to I received a strong reaction from the Florists. The Florists are not happy with the LTN and were forceful in their view that it needs to be removed. A calmer man who owned the Sewing shop had a chat with me about the LTN. He was amused that I had turned up as a tourist to take photos of the planters and the bollard. In my chat with him he expressed that he understood that car use and congestion was a problem that needed to be tackled but was not convinced that this was the way to go about it. I can understand the concenrns of businesses. Some businesses will win and some may lose out with LTNs. If you are a bar than it is great because you can have more space for your customers to sit outside in a more pleasant, car free space. However, if you are a owner of a pet shop then your customers may drive in looking to buy larger items like fish tanks that are difficult to transport without a vehicle. Having said this, when I saw the York Road example, if you give concessions by removing a bollard, then an area can become car dominated again.
Grange Road is a residential only road, that is narrow and has parked cars on both sides. The only reason to drive here is to either park here or to drive through to reach another destination. There are bollards and planters half way down the road, Grange Road will always have parked cars on both sides of the road, but with the planters and bollards it felt like a safe place for me to be as a cyclist and as a pedestrian. Only a couple of car drivers used the road when I was on it.
The day after I visited the Kings Heath LTN road I saw on twitter that some of the bollards had been forcibly vandalised and removed. Some of the planters had been tipped over. Clearly some people who were unhappy with the LTNs had taken the law into their own hands. In a happy follow up, twitter told me that local residents have put the planters back and started putting plants in them so they look lovely. I think the bollards have been replaced. From my twitter research the bollard that was voluntarily removed on York Road will be replaced as that part of the road became a car park again.
The Kings Heath LTN is a trial that is set to be in place for six months. Whatever your views you can respond to the ongoing consultation. There is an online survey for the Kings Heath LTN that you can complete. If you are in favour of the LTN please take the survey. The car driver lobby are always the loudest, most vocal, and affluent and they usually get their own way.