Published: 5th MAY 2023

1. Making the case for a low traffic neighbourhood

In part one of our design guide, we outline the rationale behind and the benefits of low-traffic neighbourhoods. We include links to case studies and research, and demonstrate why these neighbourhoods are urgently needed today.

Figure 1a: Modal filters enabling street play (Image: Sam Williams @play_future)

Over the past decades, there has been a significant increase in traffic volumes on residential streets, resulting in greater noise, air pollution and road danger.

As a result, many local authorities have implemented modal filters (bollards or planters), through which people can walk or cycle, but not drive.

Many were implemented as early as the 1970s when increasing traffic was threatening the safety of children playing in the streets.

While a single filter used to be enough to remove through traffic from a residential area, nowadays satellite navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze simply direct people to the next cut-through, displacing the issue onto another street.

With more and more people using their phones instead of signs to get around, it’s increasingly common to see long queues of vehicles trying to negotiate narrow residential streets, or vehicles speeding through at night.

Some local authorities have therefore taken a more strategic, holistic approach which looks at removing through traffic from entire residential areas, keeping it on major roads.

This low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN) approach, widespread in the Netherlands, means private motorised vehicles can still access all homes and businesses, but they cannot cross through the neighbourhood.

People can therefore only travel through the area on foot, bicycle or bus.

Figure 1b: Pop-up filter in Croydon (Credit: Meristem Design).

This approach has proven to significantly reduce traffic volumes not only on the residential streets but across the entire residential area.

This phenomenon is known as traffic evaporation, with short trips previously undertaken by cars being switched to other modes.

In a recent consultation, Hackney assumed a proposed low-traffic neighbourhood would result in 10% traffic evaporation, as a conservative estimate.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods have also shown to:

  • increase physical activity through more walking and cycling
  • benefit local businesses
  • create new public space
  • deliver improve air quality (see Figure 1c).

In light of this, LTNs are best described as public health tools rather than transport tools.

MAp of Waltham Forest showing impact of creating a mini holland

Figure 1c@ Waltham Forest Mini Holland Impacts (Image: London Borough of Waltham Forest & Air Quality Consultants)
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