TL:DR Summary: Ealing’s LTN row is part of a bigger picture. It’s not just Ealing Council’s initiative. This is coming from the top.
There’s been some trouble on the roads between Hanwell and Northfields over the last few days. The new traffic scheme, officially known as West Ealing South low traffic neighbourhood, or LTN 21, is going down like a bucket of cold sick with some of the local residents.
The LTN has been designed to stop people driving between Boston Road, Northfields Avenue and Uxbridge Road via the side roads, while still allowing access to all the roads in between. Study the map and you will see that you can drive to anywhere but there is no way you can get between the major roads. The idea is to get traffic off the side roads thereby making them less polluted for residents and safer for walkers and cyclists.
Not everybody is happy about it though. Within hours the barriers had been sabotaged and even after they were filled with soil they were soon pushed over again. Barriers have been removed from a number of junctions.
There have been angry exchanges between supporters opponents. There have been allegations of oil being deliberately spilt on the roads and a car being driven at a councillor. A campaign against the LTN is under way. This is a row that will run on for some time.
To add spice to the mix, the Oaklands Road School Street is due to be implemented on 4 September. This has longer hours than the St Mark’s one (covered in the previous post) but seems to have been introduced with a similar low level of communication.
These initiatives are coming on the back of the introduction of cycle lanes and increased bus lane times on main roads such as Uxbridge Road and Boston Road. It is becoming more difficult for people to drive in areas where they have been used to driving for years. Whether or not you think that is a good or bad thing, it is inevitable that the sudden and unforeseen disruption of people’s habits will lead to confusion and anger. It would be naive to assume that these measures could be implemented without some sort of backlash.
A lot of the anger has been directed at Ealing Council and no doubt there are council members and officers who are enthusiastic about the idea of encouraging cycling and discouraging car use. However much of the impetus behind these changes is coming from central government. Its report Gear Change: a bold vision for cycling and walking, published in July, made it clear that low traffic neighbourhoods and school streets were to be implemented across the country:
Low-traffic neighbourhoods will be created in many more groups of residential streets by installing point closures – for example, bollards or planters – on some of the roads. It would still be possible to access any road in the area, but motor traffic would not be able to use the roads as through routes. Streets within low traffic neighbourhoods will provide clear, direct routes for cyclists and pedestrians promoting walking and cycling. Accidents, pollution and noise will be dramatically reduced for residents.
We will create more “school streets”. Under these schemes, during term time, local authorities close streets to through traffic and have parking restrictions at school pick-up and drop-off times. Access is maintained for residents and other requirements, such as to drop off children who may have mobility difficulties and cannot walk far. The schemes can reduce the number of people driving their children to school by up to a third and reduce the risk of casualties by reducing the chance for vehicle / pedestrian / cycle conflict.
The government is also pushing for these schemes to be implemented quickly and it has given local authorities additional powers to bring the changes in at speed.
Many schemes take too long to get started and too long to deliver once they have been started. All future funding will be conditional on work starting and finishing by specified dates. If work has not started or been completed by the specified times, we will ask for funds to be returned. Exceptions may be made in certain circumstances.
What happens if local councils don’t want to implement such schemes? The government is in the process of setting up an inspectorate and funding body called Active Travel England, which will encourage them to do so. It will have significant powers.
From next year, Active Travel England will also begin to inspect, and publish annual reports on, highway authorities, whether or not they have received funding from us, grading them on their performance on active travel and identifying particularly dangerous failings in their highways for cyclists and pedestrians. It is our intention that the commissioner and inspectorate will in this regard perform a similar role to Ofsted from the 1990s onwards in raising standards and challenging failure.
So every council will be inspected and assessed, regardless of whether they have applied for or received funds. There is no opting out of this scheme. If your council is found wanting, there could be serious consequences:
Active Travel England’s assessment of an authority’s performance on active travel will influence the funding it receives for other forms of transport Since active and sustainable travel will be at the heart of our policy, Active Travel England’s assessment of an authority’s performance with respect to sustainable travel outcomes, particularly cycling and walking, will be taken into account when considering funding allocations for local transport schemes. We will consult on introducing new criteria to measure local highway authorities’ performance in respect of sustainable travel outcomes, particularly cycling and walking, when considering funding allocations for local transport schemes.
In other words, implement these schemes and implement them fast or your transport budget gets it!
According to BBC London’s Tom Edwards, additional pressure has been applied to London Councils as the introduction of LTNs was a condition of the TFL bailout. More on that in his video, which focuses on Brixton but shows arguments for and against the LTNs that would sound familiar to people in Ealing and Hanwell.
What we are seeing locally is playing out across the country. There are similar rows going on all over London and in Birmingham, Manchester, Oxford and a number of other towns and cities. Low traffic neighbourhoods, school streets and similar initiatives are being brought in at speed in most urban areas by councils of varying political colours. This is likely to lead to a rapid change in our urban environment. Our cities are being remodelled for different forms of transport. We know from the past that, where there is a degree of consensus across parties, among national and local politicians and between civil servants and local government officers, change can come very quickly. Some might attempt to make party political capital out of this issue but our Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in Ealing are being enthusiastically promoted by a Labour council leader and a Conservative prime minister.
The argument and acrimony we have seen in our area over the past few days, then, should be seen in the context of a much bigger picture. This is going on all over the country. It has momentum and political heft behind it. Those planning to oppose it face a significant challenge.
Update 31 August 2020:
A statement from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on 23 May 2020 made the government’s position clear:
Active travel is affordable, delivers significant health benefits, has been shown to improve wellbeing, mitigates congestion, improves air quality and has no carbon emissions at the point of use. Towns and cities based around active travel will have happier and healthier citizens as well as lasting local economic benefits.
The government therefore expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians. Such changes will help embed altered behaviours and demonstrate the positive effects of active travel. I’m pleased to see that many authorities have already begun to do this, and I urge you all to consider how you can begin to make use of the tools in this guidance, to make sure you do what is necessary to ensure transport networks support recovery from the COVID-19 emergency and provide a lasting legacy of greener, safer transport.
There’s a useful map here from Street Parks for Ealing. It shows clearly how the area has been split into zones and which main road you need to use to get to each set of streets.