The Bow Liveable Streets scheme: fears, myths and worries

You might have heard some folks saying the Bow Liveable Streets scheme or low-traffic neighbourhood schemes like it will lead to Armageddon. You might believe some of the myths that have built up around “low-traffic neighbourhoods”. Hopefully you don’t, but if you do here’s a quick myth-buster:

  • These schemes are old and have been implemented successfully many times before. Hackney has been doing them since the 1970s (De Beauvoir Town is a good example), and most London boroughs, including Tower Hamlets, have done “modal filters” (or “road closures”) before – but not of late.
  • Doing these schemes doesn’t mess up the main roads. There’s a six month or so period where sat-navs aren’t updated and driver habits haven’t changed yet. That can cause some extra congestion on nearby (main) roads. But once these schemes bed in, the nearby main roads broadly end up exactly where they were before – yet a huge proportion of motor traffic is gone from inside the area of the scheme. This is called “traffic evaporation” and often represents well over a 10% reduction in overall motor traffic in the area, including the boundary main roads.
  • Retail businesses do well in low-traffic neighbourhoods, as folks like shopping on streets with less motor traffic. Specifically in relation to Bow, the Roman Road Trust had published research showing that the vast majority of money spent in local businesses comes from people who walked, cycled or took the bus to get there.
  • The results from Waltham Forest’s Mini-Holland shows that these schemes end up with lower pollution levels (including on main roads), they don’t impact emergency services (who are “statutory consultees” anyway), and they result in more walking and cycling and less car use for residents. But perhaps most importantly, even way back in the 1960s we knew from the work of Donald Appleyard that these schemes result in neighbours chatting, kids playing out more, a more cohesive community. Often these schemes also cut crime and antisocial behaviour, as nicer areas where there aren’t easy car cut-throughs are less useful to drug dealers etc.
  • What isn’t a myth? Short car journeys will get a bit longer. So yes, if you’re doing a 300 yard journey that could, in the worst case scenario, be quite a bit longer. But unless you need to, you shouldn’t be doing 300 yard car journeys – and a lot fewer people will if the scheme goes in. The result is that for most car journeys into and out of the area, you’ll barely notice any difference in journey time.
  • We face multiple crises – climate change most obviously, air quality, but also inactivity meaning our kids will be the first generation to live shorter, less healthy lives than we do (and the effects of adult inactivity are sucking up NHS resources too). Low-traffic neighbourhoods are one of the key ways to reduce motor car use in London and enable a shift to walking and cycling, along with cycleways on main roads, road-user charging etc.
  • Finally, Tower Hamlets is only just beginning to do low-traffic neighbourhoods, and indeed show bold leadership on walking, cycling and car use. It needs our support for this scheme, so we ensure that more and more areas of the borough get similar.

That’s why we’re suggesting that people tick “very supportive” in relation to every proposal in the Bow Liveable Streets scheme consultation – and ask for all closure points to operate 24/7 – by its closing date of 29 July.

More information on low-traffic neighbourhoods, including the excellent guide Low Traffic Neighbourhoods: An Introduction for Policy Makers, can be found on the London Living Streets website.

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