What is a Street Park?
A Street Park is another name for a good quality low traffic neighbourhood. Typically a street park will lie between the main A and B roads in an area. Inside the street park, residents will still be able to park motor vehicles as before, and delivery drivers will still be able to access all properties, but rat-running motor traffic will be prevented from passing through the area. This creates a space where people feel it is safe and pleasant to walk and cycle.
Street Parks are not a new concept. Most housing estates built since World War Two are designed on this principle, as people don’t like living on rat runs.
How do Street Parks prevent rat running?
To create a street park, the local authority will typically install ‘connectors’ on roads inside the park. Traffic engineers call these modal filters.
A connector is a narrow gap that connects one part of the street park with another, but is too narrow for motor-vehicles to pass. A connector may be made from a pair of planters filled with vegetation, a row of bollards in the road, or a combination of the two. Normally the central bollard will be removable, so emergency vehicles can access the area.
Are they a new idea?
Low traffic neighbourhoods are not a new concept. Most housing estates built since World War Two are designed on this principle, as people don’t like living on rat runs.
This is Yate, in South Gloucestershire. Almost the whole town is made of low traffic neighbourhoods.
Why do we need them?
We need to tackle global warming by using our motor vehicles less. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods make it harder for people to drive, and safer and easier for people to walk and cycle. We also need to reduce pollution and tackle obesity, both of which put a strain on the NHS. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods reduce pollution.1 They also increase the amount people walk and cycle (active travel), which helps tackle obesity. Research shows active travel from LTNs can increase life expectancy by 7 months.2
What was the problem with residential streets?
Traffic on residential roads in London has almost doubled in the last ten years.3
This dramatic rise started with the introduction of navigation apps like Waze and Google Maps that direct motorists to cut through back streets. This has made residential roads less safe for walking and cycling. Low traffic neighbourhoods restore the streets to the quiet neighbourhoods to they used to be.
Is COVID-19 being used as an excuse to put this in?
These plans are a response to the COVID crisis. They create space for social distancing on roads with narrow pavements by making it safer for people to walk in the road to pass others. Capacity on public transport is likely to be limited for some time and London’s road network simply wouldn’t be able to cope if everyone, who could, decided to drive instead. So these schemes are designed to help people switch from driving to walking and cycling. Most of the trips people make in London are short – 67% of trips driven in London are under 5 kilometres and 35% are under 2 kilometres.4 These are trips that could be either cycled, or at the lower end walked, by the majority of people who are currently driving them.
Are these schemes going to be made permanent?
Funding at the moment is for emergency measures lasting six months. During that time, the public will be able to send the council feedback. The decision on whether they will be made permanent will probably be based on a number of factors, including their effect on road safety, the impact of the scheme on traffic, and feedback from the public.5
Why not just deal with the problem roads and leave the rest open?
Problem traffic is often concentrated on a few roads within a neighbourhood but simply blocking these just shifts the problem. As many as 88% of London drivers now use Satnavs so will immediately be rerouted around a single closure.6
Won’t emergency services be delayed?
The emergency services are consulted before any scheme is implemented.7 In Ealing there was a delay in consulting with the London Ambulance Service before the introduction of LTNs in August 2020.8 In Waltham Forest, where the council installed a Mini Holland scheme containing low-traffic neighbourhoods, the average response times of fire engines remained the same.9 The Borough Commander states “It is my view that this data does not show an increase in response times and therefore that the road closures in Waltham Forest have not had a significant impact on our services”.
Will bin lorries be able to turn around?
There are already numerous dead-end streets around the borough which are serviced by bin lorries. Depending on the layout of your street, they will either be able to unlock a bollard to exit, reverse down the street (as they already do in many places), or turn around.
Won’t road closures just push all the traffic onto the main roads?
When a Street Park (low-traffic neighbourhood) is installed, people adjust their behaviour to compensate. Some people will stop making particular trips, combine multiple trips into one, travel at a less congested time, or switch to public transport, walking or cycling. After a scheme was installed in Walthamstow Village, across the overall area, there are around 10,000 fewer vehicles every day, an overall reduction in traffic of 16%.10 This is called “traffic evaporation”. To summarise: In the long term street parks reduce the overall volume of motor traffic.
Surely traffic isn’t just going to disappear?
Though it can seem hard to believe, reducing road capacity does actually reduce traffic. A major study from 1998, which used 150 sources for evidence, found that roads that had their capacity reduced saw an average 41% reduction in traffic. Less than half of the displaced traffic found other routes, while 25% disappeared entirely.11
Will I still be able to access my house? How are deliveries going to get to me?
All homes will still be accessible by motor vehicles, though some trips may take a few minutes longer.
I’ve heard an objector say the community will be divided, will it?
This idea comes about because the connectors – the narrow gaps through which people can pass, but not cars, are often placed in the centre of an area. On a map, this appears to ‘divide’ the community. The reality is, that a Street Park is typically small – you can walk across it in 10-15 minutes – so it is still quick and easy to meet neighbours. Research shows that busy roads are a major barrier to community cohesion. As motor traffic on a street increases, interactions between residents drop. Children are given less independence and don’t play in the street, people are less likely to know their neighbours. Far from dividing a community, a street park helps bring people together.12
When I drive some of my trips will be longer, how will this reduce pollution?
Evidence from places where low-traffic neighbourhoods have been implemented, such as Waltham Forest and Hackney, shows that people stop driving short trips or make them less often, so that overall traffic in an area falls. This means overall pollution levels fall, far outweighing any increase from the small number of trips that are truly essential.13
If you live in a street park, and have to regularly make a journey that requires a detour around it, you can often avoid the detour by parking the other side of a connector. In this case, the part of your trip you make by motor vehicle may even be shorter.
Don’t we need to keep our residential side streets as through routes in case the main road is blocked?
When a main road is disrupted, such as by a collision, or a fallen tree, narrow residential streets can very quickly become clogged. With cars parked on both sides, there is rarely room for two vehicles to pass. Most traffic is usually diverted along main roads. However, if necessary, the emergency services can unlock the lockable bollards in the street park to temporarily open roads.
Shops depend on deliveries and customers coming by car, how will this affect them?
Making public environments more attractive for pedestrians and cyclists has been shown to boost footfall and increase retail sales by up to 30 percent.
People who get to the shops by cycling may spend less per visit than motorists, but they visit more often, and they will spend more money overall. TfL reports that, where such schemes have gone in, retail vacancy rates drop – meaning fewer empty shops on the high street.14 Shops will still be able to receive deliveries by lorries and vans, but some schemes may have dedicated delivery times.
How will this affect the school run?
The school run accounts for a quarter of cars on London’s roads in the morning rush hour, and is a major cause of congestion, pollution & frustration for road users.15 It has been estimated that school run traffic adds 24 hours to the average commute over the course of a year.16 Fear of road traffic injury is the key reason people give for not cycling and that parents give for limiting their children’s independence.17 Many people say they drive their children to school because the roads are too unattractive and dangerous to walk or cycle. But in doing so they add to the problem. In Ealing zero percent of children cycle to primary school (we’re sure some do, but that’s what the statistics say).18 In the Netherlands, which has better cycle infrastructure, 37 percent of primary school children cycle to school.19 A Street Park (or a good low-traffic neighbourhood), will make the roads safer for children to walk and cycle to school, so parents are happier to stop taking them by car. If enough parents do this, everyone benefits from shorter commute times.
Does this scheme discriminate against the elderly and disabled? Don’t they have to drive?
The elderly and mobility-impaired may face slightly longer car journeys, as will others, but will also benefit from quieter, less car-dominated streets to cross and use. Everyone needs exercise to stay healthy and the quiet roads of a street park are a great place to exercise if you are elderly or disabled, because they are so close to home. Many people with disabilities or medical conditions are unable to drive, and for them, non-motorised wheeled transport can be the easiest way to get from door to door. There are people for whom an e-assist bike, recumbent bike, hand cycle, or trike is an ideal mobility option, and having quiet roads makes their journeys easier. The connectors of a street park are designed to be wide enough to allow all these types of cycle, and mobility scooters, to pass from one part of the park to another.
If you would like to learn more about all-ability cycles, or try one out, contact Wheels for Wellbeing
Are they undemocratic?
How and where traffic schemes are built has never been decided by votes on individual schemes, but by government and local policy. The Conservative party before the 2019 general election announced that if they formed the government: “We will pilot low-traffic ‘healthy neighbourhoods’ – working with local councils to reduce rat-running cars and lorries, making side streets nicer to live in and safer to walk, cycle and play in while maintaining the access people need.”20 The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in his 2016 election manifesto pledged to “Establish safe walking routes, to give children cleaner and safer journeys to school, avoiding busy and polluted roads where possible.”21 Ealing’s Labour party, before the local election of 2018 said “We will work to create places that residents want to live in and low-traffic neighbourhoods that are safe for walking and cycling.”22 By installing low-traffic neighbourhoods, our politicians will be doing what they were elected to do.
- See section on Reduced Demand in this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand
- See Liveable Streets by Donald Appleyard. This short video sums up his research: https://vimeo.com/16399180
- https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/themes/569cb9526a21db3279000001/attachments/original/1457451016/x160668_Sadiq_Khan_Manifesto.pdf?1457451016 p.33