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Multi-year study finds London’s low-traffic neighbourhoods deliver huge benefits

Pedestrians and cyclists in London. Photo: Alena Kravchenko, Dreamstime
Pedestrians and cyclists in London. Photo: Alena Kravchenko, Dreamstime

The creation of low-traffic neighbourhoods in London has yielded substantial returns for local communities, a study that analysed six years of data has found.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods are essentially blocked off to cars that don’t belong to local residents and delivery vehicles. While they’ve existed for some time, the concept gained traction amid the Covid-19 pandemic, when social distancing requirements made public transport options less appealing.

Where implemented, they encourage a shift from private vehicle use towards healthier, more active modes of travel — specifically cycling and walking.

In many cases, the health economic benefits exceed 100 times the costs involved, according to the study, which was led by Professor Rachel Aldred of Westminster University.

The public health benefit equates to £4,800 per person over 20 years, compared to a cost of just £28–35 per person for low-traffic neighbourhoods implemented in 2020, or £112 for higher-cost versions with additional features, like greening and crossing improvements.

Each year, low-traffic schemes prevent 37 deaths and over half a million sick days, per the study, which was based on surveys in the low-traffic boroughs of Enfield, Kingston and Waltham Forest, as well as a control group in other outer areas.

“Active travel interventions provided high value for money when comparing health economic benefits from physical activity to costs of scheme implementation,” the authors write.

The most effective set-up, the research suggests, is a combination of low-traffic neighbourhoods and proximity to main road cycle tracks.

These lead to substantially increased walking and cycling, and reductions in car ownership and/or use.

Meanwhile, an official study of low-traffic neighbourhoods, commissioned by UK prime minister Rishi Sunak, has concluded they’re generally popular and effective, according to the Guardian.

But the report by the UK’s transport department was initially buried because officials were hoping for negative findings that would help them push back against low-traffic neighbourhoods, the publication says.

It found that twice as many locals support the schemes as oppose them.

“The available evidence from the UK indicates that low-traffic neighbourhoods are effective in achieving outcomes of reducing traffic volumes within their zones while adverse impacts on boundary roads appear to be limited,” the study reads.

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