The proof is in: low-traffic neighbourhoods are in style | Julian Bell

Are measures to make streets secure for strolling and biking unpopular? Are they vote-losers? Have we did not take communities with us – and can we, as native politicians, pay the worth?

As a former Labour chief of Ealing council in west London, I used to be on the coronary heart of this debate. The low-traffic neighbourhood schemes we put in in my borough, utilizing cameras to cease rat-running in additional than 100 streets, triggered a row noisy even by the requirements of biking scheme rows. Demonstrators marched to the council places of work with “Julian Bell – finish this hell” placards. The “Bell” and the “finish” had been positioned collectively to make an additional well-loved phrase.

The infrastructure was vandalised. I used to be accused of not consulting or listening to individuals’s views – although the schemes, as trials, had been themselves consultations. The schemes had been typically labelled “unpopular” and “controversial” within the native press.

Now, we’ve had the largest possible session on these LTNs: we’ve had an election. On the London mayoral election final month, the cycle schemes had been by far the largest concern within the 5 fundamental wards of Ealing they coated – Acton Central, Ealing Widespread, Elthorne, Northfield and Walpole. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats blitzed the world, telling individuals {that a} vote for them would cease the LTNs. The Tory candidate, Shaun Bailey, paid a particular go to to marketing campaign in opposition to them.

A vandalised LTN in Ealing
A vandalised LTN in Ealing. Some cyclists additionally imagine that is an instance of oil being poured on the street to create a hazard for bicycles. {Photograph}: @MarkEccleston1/Twitter

Nevertheless it seems they’re not “unpopular” in any respect. Not even actually all that “controversial”, and definitely not the vote magnet our opponents hoped. In Ealing as an entire, the Tory vote did go up in contrast with the earlier election, by 0.64 share factors. However within the 5 Ealing LTN wards as an entire, the Tories went down. The Lib Dems fell, too.

Labour, whose mayor and council applied the schemes, comfortably received all 5 of the wards – together with one, Ealing Widespread, that the Tories took final time. The Tory vote in that ward dropped by greater than 5 share factors.

Labour’s vote did fall throughout the 5 wards, however by lower than the Ealing common. Solely in Elthorne and Acton Central did the Conservatives do higher, and Labour worse, than their borough averages. In each wards, nonetheless, and throughout the 5 LTN wards as an entire, greater than 50% of the voters voted for events, Labour and the Greens, which supported the LTNs.

This evaluation relates solely to first-preference votes. When second preferences are included, the help for LTNs grows even additional.

Comparable, however much more marked, Tory underperformance occurred in lots of different elements of London the place the Conservatives campaigned in opposition to contested biking and strolling schemes. Within the borough of Hounslow, as an example, native Tories fought exhausting in opposition to the brand new CS9 segregated monitor on Chiswick Excessive Street, and Bailey made a Fb video attacking the scheme. Once more, it was the primary concern within the marketing campaign regionally.

On the election, the Tory vote within the three Chiswick wards alongside CS9 fell by between 10 and 12 share factors on 2016, in a borough the place the occasion’s general vote went up by 1.2 factors. The Lib Dems rose, however solely fractionally. Labour fell by greater than 4 factors in Hounslow as an entire – however within the CS9 wards, its vote went up by 4.4 factors.

It was Kensington, scene of the largest biking scheme row, that recorded the largest Tory collapse. Within the borough as an entire, the Tory mayoral vote fell by 11 factors. Within the 4 wards protecting Kensington Excessive Road – the place the Conservative council ripped out a cycle monitor on doubtful grounds after only some weeks – the Tory vote dropped by a mean of practically 17 factors. Labour, in the meantime, was up 6.7 factors within the Excessive Road Kensington wards, in opposition to a 2.2 level rise within the borough as an entire.

In contested cycle scheme wards of Manchester, Oxford, West Sussex, and Cambridgeshire, related patterns of Tory underperformance had been seen. Clearly, bike schemes weren’t the one think about any of those outcomes. There have been additionally just a few exceptions to the rule – a pro-LTN councillor misplaced in Newcastle, as an example.

However what does appear fairly clear is that in a nasty 12 months for Labour, cycle schemes saved or received votes for us, not misplaced them. And that if there was any “controversy”, it labored largely in our favour.

Opponents of the LTNs would possibly say it’s the vote for Ealing as an entire we must always have a look at, given the supposed visitors issues they trigger for the broader space. In actual fact, proof from different schemes exhibits that visitors displacement is momentary – as a result of as biking and strolling grow to be safer and extra nice, individuals change from automobiles to biking and strolling.

However even when we do have a look at my borough as an entire, an increase of lower than one level within the anti-LTN vote just isn’t, for my part, cause to again away. If we are able to now solely do issues that trigger no opposition in any respect, and lose no votes in anyway, then we are able to by no means do something worthwhile once more. I’m reminded of the livid early pushback at insurance policies which nobody now desires of reversing – the NHS, drink-drive limits, or certainly the first-generation LTN schemes which have existed of their a whole bunch throughout London for years. We should always all be grateful that the authors of these insurance policies rode out the preliminary storms.

Lyndon Johnson’s dictum of politics says that you need to be capable of rely. However the issue, I feel, is that big numbers of individuals – journalists, councillors, MPs – don’t have a look at the numbers. They hear solely to the noise. They appear to imagine that on LTNs, the social media clamour, the demos and the shouting of a passionate minority (a lot of whom reside nowhere close to the schemes they assault) symbolize the view of the individuals we serve.

This false impression has already been been proved mistaken by repeated opinion polling – and now, conclusively, by a democratic election. It’s not shocking. Why would you need streets that had been peaceable, quiet and secure to as soon as once more grow to be visitors jams for motorists, and rat-runs for dashing automobiles?

However I’m nervous that some should be taking the mistaken message. Not least my very own council, which has taken out considered one of our LTNs for the reason that election. The council appears set to take away the others too. There can be some type of session, nevertheless it’ll in all probability be dominated by the same old loud voices. We’ve already had the most effective session we’re going to get: a secret poll with a excessive turnout the place everyone acquired one vote. [See footnote]

We on the council nonetheless have time to alter our minds, champion LTNs and unequivocally decide to selling energetic journey. We nonetheless have time to keep away from handing these seats to the Greens on the borough election subsequent 12 months. We nonetheless have time to show we imply it on web zero, on decreasing air pollution, on tackling little one weight problems – and on listening to all our residents, not simply those who shout loudest.

Reimposing street hazard, noise and air pollution on individuals who voted for the alternative? That may be an Ealing tragedy, not an Ealing comedy.

  • This footnote was added on 3 June 2021 to offer Ealing council’s response on the standing of its 9 low-traffic neighbourhoods: The West Ealing South scheme (LTN 21), it stated, was ended early as a result of roadworks in neighbouring Hounslow would have made it unworkable for residents; there are not any plans to take away the remaining eight earlier than the tip of the trial interval. At that time “we can be providing a session on every LTN, preserving schemes that work and are supported, and eradicating these that don’t”. It was additional amended on 8 July 2021 so as to add attribution to a caption assertion that oil had been poured on the street to create hazard for cyclists.


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