On Friday the 1st November, ICAP members visited Waltham Forest in order to experience first hand how Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) have transformed streets and communities in the borough. The tour was lead by Councillor Loakes, who spearheaded the project, and it was fascinating to hear how he overcame challenges and opposition in order to make his vision of peaceful, clean, healthy and safe living streets a reality.
Upon arrival we were immediately struck by how quiet the streets were; how children could scoot and bike in the road and how were weren’t confined to the side-walk as we chatted to Councillor Loakes and Paul Gasson, who worked hard with community groups to get locals on board and engaged with the project.
Much of what we heard surpurprised us. We discovered that, although the borough received substantial funding from TFL (27 million), and had also accessed 17 million in funding from other sources, much of the most transformative aspects of the project were very cheap.
Walthestow’s beautifully quiet and peaceful residential streets have been achieved through modal filtering. Various forms of road blocks are used to block through access to vehicles other than bikes and scooters.This can take the form of planters, concrete bollards or metal poles that can be lowered to allow access to the emergency services, and are not expensive to install. Some cost as little as 20k or less, although thus did not include the cost of planning and consultations.
So where did the bulk of the funding go? A large portion of the money received was spent on improving conditions on the main roads, widening pavements and installing a 17 million pound cycle superhighway.
In addition, Waltham Forest invested in a number of measures to make active travel easier and more convenient than driving. This includes cycle training; bike hangers; safer crossings; seating, trees and planters and dropped pavements for disabled access.
The council faced considerable opposition to the scheme. At one point 500 demonstrators gathered outside the town hall to voice their dissent. Despite this, Councillor Loakes and his team remained committed to their vision and refused to let this stop them.
Community leaders like Paul Gasson were vital to the success of the project. They had the trust and the relationships within the community that enabled them to have the difficult conversations with people and put their minds at ease. None of the concerns raised have proved to be a problem now that the LTN is in place. Councillor Loakes has even had residents approach him to thank him for not letting their concerns prevent him from implementing the scheme.
LTNs have transformed Walthamstow in numerous ways. People are walking and cycling more and as a result public health has improved. Children play outside in the streets and adults chat to their friends and neighbours. As a result, people are less isolated and community cohesion had improved. One passer by remarked that it takes him ages to get anywhere as he is constantly bumping into friends and neighbours. Air pollution has reduced, businesses have benefited from passing trade and fire response times have improved.
Traffic in Walthamstow has not been pushed into main or neighbouring roads. It has evaporated. As driving became more difficult, people drove less. Some streets have seen 90% reductions in motor traffic and there had been a 56% average reduction. Even on main roads traffic is slightly
reduced. Research by KCL also found that more than 51,000 households in Waltham Forest are no longer living in areas with dangerously high levels of air pollution compared to a decade ago.
The success of this scheme can be attributed, on the one hand, to the political will and courage of Councillor Loakes and his team, to overcome obstacles and turn their vision into a blissful reality, and on the other hand to engagement of community groups that supported it through the grass roots. Hands up who wants this in Islington?