The idea behind Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) is a straightforward one: it means closing off local streets to private cars and through traffic. Yet this seemingly ‘simple’ change can completely transform a residential area by reclaiming space formerly used by cars to give it back to the people who live there. This guide tells you (almost) everything you need to know about LTNs and how to get started creating one in your own community.
What is a Low Traffic Neighbourhood?
Essentially, a Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) is an urban area with little or no access for through traffic. Streets belong to pedestrians, cyclists, and local public transport – with cars being the ‘guests’ on the street.
Private vehicles still have access to homes and businesses but avoid driving directly into the neighbourhood – which creates a network of streets where people feel as though they can travel safely by foot or on a bike, and children can play freely.
Normally the street is cordoned off through a series of ‘modal filters’ to stop traffic driving beyond a certain point. This usually means placing 5/6 bollards or gates at the entry point of the road, which should be able to fold down to ensure that emergency vehicles and deliveries still have access to the LTN.
Where the filters go there is often extra space around them to put in streetscape improvements such as pocket parklets, street furniture, cycle paths, and trees and flowers to be planted.
The overall aim is for one LTN to become conjoined to the next so that people can walk between them to and from work, school, or for access to public transport stops.
How do you decide which streets to close for a Low Traffic Neighbourhood?
According to Sustrans, the decision about which streets to close is based on what will have the greatest impact on the neighbourhood, as opposed to which area would be best for an LTN.
This may be based on several factors; for example, which areas have the poorest air quality, highest deprivation, least access to green space, highest volumes of traffic (and particularly percentages of through traffic), largest number of collisions, greatest number of schools, low car ownership, etc.
Doing research to find out what the data for these particular factors is in your neighbourhood is probably the best way to get an indication of which particular areas you want to focus on before beginning the infrastructural planning of your LTN.
Where do Low Traffic Neighbourhoods exist?
LTNs have been particularly popular among many urban areas across London including Camden, Croydon, and Hounslow.
‘Living Streets’, a UK charity heavily involved in the creation of these LTNs said that they are the “single most effective method of increasing active travel” and say that levels of car usage have decreased as a result, in addition to an increase in walking and socialising among neighbours.
Berlin-based NGO ‘Changing Cities’ has also recently launched a campaign for a series of ‘Kiezblocks’ (another name for a Low Traffic Neighbourhood) to be implemented across the city. We spoke to Dr. Dirk von Schneidemesser, board member of the organisation, to learn more about what their advice is for trying to create an LTN in your local district.
Based on information from both Living Streets and inspiration from the Berlin Kiezblocks, we have devised some ‘key steps’ and essential pieces of advice that should be considered when trying to create an LTN.
How to bring a Low Traffic Neighbourhood to life
1. Preparation and planning
Key to the success of any Low Traffic Neighbourhood will be the time devoted to its planning and design. This means collecting the data previously mentioned about which areas would benefit the most from an LTN, making a list of organisations and potential partners you could connect with, what the key target groups are, and a timeline of goals you want to achieve.
You may also need a certain number of public signatures before you can bring the proposal for an LTN to your local council. For example, in Berlin the ‘Citizen’s initiative’ requires 1,000 public signatures before a motion can be considered by parliament.
You should try to find out what the particular rules and regulations are in your city and whether or not there are certain things you may need to acquire before requesting consideration for an LTN in your community.
2. Hold an open meeting for community engagement
Public involvement is crucial. When a wide range of people are involved and all opinions are considered equally, people will feel like a valued part of the process, and a cohesive group mindset is vitally important for successful collaboration.
It will also help to generate more innovative and imaginative ideas for how your LTN could be used.
- Public event: Host an event where people can come to discuss the LTN. This will help to get local residents excited about new ideas of how to repurpose the street. Decide what you want to talk about, find out what concerns or issues people may have and try to address them, and have a genuine conversation with others about what will work best.
- Get the word out: Make sure to promote the event widely and to lots of different groups to ensure as many people participate as possible.
- Avoid jargon: The language in group meetings should be simple and understandable. Avoid the use of unnecessary technical jargon to prevent confusion and overcomplication.
3. Plan an entire area
LTNs must be planned as one continuous area, as attempts to reduce traffic in part of an area without regard to neighbouring streets can result in congestion becoming concentrated in some specific streets – or backlash during the consultation stage.
You should consult with experts and traffic planners who can use their expertise and skills to devise a fully comprehensive plan for the LTN to ensure that congestion does not occur, and that car usage will actually decrease as a result.
4. Consider a preliminary trial
Perhaps the best place to start after you have completed the plan for your LTN is to trial it for a 6-12-month trial period to make sure that it works for the benefit of the local people.
This will allow councils and residents to see the positives of the LTN come to fruition and work together to solve any emerging issues. It also means it can be adjusted along the way to better accommodate people’s wants and needs in the long term.
Take a look at our guide on How to Create a Pop-up Car-free Zone in your City for a better idea about how to set up a temporary street closure for a car-free trial event.
5. Gain public support
- Emphasise the benefits: steer clear of any negative language such as ‘closures’ and ‘blocks’ when describing the LTNs, and instead focus on what the benefits for the community will be. Highlight to the public the collected data and research about reduced levels of pollution, better mental and physical health, and more attractive streetscapes to try and win their support.
- Don’t rely solely on officials: Living Streets highlights that relying on elected officials to communicate large schemes to the public risks a lot of backlash. The schemes should be communicated clearly, effectively, and in an engaging way so that residents feel as though they have a stake in the scheme.
6. Engage political stakeholders
Dr. Dirk von Schneidemesser says that political support is among the most crucial requirements of all. Changing Cities is a politically oriented organization because they believe that cities are changed by political decisions that are not limited to technocratic design-guides or laws.
“Pretty much any urban change process is about making it more difficult for decision-makers not to implement Kiezblocks than to implement them. At its heart it is fundamentally about building political will”, he writes.
It is usually sufficient to introduce the project to one or two members of your local council or government from relevant departments (or based on who makes traffic decisions).
7. Generate media attention
Attracting positive press reports about the LTN is also a great way to get others to support you. Concentrate on your local media stations and newspapers first, and write to one small press distribution list who may want to cover some stories about the opening of the LTN.
8. Be prepared for Backlash
You must also ensure that misinformation about the LTN is quickly flagged and debunked or addressed. Having a public FAQ page may help to prevent any myths about the LTN from circulating.
Creating a Low Traffic Neighbourhood is likely to take time, dedication, and a lot of support both publicly and politically. But LTNs are starting to become more mainstream, especially in cities like London and Berlin – and more importantly, people are now starting to want to see them in their own residential areas.
Have a look at these more detailed resources for policymakers and professionals on creating LTNs:
- a guide for professionals on LTN infrastructure
- an introduction for policymakers
- a detailed guide on creating LTNs