Northernlands 2 - Low traffic neighbourhoods: enabling a sustainable recovery


What has the coronavirus crisis taught us about rapid infrastructure changes that encourage different travel behaviours


This transcript comes from the captions associated with the video above. It is "as spoken".

Hi everyone. My name is Catriona Swanson and I'm a transport

planner at Arup leading on walk insight across the

North West and Yorkshire region. Today I'm going to be giving a few

thoughts about walking, cycling infrastructure particularly in light

of COVID-19. For me some of the silver linings of this awful

situation, but that many people have discovered or rediscovered

cycling, and that people are shopping more locally and using

the local high street more.

We're currently facing a number of crises while coronaviruses

dominating headlines the climate emergency hasn't gone away, and

while air quality improved at the beginning of lockdown, it's

rapidly deteriorating as the economy reopens as the cars come

back. Speaking in parliament earlier this year, Chris Boardman

said pick a crisis and you will probably find cycling as a solution.

Coronavirus wasn't on our radar at that point and Christ was talking

about climate, air pollution and health more generally. But

as usual, he was absolutely right and walking, cycling are a

key part of the government strategy to enable people to

travel safely. Re-open the economy and build back better.

So now more than ever, we really need to step up several gears and

start delivering the right infrastructure in the right

places as quickly as possible.

And like the climate, air quality emergencies, COVID-19 has

actually led to some relatively fast action on the ground in the

UK, including pop up cycle lanes in Leicester being delivered at the

rate of a mile a day and lots of trial modal filters springing up

in the forward-thinking London boroughs.

There really does seem to be the recognition

in most councils that fast and meaningful action needs to be

taken when we have more political will for enabling walking,

cycling than ever before.

Following the publication of statutory guidance from the

government as well as funding to deliver we should hopefully

see many more schemes implemented over the summer.

What I found really interesting about the guidance from the DfT

is that they recognize that cycle lane on main roads are not

necessarily the answer here. In normal times they're expensive,

controversial and take a long time to deliver. The DfT has

recognized even pop up cycle lanes using bolt down infrastructure

are tricky to deliver safely and quickly, particularly at junctions.

As a result, the DfT

have advised the quickest and cheapest way of reallocating

road spaces is point closures, including creating low traffic

neighbourhoods. These are areas where all through traffic is

prevented so that drivers have to use the main roads. This

creates safe and attractive environments on residential

streets for walking and cycling. I understand that quite a few

local authorities, including Leeds City Council and Salford

where I live, are facing a number of low traffic

neighbourhoods as part of their response. For once, I agree with

the government: low traffic neighbourhoods are the quickest

and cheapest way of

getting more people walking and cycling particularly for short

journeys, you also bring a lot of other benefits, including

less air and noise pollution. More civilized streets where

people can stop for a chat and kids can play out and stronger

local economies where people use their shops and high streets more.

But how I hear you all ask, does this link to data?

Well, data has never been more important, not only to identify

and prioritize schemes quickly and to ensure that we get good

value for money for schemes, but also to ensure that the address

of social justice issues that are exacerbated by climate

change, air pollution and COVID-19. For example, we know

that people on the lowest incomes, BAME communities and

disabled people are hit the hardest by all of these things.

There's a phrase 'you count what you care about'. For a very long

time the only thing many transport planners and highway

engineers have really cared about his maximizing traffic

flows, reducing journey times for motorists. As a result, we

have a dearth of data on cycling and particularly walking

However we do have lots of data on things like air quality,

deprivation, access to public transport, and car ownership

that we can use to prioritize load traffic neighbourhoods.

We can also use online platforms like

commonplace, Why do my path and even the traffic layer in

Google Maps as well as network planning techniques to identify

where there are issues with

rat-running or speeding to identify where measures are

needed. However, then collecting data gets really important.

Although low traffic neighbourhoods are relatively

quick and cheap to implement, they can be just as

controversial with local residents as cycle routes on main roads.

We need to make sure the collecting the evidence to

demonstrate that they work Waltham Forest have led the way

on low traffic neighbourhoods in the UK and they've been really good

at collecting data - a whole range of factors to demonstrate

the benefits of the approach. This includes the increase

in the amount of time spent walking and cycling improvements

in air quality and changes in

traffic levels on both the streets that have been filtered and on the main roads.

The data provide compelling arguments taking this approach.

Including evidence of traffic evaporation, and

huge improvements in air quality

and health. I put some really good qualitative evidence about

it as well, leading a quote from a lady who said that the

changes and doubled the time it takes to walk to the shops

because she stopped so often to talk to people. That kind of

data and feedback is really important because it means we

can move away from talking about these schemes as cycling

schemes and frame them in terms of the things that matter to

people who live there.

But despite the great work done by Waltham Forest, and other London

boroughs we've been really slow to roll them out in the rest of

the country. As I said before, the guidance from government on

COVID-19 explicitly recommends this approach meaning that councils

can legitimately tell their residents it's something that

they have to do as a result of COVID-19, and that the funding can

only be spent on these measures.

But while councils need to act quickly and get schemes done,

it's really important measures are monitored. Unfortunately, in

most cases we won't have much data from before COVID-19, but

traffic is fast returning to normal levels, collecting data

before and after schemes are implemented creates the evidence

base needed to demonstrate the

benefits. This evidence can then be used to make schemes permanent

and roll them out across towns and cities. That also means

councils can act quickly if something isn't working as

planned. So, in summary, the COVID-19 epidemic is giving us

the funding, guidance and political will to move faster on

active travel and embrace trials of measures like point closures.

But as important as ever to monitor schemes so we make the

most of this opportunity to build back better.

Thanks very much for your time.

  • Catriona Swanson

    Senior Transport Planner

    Catriona is a walking and cycling infrastructure specialist and a chartered town planner, with more than 11 years’ experience and a record of securing funding for and delivering award-winning walking and cycling infrastructure across the North West and Yorkshire.

    Projects include a number of ambitious walking and cycling infrastructure schemes for Salford City Council, one of the foremost local authorities on walking and cycling infrastructure nationally. Catriona led a multi-million-pound programme to upgrade Salford’s traffic-free network, designed to meet the diverse needs of users and to maximise the numbers of people choosing active travel methods. She also worked on Chapel Street East Phase 1 which was awarded the Healthy Streets Proposal of the Year Award.


Nothernlands 2 is a collaboration between ODI Leeds and The Kingdom of the Netherlands, the start of activity to create, support, and amplify the cultural links between The Netherlands and the North of England. It is with their generous and vigourous support, and the support of other energetic organisations, that Northernlands can be delivered.

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