As local councils debate making permanent changes implemented last year, can pedestrian and cycling advocates hold on to their victories?
Since the start of the pandemic, writes Niamh McIntyre for The Guardian, England's roads have been the testing grounds for a "grand experiment" that has led to a bitter standoff between pedestrian advocates and motorists. As part of mayor Sadiq Khan's Streetspace plan, implemented last year as an "urgent and swift response" to the pandemic and London's broader need to reduce congestion and pollution, "funnelled money from the government’s new active-travel fund to London’s boroughs for low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and other projects to encourage walking and cycling, such as temporary cycle lanes and timed road closures outside schools."
Since almost half of London car trips are under two miles, "the theory is that by reducing the amount of road space for cars, people will find other ways to make short journeys." Opponents argue that not everyone can easily take alternate routes, and that the measures only increase traffic and congestion on other streets—an assertion not borne out by evidence: "early monitoring of new LTNs in Hackney and Lambeth found that traffic on main roads hardly increased at all," and "data from established LTNs in Walthamstow showed the opposite."
While early "enthusiasm for LTNs brought about a rare consensus between the Conservative government and the Labour mayor of London, as well as Greens and pro-cycling groups," the backlash as traffic returns to London streets has been severe. In addition to DIY removal of LTN infrastructure, "opponents of the mayor’s walking and cycling plans have pursued numerous legal challenges to the new policies."
The future of LTN and other programs started during the pandemic will hinge on the next few months "as councils push for temporary schemes to become permanent, and objectors fight for the right to drive wherever they need to go."
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