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Better Streets Mythbuster December 2020
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Better Streets FAQs and myths

Intro        2

Cautionary advice on Mythbusters!        2

Defining Terms        2

What is a Healthy Route?        2

What is a Low Traffic Neighbourhood?        3

Key evidence to support Low Traffic Neighbourhoods        3

Traffic displacement        3

“Road closures will just push all the traffic onto the main roads, causing longer journeys, traffic jams and more pollution”        4

“Traffic isn’t just going to disappear - to reduce congestion we need more space for motor vehicles, not less”        5

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods deliver public health outcomes (NHS support)        5

Waltham Forest’s mini-Holland schemes, the evidence        6

“Emergency Services will be delayed”        6

“Shops depend on deliveries and customers coming by car”        6

The roads will never be safe enough for children to ride bikes to school        6

Impact on poorer communities/BAME and other minorities        8

Impact on people with a disability        9

Myths / Refutations / Links to evidence        9

“COVID-19 is being used as an excuse to put this in”        9

“There’s been no consultation, this isn’t democratic”        9

Are these schemes going to be made permanent?        10

Why not just deal with the problem roads and leave the rest open?        10

“I live in the next neighbourhood - this is just going to make my area worse”        10

“It’s only going to benefit people who already cycle”        11

“It’s just for the benefit of a few rich residents. What about the majority of ordinary people who have to drive?”        11

“Cycling is elitist - it’s dominated by the white middle class males”        11

“Plumbers, builders, electricians need to drive”        12

“Bin lorries won’t be able to turn around”        12

Don’t the council have a duty to manage the network and ensure resilience?        12

“I won’t be able to access my house/how are deliveries going to get to me?”        13

“The community will be severed”        13

“When I drive, my trip will be longer, causing more pollution”        13

“Electric Cars are the answer- we don’t need to do anything”        13

“Crime will go up/the streets won’t be safe if there is no through traffic”        14

“Residential side streets act as an escape valve”        14

“20mph traffic causes more pollution than 30mph”        14

“Pollution will increase due to more idling motor vehicles”        15

“All we need is cycle lanes on main roads; road closures are unnecessary”        15

“Cycle routes can be diverted through residential streets and parks rather than taking up space on main roads.”        15

“Not everyone wants to walk or cycle”        16

“Older people can’t cycle - they have to drive”        16

“This scheme discriminates against the sick and disabled - they have to drive”        17

“There should be an exemption for residents”        18

“There should be an exemption for the elderly, sick, disabled, carers, parents transporting kids”        19

“Cycling isn’t a practical option when you have children”        19

“Cyclists ride on the pavement, jump red lights, cause danger to pedestrians”        20

Intro has a comprehensive set of responses to common myths about cycling. The list below is drawn from there and from other sources to cover a wider range of arguments against change that you are likely to come across in discussions around schemes to enable active travel and reduce motor vehicle dominance of our streets.

Heard another myth? Have some more evidence to one of the existing ones? You can comment or propose revisions at

Cautionary advice on Mythbusters!

Debunking myths is problematic. Unless great care is taken, any effort to debunk misinformation can inadvertently reinforce the very myths one seeks to correct. To avoid these “backfire effects”, an effective debunking requires three major elements. First, the refutation must focus on core facts rather than the myth to avoid the misinformation becoming more familiar. Second, any mention of a myth should be preceded by explicit warnings to notify the reader that the upcoming information is false. Finally, the refutation should include an alternative explanation that accounts for important qualities in the original misinformation.

Defining Terms

What is a Healthy Route?

Healthy Route is Lambeth’s name for a route where conditions will enable more people to walk and cycle. The borough’s ‘Healthy Route’ strategy has identified a network of routes that will link people to the places they need to get to - schools, workplaces, parks and amenities, and shops. They can be on residential streets, main roads, or a combination but either motor traffic levels will be low or there will be dedicated space not shared with general traffic.

What is a Low Traffic Neighbourhood?

Low traffic neighbourhoods are not a new concept - they’ve been a standard approach in the Netherlands and in good town planning for decades. Most of London’s post-war estates were built on these principles.

Looking at the overall road network those roads that are suitable for carrying non-local traffic (usually the A and B roads, though sometimes it is appropriate to filter B-roads) are identified. Within the neighbourhoods between the main roads only local access for residents and deliveries is permitted.

Every address is still reachable by car but through (or “ratrun”) motor traffic will be removed from the area, resulting in a much quieter residential area where kids can play out, neighbours chat and more people walk and cycle - and usually there is an overall motor traffic reductions across the wider area too.

Key evidence to support Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Traffic displacement

Driving on residential roads in London has doubled since 2008 when 3G iPhones first launched. And motor volumes have shrunk on main roads. Basically, this is showing the impact of Google Maps and Waze which have ‘virtually’ expanded London’s road network.

As all the evidence on induced demand would predict this has led to a growth of traffic volumes on those roads without any material change happening on the main road network.

We’ve seen some criticism that this increase ‘isn’t real’ or is just estimated - that's not the case and the methodology is summarised here.

“Road closures will just push all the traffic onto the main roads, causing longer journeys, traffic jams and more pollution”

The creation of a low traffic neighbourhood, or filtering of a road, will result in the adjustment of motor vehicle traveler behaviour to compensate … some people will stop making particular trips, combine multiple trips into one, travel at a less congested time, or switch to public transport, walking or cycling.

Initial figures from the Walthamstow Village area show traffic levels on main roads have increased by between 3% and 11% (with one previously under-utilised nearby distributor road going up 28%), but the number of vehicles in filtered roads has decreased by 56%.  This means that across the overall area, there are around 10,000 fewer vehicles every day, an overall reduction in traffic of 16%. This is called “traffic evaporation”.

Since the schemes went in, traffic levels have started to fall on main roads back to previous levels too. And on the border of the second low traffic neighbourhood scheme to go in, main road traffic appears to have gone down, not up.

Meanwhile, looking at Hackney, which has historically put in low traffic neighbourhoods and filtered roads over decades, the average speed of motor vehicles on roads in the borough are broadly similar to similar boroughs nearby and in inner London, as is the average percentage decline of overall motor traffic volumes per street over those decades, but the average volume per road is lower as so many roads carry little traffic.

In summary, over the long term overall motor traffic capacity and volume has been reduced by filtering, but the increased congestion that can be seen in the first year of their operation is a temporary effect.  

“Traffic isn’t just going to disappear - to reduce congestion we need more space for motor vehicles, not less”

Though it can seem hard to believe, reducing road capacity does actually reduce traffic.  A major study from 1998, which used 150 sources for evidence, found that roads that had their capacity reduced saw an average 41% reduction in traffic. Less than half of the displaced traffic found other routes, while 25% disappeared entirely. Source Wikipedia on “Disappearing Traffic”.

Rachel Aldred - 

Think about the removal of some road space for ‘Games Lanes’ during the Olympics. Coupled with weeks of posters and information London was prepared and, every day of the Games, over a third of people changed the way they traveled in painless and positive ways (Londonist 7 Aug 2015 “Taking Road Space Away From Cars Won’t Create Traffic Jams”).

New York City started adding new protected bike lanes in 2007, and there was concern that taking street space away from cars would slow down traffic. A new report from the city after years of data collection has shown that for some streets redesigned with protected bike lanes, travel times are actually faster (“New York City’s Protected Bike Lanes Have Actually Sped Up Its Car Traffic”).

It’s important to understand the reverse is similarly well-studied. Making more motor traffic capacity results in “induced demand”. Widen a motorway, adding lanes, or “smoothe traffic flow” by increasing time for cars at a junction, makes driving temporarily more convenient and easy by speeding up motor traffic. But that then results in more people driving a journey, and so the end result is the same levels of congestion, but more overall traffic volumes. Back in the 1950s highways engineers compared increasing motor traffic capacity to “a fat man loosening his belt to prevent obesity”.

The inevitable conclusion has to be that we cannot, particularly in space constrained, congested cities, build our way out of the problem. Smoothing motor traffic flow just results in more motor traffic. We have to progressively cut motor traffic capacity and use that space to enable more people to get around by more sustainable, efficient modes.

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods deliver public health outcomes (NHS support)

Waltham Forest’s mini-Holland schemes, the evidence

Long blog pulling together all of the the evidence from Waltham Forest:

“Emergency Services will be delayed”

In Waltham Forest the average response times of fire appliances actually fell after the Mini-Holland schemes were implemented.


The Impact of Introducing a Low Traffic Neighbourhood on Fire Service Emergency Response Times, in Waltham Forest, London

“There is sometimes concern that low traffic neighbourhoods slow emergency vehicles. We test this using London Fire Brigade data (2012-2020) in Waltham Forest, where from 2015 low traffic neighbourhoods have been implemented. We find no evidence that response times were affected inside low traffic neighbourhoods, and some evidence that they improved on boundary roads. However, while the proportion of delays was unchanged, the reasons given for delays initially showed some shift from ‘no specific delay cause identified’ to ‘traffic calming measures’. Our findings indicate that low traffic neighbourhoods do not adversely affect emergency response times, although while LTNs are novel this perception may exist among some crews.”

That last point is interesting - emergency service vehicles are held up by traffic congestion, and poorly parked vehicles, all the time. The problem is always too many motor vehicles but now every monetary hold up is blamed on Streetspace schemes, frequently when there have not even been any local changes to the road network.

“Shops depend on deliveries and customers coming by car”

Research shows retailers consistently and massively overestimate the importance of the customers arriving by car to their business. Making public environments more attractive for pedestrians and cyclists can boost footfall and trading by up to 40%. People who get to the shops by cycling may spend less per visit than motorists, but they visit more often, and they will spend more money overall.

Space for deliveries, and for people collecting heavy loads, can be relocated to streets adjoining a retail parade where a cycleway removes main road loading bays. Furthermore, pedestrianised areas still manage to maintain vibrant shops and businesses. Generally they are able to do so by coordinating delivery times, sharing delivery vehicles, making deliveries using smaller vehicles (or even cargo bikes) or making deliveries out of hours.

TfL reports that where such schemes have gone in, retail vacancy rates drop significantly and footfall rises. Making nicer shopping areas and streets where people feel able to linger is proving far more resilient to the rise of internet shopping than traditional, car-dominated high streets whose drivers are increasingly turning to out-of-town “experience” shopping at malls.

Indeed, if we want London’s high streets to survive the arrival of online deliveries and massive malls such as Westfield (where you have to walk far from any visitor car parking or loading bay), the case has to be made more strongly to retailers that that car parking space out front is actually a missed opportunity for pavement seating, or something else better.

The roads will never be safe enough for children to ride bikes to school

The school run accounts for at least one in every five cars on London’s roads, and is a major cause of congestion, pollution & frustration for road users. Fear of road traffic injury is the key reason people give for not cycling and that parents give for limiting their children’s independence. Many people say they drive their children to school because the roads are too unattractive and dangerous to walk or cycle. But in doing so they add to the problem.

About 23 per cent of Lambeth children in their reception year and 39.4 per cent of children in Year 6 were overweight or obese in 2015-16. Every hour you spend in a car makes you 6 percent more likely to be obese. Every kilometre you walk reduces it by almost 5 percent. So making active travel safer and easier means better physical health for children.

Compare this to the Dutch - whose cities have similar topographies and indeed weather to ours. In 2008, two thirds of Dutch primary age school children walked or cycled to school, but 75% of secondary age school children cycled to school (5% walked). Now think of the health benefits to society if we enabled that. The Dutch aren’t intrinsically cyclists - they just started doing roads differently in the 1970s and kept going. We’ve got some catching up to do.

A range of experiments, some as far back as 2001, have shown that drivers inside vehicles are exposed to far higher levels of air pollution than those walking or cycling along the same urban routes. (Guardian story with quotes)

Impact on poorer communities/BAME and other minorities

There is a correlation between income and health, with lower income groups more likely to experience poor health. Many of the negative external impacts of the transport network are experienced disproportionately by groups with fewer economic resources and those in relative deprivation - they are more likely to be exposed to transport related harmful impacts, such as traffic collisions and poor air quality as well as health inequalities related to inactive lifestyles. Creating Better Streets will increase participation among under-represented groups, for example the proportion of poorer communities and minority groups who choose to cycle .

Campaigners against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods have tried to make the case that LTN’s create a social justice issue by claiming that main road communities are disproportionately poorer and that BAME communities are over represented on main roads.

At first thought this seems obvious - the logical flow is that

Main Roads are less desirable places to live because of noise and pollution

—— ergo ——

Housing on main roads is cheaper (both to buy and to rent) vs a property of equal size on a quiet street.  

——- ergo ——

Poor people live on main roads / BAME tend to be poorer

—— ergo ——

LTNS displace traffic to main roads therefore they are socially unjust / discriminate against poor/BAME people.

—— and also ——

Car ownership is lower on main roads, so wealthier car-owning side road/LTN residents impose their car driving on others.  

But there does not appear to be any evidence to back this up. More research is needed to obtain better data but the available high level evidence from the census on home ownership, location of council estates etc suggests that any correlation is likely to be very weak.

Main roads in the pre-mass car age were the desirable places to live with the biggest grandest houses. That means that many of London’s main roads are still lined by large houses and these houses frequently have off-street parking.

There is no doubt that given two equivalent properties the one one the main road will be cheaper. However, property in desirable areas of London is hugely expensive and the difference between the main roads and non-main roads is surprisingly small or non-existent

The poorest people live in socially rented housing. Census data shows this is concentrated in the large estates but also, in Lambeth at least, nearly all areas a mix of privately owned, privately rented and socially rented

Impact on people with a disability

In London there is a significant journey time ‘penalty’ at present for those relying on rail and underground services who need step free access . This is considered likely to be a deterrent to travel with the resulting impact of a narrowing of opportunity for economic and social activity with potential consequences for physical and mental well-being.

Creation of Better Streets, and small scale highway improvements to provide safe, welcoming and legible street environments for people with disabilities. Increased priority for pedestrians, including extended crossing time, will also benefit people who may need

more time to cross the road comfortably .

Increasing participation in sustainable travel by people with disabilities should be a particular priority as disabled people suffer from higher mortality rates than the general population potentially reflecting exclusion from active travel / lifestyles

Myths / Refutations / Links to evidence  

COVID-19 is being used as an excuse to put this in

These plans are a response to the COVID crisis - capacity on public transport is likely to be limited for some time and London’s road network simply cannot provide for the shortfall in trips people need to make if they try to make them by car. Even if they could, less than half of Lambeth households have access to a car (as few as 30% in some wards in the north of the borough). Most of the trips people make in London are short -  70% of trips driven in London are under 5 miles and 42% are under 2 miles.  Those are trips that could be either cycled, or at the lower end walked, by the majority of people who are currently driving them. That’s the only way we’re going to get London moving again.

“There’s been no consultation, this isn’t democratic”

The Covid crisis has meant there has been a rush to put these schemes in. But actually, the way these schemes are doing “consultation” feels like a major step forward compared to historic practice. LCC & Urban Movement’s guide to engagement and consultation has much more. But in summary, these schemes are being consulted on as part of the trial. And that’s more democratic, not less.

In the past a scheme would be worked up by council officers and put to public consultation - often using maps that many find hard to read and lots of jargon. Residents often wouldn’t understand the scheme or its potential benefits and drawbacks, people would get angry, petitions would go round, the scheme would be delayed and reworked, almost invariably weakened if not abandoned, and by the time it went in (after huge fees to consultants and some years had passed), there’d be no budget or energy left for further changes.

We’re currently seeing schemes worked up rapidly by council officers and then installed using temporary and cheap materials, with the scheme then left to settle for a while. Some of these schemes can take six months, sometimes longer, to settle in properly. But residents can quickly start to see for real what the scheme does well and badly, and the schemes can then often be tweaked quickly and cheaply to deal with emerging issues. We’ve seen this with several Lambeth Streetspace schemes already - with resident feedback enabling changes within weeks. Finally, as the end of the experimental orders nears, there will be more consultation with the community around the outcomes and how the scheme could look if it were to be made permanent. But all of this would be based on real world experience - not plans and models.

Are these schemes going to be made permanent?

Further consultation would be needed to make the schemes permanent. Funding at the moment is for emergency measures only. Ultimately the ambition is for these schemes, if they deliver against objectives,  to be built in high quality materials and create new public spaces. The emergency funding does not allow but we expect this to change as, hopefully, the current crisis comes to an end and longer term funding positions become clear.      

Why not just deal with the problem roads and leave the rest open?

Problem traffic is often concentrated on a few roads within a neighbourhood but simply blocking these just shifts the problem. As many as 80% of London drivers now use Satnavs so will immediately be rerouted around a single closure. When you filter an entire neighbourhood, some of the ratrun traffic will shift to the nearest main roads, which are generally designed for higher levels of motor traffic, some will “evaporate” and be entirely gone from the area - as people change their habits. Long term, what tends to happen is the area is much quieter while nearby roads return to levels approximately where they were before the scheme.

“I live in the next neighbourhood - this is just going to make my area worse”

Many rat runs run through a number of neighbourhoods - cutting them off in one nearly always reduces rat running in the surrounding area and keeps more traffic on the main roads. However, sometimes, yes, ratrun traffic in one neighbourhood does displace into the next neighbourhood over - where there is spare capacity on their ratruns. The answer then is to monitor and then bring forward a low traffic neighbourhood there as well as a priority.

It’s simply not possible to change the entire borough at once but Lambeth’s Low Traffic Neighbourhood plan has identified neighbourhoods across the whole borough.

“It’s only going to benefit people who already cycle”

Measures are focused on making walking more attractive, and on the high proportion of residents in the borough who say they would like to cycle, but don’t because the roads are too dangerous.

Low traffic neighbourhoods really benefit walking even more than cycling - with many residents switching slightly less convenient short driving journeys for far more pleasurable walking ones. Even more importantly Donald Appleyard’s work shows that people who live on lower traffic streets have more connections to their neighbours, children have more roaming distance and the result is a stronger community.

“It’s just for the benefit of a few rich residents. What about the majority of ordinary people who have to drive?”

Car ownership (households with access to a car) varies substantially across London:

at a borough level it ranges from 26% of households in Islington to 75% in Richmond Upon Thames. London wide 46% of households are car free, while for inner London 60%.  

If you can afford to run a car in London, you are part of a privileged minority. Car ownership correlates very strongly with higher income - people on low incomes don’t own or travel by car and also tend to live in the areas with the worst pollution.

XX% of local households have no access to a car.  

[You can obtain the figures at an electoral ward level for your borough from the Nomis (Census website) code QS416EW ]

It’s hard to overstate the benefits low income households can gain if people feel able to safely ride around their town or city. A Zone 3 Travelcard now costs nearly £160 per month so even a high quality bike rapidly pays for itself. 

On the other side of the coin, we do know that the dominance of unnecessary motor traffic is felt disproportionately by those least likely to use cars, our poorest and most vulnerable. Disabled pedestrians are at greater risk from road danger than those without disabilities. As are those on lower incomes, who’re less likely to own cars in the first place. And while car ownership is correlated strongly with inactivity, inactivity and pollution again disproportionately impact specific vulnerable communities.

“Cycling is elitist - it’s dominated by the white middle class males”

In places like Denmark and the Netherlands, the bike lanes are filled with people of both genders, all ages, most ethnic backgrounds and every social class, from members of the royal family downward. A TfL study in early 2016, following the advent of higher quality bike routes in London, found black and minority ethnic Londoners were now just as likely to be regular cyclists as white people in the city. The same is true nationally.

“Plumbers, builders, electricians need to drive”

These schemes don’t stop any property from being driven to and with fewer unnecessary trips being made by car journey times often improve. Increasingly, people in these trades are looking at different, less stressful, ways to travel. For multi-day jobs tools can be delivered at the start and collected at the end. Materials and large items can be delivered directly to the customer. Cargo bikes can carry tool-boxes and a bike is a much quicker way to get to a local merchant for small parts than driving.

Beyond the scope of individual Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes but in the longer term, even simple moves such as consolidating the number of companies that deliver to a street or area can be hugely beneficial in reducing unnecessary motor traffic, as can ways to manage construction vehicles. TfL work on this has saved huge amounts of construction lorry vehicle movements in the capital - and the same team is also examining the ability for electric cargo bikes to deliver to construction sites faster than vans across the city.

What does delay emergency services is main road congestion and badly parked cars in narrow side streets - just the things that progressive schemes address.

Emergency services are statutory consultees to highways schemes - and their views are taken very seriously.

“Bin lorries won’t be able to turn around”

There are already numerous dead end streets around the borough which are serviced by bin lorries. Depending on the layout of your street, they will either be able to unlock a bollard to exit, reverse down the street (as they already do in many places), or turn around.

Don’t the council have a duty to manage the network and ensure resilience?

One of the statutory duties of local authorities under the Traffic Management Act is to manage the network effectively and ensure resilience. This can be done through managing traffic on the main road network and a number of key junctions or gateways into an area. It can't be done if people are able to drive wherever they like in residential areas, rat running to avoid these key control points. When this happens you lose control of everything - the network no longer exists except on paper.

As above, suggesting that through traffic should be able to use all these additional routes to meet demand is like loosening your belt to fight obesity.

Introducing low traffic neighborhoods and restricting through traffic to main roads means traffic can actually be managed. By design traffic levels on main roads will increase immediately after implementation but that just demonstrates the scale of the problem. Longer term you need measures on the main roads so as to ensure motor traffic doesn't exceed the space now allocated for it.

“I won’t be able to access my house/how are deliveries going to get to me?”

All homes will still be accessible by motor vehicles, though some trips may take a few minutes longer.

“The community will be severed”

“Low traffic” areas are generally designed so that they can be walked across in 10 minutes or so. Research shows that busy roads are a major barrier to community cohesion - as motor traffic on a street increases interactions between residents drop. Again, as Appleyard demonstrated (and has since been replicated), children are given less independence and don't play in the street, people are less likely to know their neighbours[1] when living on streets with higher traffic levels.  

“When I drive, my trip will be longer, causing more pollution”

Even the worst case is usually far less of a detour than drivers think it is and as part of a longer journey a few minutes are not significant. More to the point, many people often stop driving those very short trips so that overall traffic in an area falls and this means overall pollution levels fall, far outweighing any increase from the small number of trips that are truly essential. There is plenty of evidence of this from places like Waltham Forest and Hackney, as well as from overseas.

“Electric Cars are the answer- we don’t need to do anything”

A shift from oil-powered to electric cars should help to improve air quality in urban areas but much particulate pollution comes from tyres, brakes and dust thrown up from the road.[2] Until the electricity supply is renewable it still leads to carbon emissions and pollution elsewhere.

Electric cars don’t solve many of the other problems involved with motor vehicle use – congestion, danger, public health, land use required for parking, and roads and streets that are blighted by motor traffic. Remember, inactivity and being overweight are one of our biggest health crises - and one that is strongly correlated to unnecessary car use.

Subsidies to encourage electric vehicle purchase (cheap/free parking, exemption from congestion charge etc) and very low fuel costs mean they can even encourage more journeys. In Norway car ownership per household, and distance driven, grew: 15-20% of Norway’s EV’s wouldn’t have been bought without subsidy.

There are also still huge debates raging over whether a rapid shift to electric cars is possible given the scarcity of many materials used to manufacture them, the embedded carbon emissions cost of manufacturing electric cars versus other modes of transport, and the load on the electricity grid and how quickly the grid can go zero carbon - so for rapid decarbonisation needed to meet our climate targets, as well as for all the other reasons cars are a major problem in our cities, electric cars will only ever be a part of the overall solution needed for London.

Crime will go up/the streets won’t be safe if there is no through traffic”

There is no evidence of this effect in areas where Low Traffic neighborhoods have been implemented. Crime is deterred by people on foot, not by passing motorists. The Police are supportive of the programme, partly because by improving the number of people walking in an area and making an area feel nicer, with a more cohesive community, anti social crime is reduced.

In Waltham Forest’s Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes, several previously crime-ridden hotspots have been radically transformed by the arrival of such schemes - with pedestrian footfall way up, and fewer places to drive in and out of areas, drug-dealing, violent crime and antisocial behaviour have virtually disappeared.

“Residential side streets act as an escape valve”  

When a main road is disrupted, such as by a collision, the restricted capacity of side streets means that they very quickly become clogged. Moreover, the extra turning movements created by drivers seeking to avoid the main road, can even generate extra congestion. Lockable bollards can be used to enable emergency services to temporarily open areas during extended incidents. And in a fast-unfolding emergency service vehicles are designed to be robust enough to smash through bollards (although this is actually necessary incredibly rarely).

“20mph traffic causes more pollution than 30mph”

There’s all sorts of data about pollution and speed humps and speed limits. But most of that looks at an individual spot or a single test of one road feature or an individual vehicle. Even there, a recent study by Imperial College found diesel vehicles with engines of between 1.4 litres and 2.0 litres produce fewer harmful emissions at 20mph than at 30mph while smaller petrol and diesel engine vehicles both generate fewer particulates when driven at this lower speed. Download the report here. 

More useful though, is the evidence that 20mph zones not only result in lower collisions and less severe collisions but also lower levels of pollution. This Welsh summary suggests significant cuts in air pollution, while London-specific evidence from TfL suggests worst-case scenario 20mph doesn’t increase NOx pollution but is likely to cut particulate pollution.

It’s a complex picture but broadly, no, 20mph traffic doesn’t cause more pollution than 30mph, but it does have huge overall public health benefits.

Pollution will increase due to more idling motor vehicles”

Nearly all modern cars have ‘auto stop-start’ so that the engines don’t run when stationary at traffic lights or in a queue. The introduction of the ULEZ charge means most vehicles in London will have this technology.

On top of this, while some of our most congested hotspots are also hotspots for pollution, it does not follow that reducing overall motor traffic capacity results in pollution hotspots. Every time a cycling scheme comes forward, there’s the claim with it it’s made pollution worse. But the data shows both Embankment at the “East-West Cycle Superhighway” and Tavistock Place and its surrounds have seen significant pollution reduction, despite claims from many of the opposite.

“All we need is cycle lanes on main roads; road closures are unnecessary”

Traffic speeds and volumes are currently too high in residential areas for most people to feel safe enough to cycle, or to let their children cycle. Drivers traveling through their own neighbourhood usually travel more slowly and are more careful than when cutting through other residential areas.

We need to encourage people to consider alternative means of transport by making walking and cycling a quicker and more attractive option than jumping in the car.  More than 40% of outer London car journeys are less than two kilometres and the school run accounts for at least one in five cars on London roads.  On its own, improving cycle lanes is not enough to encourage the level of behaviour change we need to address congestion and dangerous levels of pollution.

Simply put, we need both - a network of residential safe routes to enable walking and cycling on short, local journeys and to connect to the broader/longer distance network of main road routes, which also deliver walking and cycling journeys safely to key amenities.

“Cycle routes can be diverted through residential streets and parks rather than taking up space on main roads.”

Cycle (and pedestrian) routes need to be as direct as possible because people are using their own energy to move. That’s why pedestrians cut across the grass in parks and ignore crossings when they’ve been badly situated (not on the “desire line”).

Back street routes are rarely direct - they are normally long winded and hard to follow. Conserving energy is even more important on longer journeys so safe cycling on the main roads is vital.

The Netherlands makes their bike (and mobility scooter) lanes the most direct and prioritise them ahead of motorised traffic. The UK often does the opposite, making pedestrians and cyclists go the longer way round, often via footbridges and unpleasant underpasses, while prioritising shorter distances for cars. The unsurprising consequence of this is that people prefer to drive.

Often London’s quieter routes involve narrow canal towpaths, through unlit or isolated parks, and through poorly lit alleys or industrial estates. These routes then exclude all but the bravest after dark and through the winter. And the bravest tend to ignore conditions and ride direct road routes anyway.

The evidence from London is that direct protected routes for cycling see explosive growth of cycling numbers, who cycle in tracks when they’re high quality. And this is a more efficient use of roadspace than general motor traffic lanes.

“Not everyone wants to walk or cycle”

With quieter, safer, road conditions many more people feel able to travel by means other than car. Many disabled people can cycle and the facilities that are good for cycling are perfect for mobility scooters. Children experience greater freedom to travel independently. These schemes are not about forcing everyone to walk or cycle - they’re about giving people the choice.

In countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, where cycling is catered for as a serious mode of transport, people choose to cycle because it's safe, convenient and pleasant – and journey times are reliable, as they won't get stuck in congestion. People in those countries can drive if and when they want to, but because driving isn't the only choice for travel, as it is in many other countries, they choose to do so less often.

Everybody benefits from this increased level of cycling – even those who do need to drive, as it means that they're not sat waiting in traffic which is made up of people using a car for short local journeys.

Remember, TfL estimates that the majority of London car journeys could be done by other modes - these are short journeys with just an able bodied driver and no heavy load. If we can shift these away from motor cars, we can ensure those who need to get around in a motor vehicle - tradespeople, disabled people etc. - have an easier drive.

Older people can’t cycle - they have to drive”

In countries where there is widespread provision for cycling separate from other modes of transport, people of all age groups and abilities cycle, and do so at a pace they’re happy with. For example, nearly a quarter of all trips made by Dutch over-65s are cycled.

Removing interactions with heavy vehicles makes almost any journey a possibility by cycle – be it a standard bicycle or something specifically for those with mobility needs, such as a hand-powered trike – and may often make trips easier than walking for those who have difficulty doing so. In addition, the increasing use of electrically-assisted “e-bikes” means that physical strength is even less of a barrier.

So in fact the truth is the opposite of the myth – cycling actually gives less-able people more transport options and independence.

“This scheme discriminates against the sick and disabled - they have to drive”

Most people with disabilities don't have a mobility disability, most people with a mobility disability can't afford to drive. Many people who can't walk can cycle. Cycle tracks & accessible public transport benefits most people of all abilities.

For many people with disabilities or medical conditions - for instance, blindness, epilepsy and many others - driving isn’t and option at all (DVLA List of conditions affecting driving)

For some disabilities or medical conditions, non-motorised wheeled transport is the easiest way to get around, door-to-door. There are people for whom an e-assist bike, recumbent bike, hand cycle, or trike is an ideal mobility option.

This applies to many people with chronic fatigue, back injuries, ankylosing spondylitis, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy for example. But these people need a safe place to ride – they need proper infrastructure for non-motorised, wheeled transport.

For people who do need motorised transport, there are options beyond the car. Electric wheelchairs are one. Birò – tiny electric cars – are another. Both use cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands – a safe place to travel, away from cars.

And if a car is the best option – a better transport system serves essential car use too, because it gives people who don't need a car more appealing options. This means reduced traffic and parking demand, leaving more space for those who really do need it.

Chapter 8 of this report from TfL provides some useful insights:… 

And the @Wheels4Well favourite

“There should be an exemption for residents”

More exemptions = more traffic = fewer kids play out. Giving residents exemptions means the very same residents have no reason to modally shift. Actually you risk making driving a bit more convenient for them as the streets are a quieter than they were -  so there is a risk they actually drive more that before.

If you want modal shirt you want short, unnecessary journeys become more inconvenient compared to walking, cycling, scooting  and that doesn't happen where residents are exempt.

“There should be an exemption for the elderly, sick, disabled, carers, parents transporting kids”

Concern about trips being a few minutes longer for those who have mobility issues  ignores the fact that the majority of people  already have to do all this stuff without a car.  And this is more true for the people in the most disadvantaged circumstances. Access to private vehicles correlates strongly with wealth, and if you have health problems or disabilities you are much less likely to have access.

If we are considering the needs of elderly people, or wheelchair users, (or healthy kids) we should not be focusing on the ones who already have the best access to mobility solutions (ie those that have access to a car) who are going to be slightly inconvenienced.  Surely the focus should be on those who do without that privilege or who are unable to drive even if they wanted to?

Lower traffic levels, better crossings and walking routes and safe cycling directly all benefit the majority of mobility impaired people without a car, letting them make more trips independently. (and many people who can’t drive can cycle with the right type of bike - as Wheels for Wellbeing demonstrate).

There may be some schemes where an exemption would be appropriate for a limited class of users, whether Blue Badge or some specific residents, but every exemption increases motor traffic volumes and reduces the calming benefits of a scheme. These cases should be few and far between and would more typically occur at destinations rather than home addresses. As these schemes become permanent, far more of the filter points should be full width closures - as a rule it should be rare to use ANPR except for bus gates. Exemptions also greatly increase the ongoing cost for the council to manage a ‘greenlist’ of vehicles that are allowed through a filter.  

Campaigners should be part of ongoing efforts to improve designs of highways schemes for disabled people. Enabling everyone to be mobile is hugely important - but it's not the case that enabling private motor vehicle access everywhere always and easily is good for most disabled people who experience the negatives of motor traffic in our city disproportionately.

“Cycling isn’t a practical option when you have children”

This is a problem of public infrastructure, as children generally don't have a problem cycling! Most children are attracted to cycling, rightly seeing it as providing freedom.

The reason many people believe it is too difficult to ride somewhere with children is because there is insufficient provision of safe places to cycle. Areas with high volumes of cycling invariably have safe places to do so – off-road paths, protected cycleways, separation from motor traffic, quiet residential streets, etc.

As the Dutch and Danish experience shows, children are able to cycle significant distances from a young age, and cycling with children can be a great way for families to get around, and also for children to travel independently. Data shows that in the Netherlands almost half of all trips made by under-17s are cycled, and over three-quarters of high school pupils cycle to school.

“Cyclists ride on the pavement, jump red lights, cause danger to pedestrians”

Cycling on the pavement is almost always a symptom of poor conditions for cycling. The best and most permanent way to tackle this problem is to create attractive places for cycling away from the footway, either in the form of cycleways separated from motor traffic, or by making the road itself a pleasant place to cycle by reducing the speed and volume of motor traffic to a low level.

And while cycling on the footway can be genuinely annoying, scary and inconvenient for those walking, the danger it causes should not be overstated either – the vast majority of deaths and injuries on the footway are due to motor vehicles. People in the UK are over 50 times more likely to be killed by someone driving a motor vehicle on the verge or footway, than by someone cycling, let alone someone cycling on the pavement.


[2] Government Advisor Prof Frank Kelly, Guardian 4 Aug 2017