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Air quality improved both inside and on boundary roads of low traffic neighbourhoods, but Labour MP claims more LTNs will worsen congestion

A report has shown that low traffic neighbourhoods had an impact in reducing NO2 pollution by 14%, however incumbent Labour MP expressed her concerns about “LTNs’ ability to displace traffic onto arterial roads”

A new report from Oxford City Council has shown that all the monitoring locations both inside and on the boundary roads of the city’s low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) showed a decrease in NO2 levels measured in 2023, when in comparison with the previous year. Meanwhile, Labour MP Anneliese Dodds opposed the rollout of more LTNs based on concerns about worsening congestion and leaving behind people who cannot commute by walking or cycling.

The 2023 Air Quality Annual Status Report (ASR) published by the council earlier this month said that its traffic calming initiatives such as LTNs and zero emission zones (ZEZs) were successful in bringing down NO2 pollution on an average by 14 per cent compared to 2022.

It marks a greater change than the nine per cent average reduction across the UK, and when compared to pre-pandemic levels (2019), the reduction was a total of 33 per cent.

In October last year, the Oxfordshire County decided to make the East Oxford LTNs, located at St Marys, St Clements and Divinity Road permanent to prevent rat-running motorists from driving through residential streets, making them safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

However, the LTNs have instead become the epicentre of what some have described as a “civil war” in Oxford, and the subject of protestsconspiracy theoriesvandalism, arson attacks, and even television documentaries.

> “Going back is not realistic”: Councillor stresses “need to change” as Oxford LTNs made permanent – but angry residents say “we can’t get on bikes”

Upon monitoring, the report found that all seven boundary locations as well as four locations within the bollards of the low traffic neighbourhoods showed a reduction in NO2 pollution.

Further, of the 128 locations observed, two places were found to exceed the national legal limit of 40 µg/m3 NO2 levels, while only nine sites were above Oxford’s own voluntary limit of 30 µg/m3.

Oxford NO2 pollution levels (image: Oxford City Council)

However, Anneliese Dodds, the incumbent MP for Oxford East has criticised the council’s proposal to introduce more LTNs based upon their success rate, saying that more traffic filters will worsen congestion and stifle public transport services, reports This is Oxfordshire.

She said: “I understand why some residents are in favour of LTNs, due to their impact on producing quieter streets in the areas where they are introduced. This has made cycling and walking safer in some areas and preventing 'rat running’.

“However, my concern from the beginning of the roll-out of the LTNs is that they are a ‘stick’ which has been introduced without any ‘carrot’ or enabler of green transport, and that this has had negative impacts on those who are unable to cycle or walk to work, to use essential public services or to visit family.

“I have written to the county council and the Government repeatedly, pushing these issues. I made it clear that continuing with the roll-out of LTNs before bus prioritisation would worsen congestion, further negatively impact bus uptake, and increase division around active travel and public transport measures in Oxford’s communities. I have also made these points in Parliament.

“If we are to tackle the climate crisis, we have to ensure that everyone- including people on our council estates and on low incomes - can get from A to B and travel in a cleaner, greener way.”

> “What are they going to do to keep my children safe?”: Active travel campaigners accuse council of ignoring report and listening to “bullies” after removal of Low Traffic Neighbourhood trial

However, in October last year, Oxford City Council secured a funding of nearly £2 million to improve its public transport services, especially increase long-term patronage, help maintain service levels, ensure essential social and economic connectivity for local communities and promote innovation in the industry.

This funding was an additional money given on top of £12.7 million from the government in August 2022 following the council’s successful Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) application.

Last year, another report into east Oxford’s LTNs found that the schemes have led to an increase in cycling numbers by 20 percent, with one boundary road even seeing the percentage of cyclists increasing by 51 percent, while car use is down by 10 percent.

While air quality has improved for the most part, the report also found that congestion has increased overall, with bus journey times towards the city centre and the busy Plain roundabout rising.

James Schumann, from the Divinity Road Area Residents Association, said that the LTNs had created “quieter streets and better neighbourhoods”, and that residential streets – which were “not designed for high traffic levels” – were now “safe for pedestrians, people on mobility scooters, cargo bikes, and cyclists, who can now use these narrow streets to get to school, work, and the shops”.

> Cyclists urge councillors to "take control" and stand by their active travel commitments after report recommends scrapping of divisive low traffic neighbourhood "as soon as possible"

Responding to Dodds’ comments, an Oxfordshire County Council spokesman said: "At Oxfordshire County Council we want public transport, walking and cycling to be genuine options for getting around the county.

"LTNs are intended to make residential streets safer and more comfortable for walking, wheeling, and cycling. They are designed to work with other measures to make travel easier in Oxford.

“We continue to monitor the LTNs and evaluate their impact and we will continue to work closely with residents, businesses and other organisations while developing projects in line with the aims set out in our local transport and connectivity plan.”

Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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26 comments

Avatar
thereverent | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

What what friend in Oxford have told me Oxford city coucil have done a good job with the LTNs, but needed to be a bit braver and put in more bus lanes and reduce parking further in the city.

Councils are always scared of removing parking, but it's the only way forward.

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kingleo | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

It doesn't matter how much road space is given to motorists, they will soon fill it up with parked empty cars that are hardly ever used and traffic jams of cars with only the driver inside - and a lot of them are those huge SUVs.

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festina | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

If people can't walk of cycle then give them a mobility scooter.

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Rendel Harris replied to festina | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

festina wrote:

If people can't walk of cycle then give them a mobility scooter.

I often think that and yes they certainly could be more widely employed to help people who are unable to walk or cycle to get to the shops et cetera, but to be fair if you have an illness that stops you walking or cycling you might well have regular hospital appointments and if you don't live in a large town – or sometimes even if you do – you may need to go twenty miles or more for your consultations/treatment, in which case a 4 mph mobility scooter won't really fit the bill. There will always be some people who genuinely need to use cars - they are just a much smaller minority than the pro-car lobby pretend.

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chrisonabike replied to Rendel Harris | 3 weeks ago
1 like

All true and "economies of scale".  Also a) the more driving the further it seems reasonable to space medical facilities (repeat) b) despite said centralisation we're also increasingly urban and probably - for much standard medical treatment - still not that far.

A quick google threw up this study - it was a) about acute care not (the increasing) "routine" / chronic condition maintenance and b) a decade (!) ago though and I think there may have been recent changes.  Still:

[quopte]The study finds that despite the total number of emergency admissions rising by over a third in ten years, the average distance from home to hospital has only increased by 0.2 miles.

In most cases these distances are not large: in 70% of cases, emergency admissions happened within 6.2 miles (10km) of a patient’s home, and only 3% of people were admitted to a hospital more than 18.6 miles (30km) from home. But the research did show that people in some rural areas have to travel over ten times as far as those in urban areas.[/quote]

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Rendel Harris replied to chrisonabike | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

Interesting figures, thanks. There will always be a need to travel for some treatment though just because it's simply economically impractical to have duplicates of highly expensive treatment machinery and properly trained experts in every single hospital, for example a friend of mine has recently been undergoing treatment for cancer; he lives right on the border of Greater London and Surrey and although he has two hospitals within a couple of miles neither have the highly specialist equipment and staff required for his treatment so he was offered a choice between King's College Hospital, about 12 miles in one direction, and Royal Surrey, about 20 miles in the other direction. This is for someone who actually lives in London (much as I like to call it the sticks), so I imagine in other parts of the country the problem is greatly magnified.

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mdavidford replied to Rendel Harris | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

Also, not all miles are created equal. If your appointment is just a few miles away on the edge of town, but there are a couple of busy junctions with no real crossing provision between you and it, it might just as well be a couple of towns over - you're not much more likely to convince people that a slow-moving mobility aid is a viable way to access it.

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The_Ewan replied to Rendel Harris | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

Rendel Harris wrote:

There will always be some people who genuinely need to use cars

It's worth bearing in mind that these are low traffic neighbourhoods, they are not pedestrianised. Mostly they have the effect of turning a small area into an effective cul-de-sac - you can drive in, and you can drive out, you just can't drive through.

If someone lives in an LTN they can still drive or taxi to their hospital appointments, they'll just have the benefit of quieter streets to do it on.

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mdavidford replied to The_Ewan | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

That wasn't the implication of festina's comment, though - it was that no-one needs to drive(/be driven).

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Rendel Harris replied to The_Ewan | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

Indeed that is the case but I was specifically addressing festina's suggestion that "if people can't walk or cycle then give them a mobility scooter", which implied to me that everybody can manage perfectly well without a car, which I don't think is the case.

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chrisonabike replied to festina | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

Indeed, only ... where are they going to ride their mobility scooter?  If the pavements are full of parked cars, or delivery vehicles, or signage for motorists, or dug up because that's where the utilities run, or someone's doing some building works...?

Vertical kerbs can be quite an issue to those with small wheels also, never mind changes in level.

Point is - there are still some issues - but the biggest one being how much we prioritise motor vehicles so that we accept as natural the first space to be used for any "overspill" or other requirements will come from those not in motor vehicles.

If on the other hand our country was set up something like this... and as for "but works" there is perhaps another way we could prioritise things (bridge?  No problem!).

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espressodan | 3 weeks ago
10 likes

"This has made cycling and walking safer in some areas and preventing 'rat running..... However, my concern... is that they are a ‘stick’ which has been introduced without any ‘carrot’ or enabler of green transport"

Apart, apparently, from the safer cycling and walking. What Dodds is actually doing is starting a bias that everything without an engine cannot possibly be actual transport, while ignoring the obvious fact that long distance motorized transportation has nothing to do with LTN's.

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Rendel Harris replied to espressodan | 3 weeks ago
19 likes

"We can make your neighbourhood air cleaner, make your neighbourhood roads safer, make your neighbourhood quieter, make it easier for you and your kids to walk and cycle with all the benefits, both mental and physical, that brings, and it won't have any negative impact on other people."

"Wow, that sounds fantastic! What's the catch?"

"No catch. Oh, except one end of your road will be closed to cars so if you do drive you'll have to go in and out the other end."

"I'm not having that! That's all stick and no carrot is that!"

Despair.

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mdavidford replied to Rendel Harris | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

I don't think the 'stick/carrot' remarks are in reference to the residents of the LTNs, though - its more about those travelling through/past them. Ideally, the LTN disincentives them to use private motor transport and shift their modal choice too. But if you don't provide viable alternatives, that disincentive doesn't have much effect, other than annoying them.

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Rendel Harris replied to mdavidford | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

Fair point.

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chrisonabike replied to mdavidford | 3 weeks ago
7 likes

mdavidford wrote:

But if you don't provide viable alternatives, that disincentive doesn't have much effect, other than annoying them.

Mostly agree - but again we shouldn't forget that (given a short time) "traffic" is not like an incompressible fluid which has to go somewhere.  Indeed it can evaporate!

While everyone has a reason it seems to me we very easily fall into the thought that "they were driving ergo they had to drive" here.  Plus a measure of "important, meaningful journey" - after all they paid for it!

Apparently if you drive to (insert you local purveyer of snacks) then back to "get some air" those are "journeys" (probably helping "growth" or something).  Hop on your bike and merely ride around to "get some exercise" and that's frivolous recreation - even if you perhaps stop for that very snack.  And that's something wasteful that we can probably do without; can you guarantee you didn't hold up any drivers, causing congestion...?

UK places are generally very permeable to traffic...

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brooksby replied to chrisonabike | 3 weeks ago
10 likes

Agreed that there seem to be a lot of people who presume that a cyclist is only ever cycling frivolously/recreationally whereas motorists are always driving for a Serious Purpose.

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Rendel Harris replied to brooksby | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

brooksby wrote:

Agreed that there seem to be a lot of people who presume that a cyclist is only ever cycling frivolously/recreationally whereas motorists are always driving for a Serious Purpose.

Meaningful A to B journeys!

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KDee replied to Rendel Harris | 3 weeks ago
6 likes

Cello lessons? 

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chrisonabike replied to KDee | 3 weeks ago
5 likes

Longbow practice.  It (was) the law!

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Danbury | 3 weeks ago
11 likes

"my concern from the beginning of the roll-out of the LTNs is that they are a ‘stick’ which has been introduced without any ‘carrot’ or enabler of green transport"

LTNs are the enabler of green transport.

She's almost certainly not daft, but I don't think she had really thought through what she was saying there.

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Secret_squirrel replied to Danbury | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

Danbury wrote:

"my concern from the beginning of the roll-out of the LTNs is that they are a ‘stick’ which has been introduced without any ‘carrot’ or enabler of green transport"

LTNs are the enabler of green transport.

She's almost certainly not daft, but I don't think she had really thought through what she was saying there.

I rather think you are the daft one.  She is clearly saying an LTN is just one element of a green transport policy - for example buying and scheduling more buses.  Its really not hard to interpret her statements as mostly positive unless you are wilfully casting her fully against LTN's.

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mdavidford replied to Secret_squirrel | 3 weeks ago
1 like

I realise you were only giving it as an example, but I think in the case of Oxford, buying and scheduling more buses probably wouldn't help much. What's needed is more finding ways for the existing buses to bypass the queues of other vehicles (I assume that's what Dodds is referring to by 'bus prioritisation'). Most of the time when services are cancelled, it seems to be because they've sat in traffic for so long that they've effectively become the next scheduled service instead.

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the little onion | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

I think you are being unfair on Dodds and Labour here. Her point in the quote is not to say that LTNs will cause congestion irrespective of other factors, but more that they will do so unless rolled out as part of a wider scheme. She isn't as enthusiastic as we might like, but she is somewhat warm towards them, and much more so than many other politicians.

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chrisonabike replied to the little onion | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

Well - her party may be in soon, so she perhaps she might like to push them to do a tiny little bit more for all those people?  And even perhaps for all those "left behind" - or just not well-served - by so much mass motoring ... indeed quite a few who turn out to be the same people she's claiming to be on the side of.

If she could even get a bit more cash sent to the authorities that might give them the options to spend on more than a "mini-scheme" here, a small intervention there.  But they might just use it trying desperately to plug the widening holes in their social budgets.  Or just dump it into actual pot holes (soon to return).

If they keep to what they've outlined "if you're not happy with things just now, vote for us so it won't get much worse" seems to be the message.

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HarrogateSpa replied to the little onion | 3 weeks ago
5 likes

There will always be excuses for not going ahead with active travel schemes: 'not yet, it's too soon, what about doing X first?'

We need to get on with making streets safer and more pleasant, and enabling cycling. We need to do it now, and Oxfordshire are doing it - so well done.

Dodds strikes me as one of these 'I'm not against this in principle but' people. In reality, the pre-conditions they attach to active travel projects will be never-ending.

There is no difference between people who are in favour of active travel in principle but not in practice, and those who are against active travel.

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