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“Clear evidence” does not support “flat earther” LTN 999 delay headlines, says Cycling UK

Ex-head of London Ambulance Service backs schemes, and says councils responded to concerns

Headlines in a number of mainstream media outlets in recent days have reported the former head of the London Ambulance Service (LAS) as saying that “LTNs have delayed 999 response times”. While those headlines are likely to be seized upon by opponents of such schemes, they don’t accurately reflect what was in fact said – and the charity Cycling UK has said that such “flat earther” views are not backed by evidence.

Garrett Emmerson, who stepped down from his role just last week, was speaking on Friday to LBC’s Nick Ferrari, who earlier this year claimed that LTNs are an “apartheid” and has consistently hit out against them.

> Nick Ferrari claims LTNs are an "apartheid"

LTNs, which block streets in residential areas to rat-running drivers while allowing access to local residents and the emergency services, have been around for decades, and there are thousands of examples in towns and cities across the UK.

It’s only in the past 18 months, however, that the term has entered the national consciousness as councils in London and elsewhere introduced more of them (in some cases, bringing forward existing plans) in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with the government encouraging active travel while also wanting to reduce private car use as the country began its recovery.

Ferrari had asked Emmerson whether he believed that LTNs “could, or might have cost lives?”

The former LAS chief executive said he was unable to answer that question, but added: “Have they delayed responses? Yes, in certain situations I think they have delayed responses.”

The key phrase there is “in certain situations,” but Emmerson made clear that he supported LTNs and pointed out that they had needed to be introduced very quickly in response to the pandemic, and that any problems had been dealt with swiftly.

“They were necessary, and they were put in incredibly quickly,” he explained. “I have to say, in most cases where we raised issues or problems with boroughs they were very responsive to doing something about it." 

“It is all right if you know the area, but our crews work all across London. Then, when going into an area of London they know less well and relying on satellite navigation that is not up to date – some new restriction has gone in – is where a lot of the problems occur,” he added.

In its headline on its online coverage of the story, LBC was unequivocal, however, with the piece published under the title, “Ex-London Ambulance chief admits LTNs have delayed 999 response times,” and coverage elsewhere carried similar headlines.

The perceived hindrance caused by LTNs to the work of the emergency services is an area opponents regularly highlight and one that some elements of the media focus on, even though the claims often do not stand up to scrutiny – as Twitter user Leo Murray highlighted in this thread on the social network a couple of weeks ago.

Meanwhile, in July it emerged that within London, the number of road traffic casualties in areas with new LTNs had halved compared to prior to the introduction of such schemes.

Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at Cycling UK highlighted to road.cc that a freedom of information request last year had established that LTNs and similar interventions were widely supported by ambulance trusts and were not perceived as a hindrance.

> Pop-up bike lanes don't slow ambulances according to … the ambulance service

“It was sensational and misleading reporting by the Daily Mail last year which prompted Cycling UK to send freedom of information requests to ambulance trusts throughout the UK,” he said.

“The responses revealed active travel schemes, including cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods, were no barrier to ambulances, widespread support from ambulance trusts for them, and no evidence to support media claims that they had been responsible for delaying or holding up ambulances on critical blue light emergencies.

“As the London Ambulance Service explained when replying to out FoI request, any changes to road layouts, traffic management schemes, and road closures all have the potential to impede their response times, but strangely it’s only the potential for active travel schemes to impact negatively that concerns LBC,” he added.

“But the evidence and data is clear on this issue, and it doesn’t support LBC’s flat earther headline.”

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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