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Oil poured on roads and vandalism as protests against low-traffic neighbourhoods turn nasty

Schemes designed to stop rat-running drivers and make streets safer are increasingly being targeted by vocal minority

Initiatives to close roads to rat-running motorists in several London boroughs are being threatened by anti-Low Traffic Neighbourhood protesters – with one such scheme in Ealing not only seeing planters intended to block roads to through traffic vandalised or moved, but also having oil poured on the road, creating danger for cyclists.

The scheme in question is in the Northfields area of the west London borough, an area of residential streets that many non-local drivers use as a cut-through to avoid congestion on nearby main roads.

Similar schemes in other boroughs including Hackney, Islington, Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth have also attracted vocal opposition.

However, there are strong suspicions among active travel campaigners on social media that in many cases it is not coming from people who live on the streets concerned and instead from what might be termed ‘NISEBYs’ – Not In Somebody Else’s Back Yard.

LTNs, which have been around for decades but are now becoming increasingly common in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as explained below, essentially work on the basis of what is called filtered permeability, with one common misconception being that they block local residents from accessing their own streets.

That’s simply not true. By placing obstacles such as bollards or planters in specific locations, they make it impossible for motorists to use residential streets as a short-cut between main roads.

But car-owners who actually live on those streets – and it’s worth highlighting that only 54 per cent of households in London have access to a car at all, rising to more than two thirds in some boroughs – can still drive to their homes, although they may have to take a slightly circuitous route to do so.

The effect is that those streets become quieter in terms of traffic and its associated noise, safer for children and people on foot or on bikes, and the air quality improves;  certainly it seems that once local residents with cars understand that they aren’t being prevented from driving home, the schemes are broadly welcomed.

One common argument deployed against LTNs is that they restrict access for emergency vehicles – with opponents eagerly seizing on this video posted to Twitter yesterday of a fire engine in Lambeth.

However, what is stopping the driver from getting through the gap is not the planter itself – it’s the poorly parked car on the right, and Lambeth Council confirmed that emergency services had been consulted during the design process.

Many opponents of LTNs on social media, it has to be said, seem to share common views on some of the major issues of our time – whether that be Brexit, wearing a mask when entering a shop, immigration … well, you get the idea.

Black cab drivers seem to be over-represented too, and are known to have participated in weekly marches on Upper Street to protest outside Islington Town Hall about street closures – while, coincidentally, effectively closing the street they are holding the protest on.

David Kurten, by the way, is stading for election as Mayor of London next year. He was elected to the London Assembly in 2016, representing UKIP, before subsequently declaring his ... well, independence ... from the party. 

And, just to finish off with, take a look at this post on Twitter this morning. It looks as though we'd all forgotten the bit in the Magna Carta about motorists' rights?

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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