What’s a low traffic neighbourhood (LTN)?

The Prime Minister has ordered a review into low traffic neighbourhoods. Here, we take a look at what they are, why they’re controversial, and what they mean for motorists...

Low traffic neighbourhood

Low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) are supposed to reduce air pollution in residential areas and make them safer places to walk and cycle. However, they’ve been criticised for placing an unfair burden on local people by increasing congestion on surrounding roads, and limiting access to homes and businesses.

These concerns have prompted Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to order a review into the extensive rollout of LTNs, which took place during the Covid-19 pandemic, to assess the efficacy of the schemes.

Here we take a look at how low traffic neighbourhoods work, the arguments for and against them, and how they could affect you.

What is a low traffic neighbourhood or LTN?

An LTN is a residential area where access to motorised traffic is restricted. This is achieved by using barriers or ‘filters’ – such as bollards, gates and planters – or via ‘no motor vehicles’ road signs. In the latter case, restrictions are typically enforced using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras.

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The stated aim is to prevent drivers using certain residential roads as shortcuts (also known as rat runs) during peak travel times, while still allowing full access to pedestrians and cyclists.

The restrictions typically apply to all private motor vehicles (cars, motorcycles, mopeds, etc.), although emergency vehicles are exempt.

Why were LTNs introduced?

Even though their prevalence has increased rapidly across the country over the last three years, LTNs have actually existed in London since the 1970s.

The argument is that boosting the appeal of walking and cycling (by reducing the number of cars travelling through a neighbourhood) encourages residents to leave their own cars at home more often, and instead undertake shorter journeys on foot or by bicycle.

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However, the sharp rise in the number of LTNs in 2020 was the result of the ‘Emergency Active Travel Fund’, a grant which was introduced by the Government during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Why are LTNs controversial?

Because a large number of LTNs were established over a very short period of time, critics argue that public consultation regarding their introduction was insufficient.

Some drivers living near LTNs have been forced to add time and complexity to regular journeys, because their previous route is no longer available. And where physical barriers have been put in place, there’s the potential for increased response times for emergency service vehicles.

In addition, it’s been suggested that LTNs actually increase congestion on the roads which surround them, rather than reducing traffic levels overall. This would mean the problems of pollution do not go away, but merely move, making conditions worse for people living on the outskirts of the neighbourhoods.

BMW 1 Series in traffic

A study of 46 LTNs spread across 11 London boroughs (conducted by the University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy) refuted this; it concluded that traffic levels within the neighbourhoods fell by 46.9% on average, without a corresponding increase in traffic on boundary roads.

However, OneLondon, a grouping of neighbourhoods across London that are opposed to LTNs, criticised the methodology used, arguing that a small percentage increase on busier surrounding roads could still represent a large number of vehicles being displaced from smaller roads.

OneLondon also pointed out that only 46 of the 96 schemes recently introduced were part of the survey, meaning councils had the chance to cherry-pick data. And, indeed, an LTN scheme in Wandsworth in London was suspended after concerns were raised about emergency access and traffic flows.

Some businesses, meanwhile, have complained that LTNs have made their premises harder for staff, customers and delivery vans to access. But advocates for LTNs suggest that more people walking past businesses should instead lead to an increase in the number of customers.

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What happens if I live in an LTN?

If your neighbourhood becomes an LTN, you might find some of your previous routes interrupted by restrictions. These restrictions shouldn’t prevent you from being able to get somewhere altogether, but may force you to travel further than you would have before, in order to circumnavigate them.

Even if you can physically drive through a filter in your area, you must still abide by whatever terms are signposted. One of the biggest frustrations is that exemptions to these traffic restrictions are not typically granted for local residents, so if you breach their terms, you will still be fined.

What happens if I drive through an LTN?

The rules are typically enforced using ANPR cameras, so breaching a restriction could mean you later receive a fine of up to £130.

Can electric cars go through LTNs?

The aim of LTNs is to reduce motorised traffic as a whole, which means electric cars face the same restrictions as petrol and diesel models. Electric car drivers should therefore heed any road signs which prohibit motor vehicle access.

Electric cars waiting to charge

Which cities in the UK have LTNs?

London has by far the greatest number of LTNs, but similar schemes have also been introduced in cities across England, including Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford and Sheffield.

Are blue badge holders exempt from LTN restrictions?

As a general rule, emergency vehicles are the only motor vehicles permitted to travel through an LTN barrier, unless otherwise indicated. However some local authorities, such as Lambeth Council, allow blue badge holders to apply for a permit which grants access through a particular restricted section.

If you live in an LTN, you should contact your local authority to find out what options are available to you.

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