Park View School and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods: an open letter

Junction of St Ann’s Rd and Black Boy Lane, with Chestnuts Primary School in the background. Under St Ann’s LTN, Option A, there would be no through motor traffic on Black Boy Lane, except for buses and emergency vehicles. This would also reduce queueing and idling on St Ann’s – another big source of air pollution.

On 15 September, I sent this by email to the headteacher at Park View School in Haringey:

Dear Mr Webster,

I was shocked to hear that Park View’s Twitter feed had been used to oppose plans for low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs). The tweets seem to have been deleted, but I gather they refer to both the Bruce Grove/West Green LTN and St Ann’s LTNs, between which Park View would be sandwiched. I am disturbed, further, to hear opposition to the LTNs being described as an official policy of Park View School. I hope you can disabuse me of that.

My son attends Park View. He previously attended Chestnuts, and before that Woodlands Park Nursery. He walks to school through the St Ann’s ward – one of the proposed LTN areas – every day. You’ll know that Chestnuts is in that ward, and sits on the corner of St Ann’s Rd and Black Boy Lane, both very busy roads. The Option A version of the St Ann’s LTN would quiet one of those roads, substantially reducing air pollution, road noise and road hazard for children at that school. I wish the LTN had been in place during his years there.

There is ample evidence that LTNs of this sort reduce overall motor traffic considerably. The reduction in traffic also brings reductions in CO2 emissions (domestic transport accounts for about 27% of total UK emissions); in ambient air pollution; and in road hazard – and actual casualties – for pedestrians, cyclists and, yes, to kids at play.  Streets without through motor traffic become more lively, better used by residents, strengthening community, and improving personal safety (though some have claimed that taking through traffic off the streets leaves them deserted and unsafe for pedestrians at night – this emerged as a talking point against LTNs in Ealing a few months back, but again was presented without evidence). There is also ample evidence that all of the problems brought by traffic hit hardest at the more deprived in our communities (e.g., car ownership is higher in Muswell Hill, while air pollution and pedestrian/cyclist casualties are higher in Tottenham). All of this is clear – I can provide references if you wish.

An LTN reduces motor traffic because people make choices about car journeys – whether to do a school run, or let the kids walk; to do two shopping trips by car, or combine them in one, or order a delivery, or hop on a bike; to follow GPS past Downhills Park and down Langham Road to West Green, or stick to the A10. By making car trips a bit less convenient and walking/cycling/bus trips a bit easier and safer, the LTN leads some drivers to change their behaviour.

But of course Park View does not sit in either of the proposed LTNs – it sits on West Green, a boundary road between them. Perhaps your concern is that, even with the LTNs reducing overall road traffic, they would greatly increase traffic on West Green (though of course the Bruce Grove/West Green LTN would make Langham Rd, along one side of your school, very quiet)?

Drivers queueing to turn from West Green Road onto Langham Road. This often holds up traffic, including buses, on West Green. Langham is a rat run which would be closed to through motor traffic under the Bruce Grove/West Green LTN proposal. Park View School has its main entrance on West Green; another entrance, and the staff car park, are on Langham. In both cases the school itself is set well back from the road.

This is a reasonable concern. Unfortunately, whether or not these traffic and pollution problems will materialize, is not something anybody can know in advance. That is because we can’t know what the changes in driving behaviour will be. Almost every time an LTN has been created, anywhere in the world, people have predicted traffic armageddon on boundary roads “because the traffic has to go somewhere”; that disaster has usually not come to pass. To take just some current local examples, evidence from recently created LTNs in Hackney and Lambeth, and both new and old ones in Waltham Forest, is that results are quite mixed, with some decreases and some increases in traffic on boundary roads. So I can’t tell you if the proposed LTNs would bring new traffic congestion and pollution to West Green Road. Nor do I think anybody else can tell you – the only way to find out is to try, and to make adjustments if it doesn’t go well. What I can tell you that and that for all the dire predictions, after an LTN is bedded in, few if any want to see the process reversed. Again, take a look at Waltham Forest.

What nobody has ever told me is how we’re going to reduce motor traffic without ending the situation in which every road is a GPS-enabled rat run; nor how, without reducing motor traffic, we’re going to make sufficient progress on CO2 emissions, on clean air, or on streets which are safe for kids and for active travel. So the prospect that traffic might get worse on West Green Rd seems a bit feeble as a reason for opposing these measures. But perhaps you had other reasons – all I know about is some tweets which have been deleted.

We’re almost at the end of the council’s consultation period now. When the dust has cleared, if these or other such initiatives do move forward, I hope that you and the governors of Park View will engage a bit with evidence and with a cross section of community concerns, before taking a position on such an important matter.

Best regards,

Frederick Guy

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