On Monday, Stuff published an article by Holly Walker, on low traffic neighbourhoods and their importance in the New Zealand context. Holly is from the Helen Clark Foundation, an independent public policy think tank, and today, she is releasing “The Shared Path,” a report on the subject by the foundation and WSP New Zealand.

Holly Walker. Image credit: Stuff

Last night, Newshub interviewed Holly about her report, and the concept of low traffic neighbourhoods. She said:

We know it will help with emissions reductions.

We know it will help improve road safety.

And we know it has a really beneficial effect on people’s sense of belonging and connection in their neighbourhood…

We don’t have to put up with those hundreds of deaths every year. We can do it differently. We just need to choose the right policies.

They also interviewed Peter McGlashan of the Maungakiekie-Tāmaki Local Board. Peter and his local board are championing two low traffic neighbourhoods – one in Glen Innes and one in Onehunga – as part of Waka Kotahi’s Innovating Streets programme.

Letting local people use the local streets… You make short trips easier to the shops, to the schools, in a much safer way. Rather than having people depend on cars to get from a to b.

[Edit: And just now, I see that The Spinoff has also run an article about the report.]

It is no surprise that low traffic neighbourhoods are gaining traction. The modeshift and traffic reduction gains are considerable, and quickly dispel myths that cycling and walking have only “fringe” benefits for decarbonisation. What mere “traffic calming” or “safety” project has Auckland implemented that comes close to returning mobility to people on bikes, especially women and children? As Railton LTN tweeted yesterday:


Below are some highlights of the report.

What is a low traffic neighbourhood?

… a group of residential streets where through-traffic is discouraged… ideally, residents should be able to walk or wheel from one side to the other in less than 15 minutes… roughly one square kilometre. Low-traffic neighbourhoods are also most effective if they are part of an integrated, city-wide plan and network of connected low-traffic areas, so that people can cross easily between neighbourhoods to access key destinations, and in order to keep main arterial routes safe for all.

As I’ve blogged before, the concept could apply to all precinct types.

Decarbonised Transport

To date, neither the Government nor the Climate Change Commission has produced detailed policy about how Aotearoa should decrease its transport emissions… a recent United Nations report projected that a 7.6 percent drop is required every year from 2020 to 2030 to be in line with the Paris Agreement…

Image credit: Patrick Morgan

Guidance produced in the UK suggests that around 15 percent of traffic inside a low-traffic neighbourhood will disappear permanently… To produce network-wide reductions in traffic volumes, low-traffic streets and neighbourhoods need to be planned and implemented at scale…

“Let’s consider the potential reduction in traffic volumes from more families conducting the school-run without driving… Auckland Transport’s 2020 Travelwise Survey of 94,679 school-aged children and youth shows that 44,345 (47 percent) of daily trips to school were made by car. Previous evidence suggests an average of 1.2 children are in vehicles arriving at schools in Auckland, and that approximately 42 percent of school run drives are ‘cold- start’ trips (i.e. car trips undertaken only for dropping children at school, without carrying on to work or elsewhere). If we apply all of these statistics and assume that these ‘cold-start’ school drop offs could be replaced by walking or cycling, there is the potential to remove 15,520 cars off the road during the morning rush hour, just based on this subset of Auckland schoolchildren…

“We know that the optimal home to school distance “threshold” for cycling is likely to be much greater than for walking or other forms of wheeling, so supporting cycling is an important strategy to increase active school travel…

Image credit: WSP

Improved road safety

[The] Road to Zero road safety strategy… action plan… does not include reducing traffic volumes as a key road safety measure. This is unfortunate, because the more we drive, the more we crash…

the system-wide thinking of a Vision Zero approach provides an opportunity to change this. Modelling suggests there are considerable safety gains to be achieved by reducing traffic volumes…

Policy discussions about traffic reduction, when they happen at all, tend to frame the issue as one of personal choice… leaving it up to individuals to change their transport patterns in a social and physical environment that is often hostile to alternatives… we need to adopt policies that can secure the change required at scale, in ways that enhance people’s daily lives and improve their transport experiences. Rapidly accelerating the implementation of low-traffic streets and neighbourhoods in Aotearoa’s cities is one important way to do this.

“in the majority of cases crashes happen as a result of some form of mistake… the speed at which the vehicle is travelling has a major impact on whether the situation is recoverable, the crash likelihood and most importantly, on the outcome of any resulting crash… Cars emit fewer damaging pollutants at 30 km/h than they do at 50 km/h, especially nitrous oxide and particulate matter output from diesel vehicles…”

“Much of the existing infrastructure is outdated and does not provide any benefits for those choosing active forms of travel, especially young children and the elderly. Specifically, there was a lack of safe crossing points and cycle infrastructure. Compounding this, roads and intersections are wide and allow uninterrupted and fast vehicle travel.

“The trials are a way to engage with the wider community. They enable people to see what their streets could be like so they can give more informed feedback.”

Greater health, equity, and wellbeing

Even before Covid-19, loneliness posed a significant public health and wellbeing challenge, and the pandemic and associated lockdowns has exacerbated these risks… communities thrive when people know their neighbours and feel a sense of belonging and Connection…

aspects of Aotearoa’s current transport system are also likely to be contributing to rising levels of psychological distress as a result of increased noise pollution and declining levels of active transport… improving neighbourhood walkability, reducing long commutes, increasing active commuting, and reducing the cost and improving the comfort of public transport [are] key ways to improve urban mental health in Aotearoa.

the adverse impacts of transport-related ill health are unequally distributed… the most deprived areas in New Zealand have the highest rates of traffic injury deaths, including pedestrian deaths. The large-scale design and implementation of low-traffic streets and neighbourhoods has the potential to improve physical and mental health, foster social connection, and reduce inequity.

‘Here comes the sun’ play street, Pt Chevalier, Auckland / Image credit: Bike Auckland

Overcoming Obstacles

Prior to the introduction of low-traffic interventions, residents often express concerns about the negative impact the changes may have on their daily lives…

There is good evidence from the UK that low-traffic neighbourhoods are good for local businesses. It suggests that people who walk and cycle take more trips to their local high street and spend 40 percent more there over the course of a month than people who drive. Improving walking and cycling infrastructure can boost retail sales by up to 30 percent, and cycle parking delivers five times the retail spend per square metre than car parking…

Executed well, low-traffic measures such as wider footpaths and separated cycleways have the potential to improve safety and access for disabled people, and indeed are among measures that disability advocates have been requesting for some time. But, for these benefits to be realised, direct involvement of disabled residents in decisions about low-traffic interventions in their area is essential. There is an important opportunity here to align urban planning for a low-emissions future with the growing international movement for universal design and accessible cities.

The Octagon, Dunedin / Image credit: Dunedin City Council

Principles and Actions for a Low-Traffic Future

Be ambitious

The debate about climate change is over, as is the political debate about what our collective response as a nation should be… To achieve these goals, we need central and local governments to adopt regulations and policies that ensure change happens, and quickly.

Make the process tika (just and right)

When done well, low-traffic projects can have benefits for all, but if poorly planned and executed, there is potential for low-traffic neighbourhoods to inadvertently disadvantage some, including Māori. This should not be allowed to happen…

Plan large areas together

Low-traffic interventions work best when they are planned as part of a network, not operating in isolation. This is particularly important to ensure vehicle traffic is not simply displaced from one neighbourhood to the next without achieving meaningful traffic volume reductions. It is also important to coordinate between neighbourhoods to manage the flow of traffic and ensure safe walking and wheeling options and crossings on main arterial routes. Councils should therefore develop high-level plans to create multiple, interlinked, low-traffic areas in parallel, while keeping the specific form and process highly responsive to local needs.

Engage and listen

If Aotearoa should take one thing away from international experience with low-traffic interventions, it is that best practice community engagement is vital to their success and longevity. Early, proactive, and deep engagement should be at the centre of every low- traffic neighbourhood project and proposal.

Recommendations

The report has recommendations for communities, local government, and central government. Here are the policy recommendations for central government that are specific to low traffic neighbourhoods:

We recommend that central government:

  • Make reducing VKT a road safety priority. When the Road to Zero action plan is next updated, make reducing the number of kilometres travelled in vehicles (VKT) one of the focus areas, with specific targets and actions including the reduction of traffic in urban areas.
  • Increase Innovating Streets funding with specific provision for permanent low-traffic neighbourhood projects.
  • Develop a specific legislative tool to enable the creation of low-traffic neighbourhoods modelled on the UK’s Experimental Traffic Orders, but adapted for the Aotearoa context.
  • Review existing legislation, especially s342 and schedule 10 of the Local Government Act, and the definition of ‘traffic’, with a view to how they could more easily enable low-traffic interventions.

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43 comments

      1. Yes, wow. Children bear the brunt of our bad planning. We can and must change this quickly.

        WK, MoT and AT need to wake up: If they continue to believe that electrification and pricing in isolation are the way to decarbonise transport, and refuse to harness the opportunity to fix the unhealthy lives that children are facing due to the transport system, they are acting unethically. (As well as incompetently.)

      2. The end stage of this process is people calling the cops just because they saw a kid walking on the street without parents.

        Then of course the solution to those issues is pouring scorn on parents for allowing their kids too much screen time.

  1. As long as AT exists in its current guise I cant see this being implemented (no matter how much traction it gains with the community). Also worth bearing in mind AT will be actively doing even less in this space under the guise of reduced costs from Covid.

  2. Most of the central isthmus is a grid pattern that could easily be transformed just by blocking off a small section of each road to cars, effectively creating cul-de-sacs but with walking and cycling between the streets still possible. The blocked off bit could also be a mini park; plant a tree and hang a swing. Apply a 30km speed limit and a bit of road painting and you can transform an entire neighbourhood for bugger all.
    Why they spend countless amount of effort putting in speed bumps to slow down rat runners is beyond me: if you don’t want rat runners then just block the rat run.

    1. Agree with all of your points. I’d only add that closing the rat runs provides a opportunity to create people centric corridors away from busy collector roads. Cycle & walking highways need to enter our venacular and should be seperate from the collector roads to make construction quicker and more cost efficient.

      1. The collector and arterial roads have many amenities on them that people of all ages, who wish to use active travel, need to access. So they do require cyclelanes. They usually have the best gradients for cycling, too, due to the history of how they were formed – and follow the ridge lines, etc. So it makes sense for cycling to be on them.

        The low traffic neighbourhood concept works not by having cycle highways through them, but by providing safe, low-speed access for biking and walking through them, often without any dedicated cycling infrastructure; just low traffic speeds and volumes. Some people might pick their way through LTN after LTN because they like the slow speed. But LTN’s need complementing with faster cycle highways on the arterial and collector roads for people travelling longer distances, who need and wish to go faster than is appropriate within the LTN’s.

        Otherwise, modeshift will be prevented for the many people wanting to adopt sustainable transport practices but needing safe infrastructure and not wanting to create problems in the low traffic neighbourhoods with too much fast bike traffic.

        Biking is a valid, fast, longer distance mode that deserves space on our arterial and collector roads. It’s space efficient, therefore deserves a part of the limited road space. Whereas general traffic needs to give up some of the space it currently takes, due to its greedy space needs. By using all levers to reduce traffic, and implementing bus priority, cycling safety and LTN’s, there won’t be a problem with reducing the space available to general traffic; people will have options.

        1. Hi Heidi, I politely disagree but that is based on my experience in design and living in London & Paris. I’m not overly familar with Aucklands strategy but I gather collector road cycleways is a priority.

          Collector road cycleways are a necessity at times but don’t create a safe or user friendly experience due to traffic conflicts. The simple maths is a 10,000 vehicle per day collector road provides expontentially more risk then a local road. Offroad, speed tables, etc improves the situation but it doesn’t bridge the gap.

          Dedicated cycleways in low traffic volume streets were preferred where possible because they were more popular with vunerable users. The possible counter to the arguement is NZ has more off street parking.

        2. And therefore more vehicle crossings to contend with? You raise a valid point, and I don’t think anyone has done the work here to figure out how we’re going to implement safe cycling with our density of vehicle crossings. With our higher car ownership rates, Council needed, 20 years ago, to restrict vehicle crossings – I’ve seen so many infill situations now where the front house gets a double vehicle crossing and the back house gets a single – or sometimes double – crossing, leaving next to no contiguous kerbline, and turning the footpath into continuous vehicle crossing.

          I wonder if this is worse on arterials, collectors or minor roads, and how much that depends on suburb.

          It’s hard to undo the effect of such bad planning. I wonder if Auckland has to actually consider the (what I consider to be pretty horrendous) central cycle lane layout on the arterials and collectors to get past this. It doesn’t fix the footpath problem, of course.

        3. Correct, all of the vehicle crossings do create a issue and they are less common on collector roads. Planning hasn’t helped but I’m more inclined to believe incentivising behaviour change will lead to better outcome. Congestion taxes, on street parking permits & better PT will drive a better outcome long term.

        4. I think it mostly boils down to refusing to build small side streets. That is why we can’t have nice things like street-facing terraced houses. Often you see 2, 3 or even 4 driveways right next to each other all the time. Apart from resulting in too many crossings it is also a waste of space.

          The standard design of the crossings is also wrong. The entire footpath has a slope towards the road. Anything with wheels will have a tendency to roll down on that slope. You also get those annoying bumps when those slopes start and end.

          Instead footpaths should stay level and just have a mountable kerb in front of driveways.

        5. London’s best low-traffic neighbourhoods are in Waltham Forest Mini-Holland. The residential street network is safe for cycling (and scooting and walking) because there is no through traffic.

          Protected space for cycling is provided along the main roads (e.g. Lea Bridge Road); this is expensive and often challenging to achieve but is absolutely necessary because this is where people want to go. Main roads by definition are the best-connected and most direct routes.

          For details of how well this works, plus photos, comparisons, etc take a look at the most recent Waltham Forest Cycling Account: https://enjoywalthamforest.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Walking-and-Cycling-Account-2019.pdf

        6. Yes, it seems to basically follow the pattern I’d expect, where the main roads that are the boundary lines between individual LTN’s get the separated cycling infrastructure (Markhouse Rd, Hoe Rd, Forest Rd etc) whereas the roads within the LTN’s don’t (Heathcote Grove, Manor Rd etc).

  3. Great post, and great work by Holly Walker and her team! I’m curious about what specific measures would work best in NZ. The report says “non-residential traffic is discouraged. There are a number of different ways this can be achieved. Often it will involve the creative deployment of wider footpaths, bollards, planting, and traffic calming measures to slow traffic down, direct drivers onto main through roads,…”

    I’m guessing that a speed limit of 30 km/h would be applied through the entire area, although some of the pictures (eg. Walthamstow Forest) look more like 10 km/h zones. In that case they also built 26 km of cycle paths and spent 27 million pounds.

    What are the other ways that low traffic can be achieved? Maybe closing the area to through-traffic entirely? Banning trucks in certain hours of the day? Less parking?

    Success depends on how much traffic is removed. What is the potential in an area like Glen Innes?

    1. Closing the area to through-traffic entirely is really the goal.

      To increase local use of local streets, sometimes a scheme has more emphasis on reducing traffic volumes, sometimes on reducing traffic speeds. GI might be more the latter?

      Success for the current pilot schemes can be as simple as:
      – raising LB and AT staff confidence in the concept,
      – learning first hand the limits of doing a single LTN in isolation,
      – practising appropriate monitoring and measurement technology,
      – recording local sentiment, especially how it changes through the project,

  4. I love low traffic neighbourhoods. I have been living in one for years. You just have to live far enough out that everyone else doesn’t have to drive through your area.

      1. I use these streets frequently, and they’re a pleasure – even with the cars and wheelie bins jamming up the footpaths, the roadway becomes a shared path when there’s no through-traffic.

        I can guarantee you the residents would be dead-set against reinstating their streets as through-ways. I wonder when these streets were cut-off, and what was the consultation/media coverage at the time?

        Note also that this low-traffic neighbourhood you’ve highlighted has just recently had a major extension, with the permanent closure of the Wynyard/Porters Ave level crossing.

      2. yes this can be acheived with one way streets, still providing full access to locals, while making the route through too rambling for rat runners.

        Where i used to live in london each street off the arterial was alternating entry only, exit only, and the footpath on the highstreet went straight across the side street. Cars gave way to pedestrians as the drove up and over the footpath.

        This could easily be applied to the grid systems on the isthmus like between sandringham, dominion, mt eden. Just for the cost of some no entry signs.

    1. Yes, but real estate agents need to provide guidance if that’s what a property buyer is looking for, equipped with information about which suburbs are going to be regenerated, and which fringe suburbs are going to be “brought into the fold” with development further out. Logic doesn’t hold, remember. Geography and infrastructure don’t seem to matter… So you might find that no matter how far out you buy, Council have leap-frogged it, putting a whole, low-density nightmare beyond, with all those residents likely to drive through your suburb…

      1. That’s where cul-de-sacs are good. Or culs-de-sac for some completely insane idea. Arses of the bag? One bag with many Arses? A word invented by pretentious English people using some French they knew that then got exported back to France.

        1. But beyond the bagarse is the traffic sewer. So you can choose between walking and playing in the bagarse, or in the sewer. And sometimes the bagarses curve around so although your own bagarse is low traffic, your back fence is only 50m away from constant noise and fumes…

          There’s a better way, miffy, a whole new world of planning to explore…

        2. Tolkien Lord if the Rings: Bag End and the pretentious Sackville-Bagginses. Cul-de-sac is always good for a laugh, especially when it only applies to cars, not people on foot or bike.

        3. Lol. To think I thought cul-de-sacs came from Sprawl, US, when in fact they came from Bag End (or probably, originally, a place called Sackville), Middle Earth.

        4. There always seems to be a traffic sewer Heidi. For years urban designers have told us to stop building ‘arses of the bag’ and do an old fashioned grid instead. I mean it worked for Nebuchadnezzar didn’t it? Now for some mysterious reason people drive their cars right through the middle. So then they told us to block off the grid to cars and call it traffic calming (as if it were lion taming or something). The current iteration involves closing grids to traffic and telling all the naughty people to not drive. But water flows down hill, current finds the path of least resistance and traffic finds the most convenient route.

        5. I really like cul-de-sacs, they just really have to have a 4m strip reserved for a waking / cycling path as shortcuts between them / out of the neighbourhood.

  5. An outstandingly good article with clear information around the benefits of removing through-traffic from residential streets. I am looking forward to reading the full report; I wonder what it will say about political leadership? This is absolutely critical for planning, delivering and maintaining LTNs. Same goes for comms, engagement and activation.

    LTNs work best when they are unambigious, enforceable and deliver clear urban realm benefits. Simply “discouraging” traffic doesn’t work. Good LTNs use trees, bollards, kerbs and resurfacing to remove traffic and make streets safe.

    There’s a good LTN crib sheet with maps, tools, benefits, outcomes, of LTNs. It is mainly centred on London’s Waltham Forest Mini-Holland (which uses LTNS extensively) but the lessons are pretty transferrable. https://cyclebath.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/low-traffic-active_filtered_healthy_liveable_-neighbourhoods-crib-sheet-1.pdf

  6. I didn’t really read that in the article, although it is a bit hard to pull any meaning out a lot of it. I think the overall point is that no one hates cars, they are and will continue to be incredibly useful tools, it’s just there are too many right now. And there are ways we can increase people’s quality of life by making other options better.

    Also thanks for contributing essentially nothing to the conversation, criticism should be encouraged, but this ain’t it chief.

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