Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and other types of initiative to reduce road traffic are taking place all over the UK and across the world. These initiatives are generally aimed at reducing the amount of car traffic in the area and increasing levels of walking and cycling, and other non-car travel. For example, London has seen multiple such initiatives over the last 10 years, such as in Walthamstow Village, and in Leeds the city council are currently piloting three ‘Active Travel Neighourhoods‘.
But what can communities themselves do to campaign to transform their neighbourhood into a low traffic neighbourhood?
UK climate NGO Possible are running a Car Free Cities project in four cities in the UK (Bristol, London, Leeds, Birmingham). I think this is a really innovative project, and one that can easily be adapted for local groups to run in their own neighbourhoods.
Low Traffic Ideas
The key over-arching aim of these Low Traffic Neighbourhood campaigns is to create bottom up change to challenge the dominance of cars in cities.
Each city has a car free city campaigner whose job is to develop and promote a car-free vision of the city, as well as help design and deliver bottom up, street level changes to reduce traffic in the short term. The Car Free City campaigner plays a key role in co-producing plans for traffic reduction and urban greening schemes – and in puzzling out how we get to a future where nobody in cities has to depend on owning a car to get around.
Key intervention measures the project aims to promote are: parklets (converted car parking spaces), places for people measures, and modal filters.
The main elements of the Car Free Cities project that could be adapted and applied by other groups are as follows:
Who Wants the Traffic Back?
Places for People measures use modal filters to remove through-traffic from neighbourhoods. The benefits of these schemes are not immediately obvious to some residents, and change can be a challenge for many people, including those who currently own cars, but over time, people tend to adapt to any perceived inconvenience, and in the end don’t want their local modal filters removed.
Possible are testing this assumption by surveying local residents who have lived by modal filters that have been in place for a while, and asking the question ‘Who wants the traffic back?’ They do this with teams of volunteers to carry out the door knocking survey and they use their findings to campaign for more traffic-free measures.
Possible are also working to gather traffic data in neighbourhoods. This is done in areas which are not benefiting from existing monitoring, and where people are suffering high volumes of through-traffic. They engage new people in climate action by supporting local residents and businesses to install traffic counters in their windows. Finally, they plan to analyse and publish their results to help make the case to the relevant authorities for street re-designs and changes in how we travel.
Possible are supporting cleaner air policies by demonstrating that a car-free life is possible, supporting people through this journey by:
- starting a conversation around the costs and benefits of different transport choices, and analysing the cost of car ownership.
- launching a car-free trial pledge, supporting people with advice on how to do a car-free school run, daily commute, and weekly shop.
- raising awareness of other transport options such as car share clubs, and examining the factors that prevent people from giving up their cars, and facilitating discussions on how these can be addressed.
Car Free Visions
As part of their Car Free Cities project Possible hold workshops with residents and also interview experts in order to develop a car-free vision of a neighbourhood. This process culminates in an actual pictorial vision of what their neighbourhood could look like.
I think this is the best part of this project, and something I would love to see replicated by local groups everywhere.
These visions are unveiled with residents, the wider public, campaigners and local councillors all present to show them what the future could look like, discuss how to get there, and the impacts such changes would have on people’s lives and on the climate. The idea is to influence local authorities and the public, and to encourage them to use these visions so they can be bolder in reimagining the future of their cities and take action to address car dominance.
Getting People Talking
This aspect of the Car Free Cities project is about organising specific events in the community to get people talking about the issues around car use. Possible specifically aim to work with youth groups, holding youth panel discussions where young people can discuss and learn about the issues around car-use, toxic air, and health and wellbeing. They also plan to organise wider events to engage the community as a whole. In 2021, they organised these events around key dates, such as: Clean Air Day, Climate Coalition Festival, Car Free Day, UN climate talks.
Further information: There are info packs and short videos available which outline the Car Free Cities projects in more detail. These are all available at www.wearepossible.org/carfreecities.