Last week, the Government announced a slew of environmental policies, ranging from Boris Johnson’s ten-point plan for a ‘green recovery’ to a pledge of £175 million to promote cycling and walking. As part of the latter goal, 141 Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) schemes have been suggested or implemented in London, while other UK regions have adopted them on a much smaller scale. The schemes–which are proposed by local councils but funded by the UK Government–block motorised traffic from using certain roads in a bid to ease congestion, lower air pollution, and encourage pedestrianisation. Consequently, they have proven to be controversial.
A poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies last month found that the majority (52%) of Londoners support the introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, while only a fifth (19%) oppose them. So far, the introduction of LTNs has been focused on the capital, but our national poll conducted this week found that almost half of the British public (47%) would support the reallocation of road space in their local area to cyclists and pedestrians, whereas roughly a quarter (24%) would oppose.
While our London poll identified slight differences in support across age groups, the disparities are much starker when looking at the national picture. The majority (53%) of 18-to-24-year-olds across Britain would support the reallocation of road space in their local area, but a plurality (39%) of those over 65 say they would oppose such pedestrianisation. People aged 60 and over are the age group with the highest share of car ownership and, owing to potential mobility issues, may be more reliant on cars being able to reach them than younger people. Indeed, unlike many regions of the country, London is particularly well-served by public transportation, reducing the reliance of cars across all age groups and potentially accounting for the smaller differences between age groups among London respondents than among respondents in the rest of the country.
Of those that own a car, a plurality (45%) would support the reallocation of road space to cyclists and pedestrians, while 29% would oppose. More than half (52%) of those who do not own a car would support the reallocation of road space and just 15% would oppose. While a plurality of car owners would support such schemes, they are also twice as likely to oppose them.
A clear partisan dimension is evident in regard to perspectives on LTN schemes: a plurality of 2019 Conservative voters (42%) would support the reallocation of road space to cyclists and pedestrians, whereas a third (33%) would oppose. Meanwhile, the clear majority (57%) of 2019 Labour voters would support the schemes while only 17% would oppose. Overall, at least a plurality of 2019 voters of each political party would support the reallocation of road space.
Some have suggested that the reallocation of road space and blocking of motorised vehicles will encourage regular cycling, reducing air pollution and easing congestion. Currently only a quarter (25%) of the British public use a bike in their local area. Londoners were more likely to have used a bike locally (36%), perhaps due to how readily available bikes are across the capital compared to other regions in the UK.
Young people are more likely to use a bike to travel around their local area than older people, with 38% of 18-to-24-year-olds saying they use a bike compared to just a tenth (11%) of those over 65. Those who own a car are just as likely to use a bike to travel around their local area (26%) as those who do not own a car (23%).
Among those who use a bike to get around their local area, 43% do so multiple times a week and a further 12% use a bike on a daily basis, suggesting that most people who use a bike are doing so for transportation or commuting purposes, rather than for leisure. Nevertheless, 30% of those who say they use a bike say they use it less than once a week.
Of those who use a bike to travel in their area, 58% of car owners and 48% of non-car owners say they use a bike daily or multiple times a week. Low rates of self-reported bike usage do not seem to be influenced by car ownership and those who own a car are just as likely to use a bike on a regular basis as those who do not own a car. Therefore, an attempt to reduce the number of cars on the roads may not result in a significant increase in cycling.
Supporters of pedestrianisation have argued that bike usage may increase with fewer cars on the road because it will become safer to cycle. Indeed, a third (33%) of the British public say their area is an unsafe place to cycle, although a clear plurality (48%) say it is safe.
Results are similar across age groups. Low self-reported rates of bike usage coupled with almost half considering that it is safe to cycle suggest that the significant levels of support for LTNs is not necessarily being driven by a desire to cycle, but instead, could be underpinned by other factors such as environmental concerns or a wish to lower air and noise pollution. Nevertheless, a significant minority of the British public think their local roads are an unsafe place to cycle, and so there could be a small uptick in cycling if LTN schemes are extended more widely.
However, while support for LTNs is high, only 17% think Government policies to block motorised traffic from entering through roads to allow for more cyclists and pedestrians have been effective at reducing the number of cars on the road, whereas 43% think such policies have been ineffective. A further 41% say they do not know whether the schemes are effective at reducing car numbers, which may be because the adoption of LTN schemes across the country to date has been limited.
Critics of LTNs have suggested that they do not reduce the number of cars on the road but merely redirect the traffic elsewhere, leading to greater congestion in other areas and ultimately defeating the environmental goal of the scheme.
Almost half (47%) of car owners think Government policies have been ineffective at reducing the number of cars on the road, while almost half (48%) of non-car owners say they do not know whether the policies are effective or ineffective. Overall, only 15% of car owners and a fifth (20%) of non-car owners think the policies have been effective.
Ultimately, support for the reallocation of road space to allow for more cyclists and pedestrians is high nationally, echoing earlier results in London. But, unlike the capital, there are significant differences between age groups, with younger people far more likely to support such schemes. Self-reported bike usage is low, but, for many, a lack of cycling is not driven by concerns for personal safety. Furthermore, those that own a car are just as likely to use a bike regularly as those that do not own a car. Therefore, support for the introduction of more LTNs nationally may be fuelled by general environmental concerns rather than a wish to cycle more. Yet, in the end, the British public doubt the efficacy of current pedestrianisation policies at actually reducing the number of cars on the road.