In May 2020, the government announced a £250 million emergency active travel fund to create a safer environment for cyclists and pedestrians in UK cities. As part of this fund, pedestrianisation schemes like LTNs have been set up across the country. Heated debate surrounding the impacts of these schemes, especially on small businesses, has followed ever since.
In this article, we’ll first cover what LTNs are and whether they work in achieving their aims. Then, we’ll look into the impacts, both negative and positive, of pedestrianisation schemes more generally on small businesses.
What are LTNs?
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, or LTNs, are residential areas where motor vehicle traffic is minimised using modal filters, like bollards or planters. Every property within an LTN is still accessible by motor vehicle, but through-traffic and rat-running are discouraged.
LTNs are a form of pedestrianisation because they aim to make particular areas more pedestrian-friendly by limiting traffic.
Do LTNs work?
To answer this question, we first need to address what LTNs set out to do. Primarily, LTNs are supposed to reduce traffic, cut air pollution and emissions, and make the roads safer for everyone who uses them. Let’s consider each of these aims in turn.
Do LTNs reduce traffic?
A major issue that many people have taken with LTNs is the idea that drivers who would previously have driven down roads that are now blocked off to through-traffic have to use nearby main roads instead. This means that traffic is just displaced onto main roads, and not actually reduced.
However, well-planned LTNs shouldn’t move traffic from one place to another. Instead, they evaporate traffic, meaning they cause changes in behaviour from private vehicle use to other forms of transportation, like walking, cycling, and public transport.
The way this works is by making short car journeys longer and more inconvenient. Around 27% of journeys less than 2 miles in Britain are completed using a car or van, and in London, nearly 50% of car journeys are under 2 miles — a distance that could in most cases be easily cycled or walked.
If people find that a car journey which previously took them 5 minutes now takes them 20 minutes due to LTNs, they may be pushed to take more sustainable modes of transport. One year after the implementation of LTN schemes in Outer London, residents were walking and cycling an average of 41 minutes per week more than they were before!
Studies have backed up the claim that reducing road space for motor vehicles through pedestrianisation schemes like LTNs is an effective way to reduce overall traffic. A 1998 study showed that reducing space for traffic led to an 11% reduction in the number of vehicles across the whole area. Further, a study in Hackney, east London, found that there was no evidence to suggest that LTNs caused a rise in nearby main road traffic.
Do LTNs reduce air pollution and emissions?
Transport is the world’s fastest growing source of CO2 emissions. In 2019, road traffic accounted for 25% of the UK’s emissions.
Given that LTNs and other pedestrianisation schemes reduce traffic, it goes without saying that they’re also successful in reducing air pollution.
Take the Spanish town of Pontevedra, for example. Pontevedra pedestrianised their city centre in 1999, and as a result, saw a 70% drop in their CO2 emissions.
A 2018 study found that as a result of the LTN in Waltham Forest, north-east London, 51,000 households were no longer living in areas with dangerously high levels of air pollution. This reduction in pollution has also led to an increase in life expectancy throughout the neighbourhood.
Do LTNs make areas safer?
Reducing the number of cars on residential roads makes them safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The number of road injuries was halved in areas where LTNs were installed in 2020.
Another argument against LTNs is their potential to delay emergency services. However, a study in Waltham Forest found that emergency response times were not affected inside LTNs, and LTN schemes have received almost no pushback from emergency services.
So LTNs reduce traffic, cut air pollution and emissions, and make roads safer. But how do they impact small businesses?
What are the impacts of LTNs and pedestrianisation on small businesses?
Pedestrianisation schemes like LTNs draw in more pedestrians by making the local area safer and more physically attractive. Case study evidence has shown that improvements to public spaces like pedestrianisation can increase footfall and trading by up to 40%.
For example, investment to make the Piccadilly area of Stoke-on-Trent more pedestrian-friendly led to a 30% increase in footfall there, whereas footfall increased by up to 35% on streets where the pedestrian experience had been improved in Scotland. The introduction of a pedestrianisation scheme in Coventry also led to a 25% rise in footfall on Saturdays and the trial closure of some roads in Cheltenham in 2018 similarly had a positive effect on the number of visitors to the local high street.
This increased footfall usually translates to increased turnover for local businesses and an improved local economy. As more people pass by a particular business on foot, more people are likely to go in and buy something. If those same customers passed by in a car, they may be put off giving that business a visit by the hassle of having to double back and find a parking space first. The trial pedestrianisation of several streets in Dublin in 2020 resulted in increases of up to 100% in business for shops in that area.
As a result of increased retail revenues, pedestrianised areas typically have higher property and land values and lower vacancy rates than non-pedestrianised areas. In New York City, pedestrianised zones have 49% fewer commercial vacancies than surrounding areas. Studies in the US have further shown that pedestrianisation projects increase land values by 7 to 300%. The closure of some streets in Exeter to motor vehicles between 2000 and 2010 led to an increase in retail rent from £220 in 2006 to £225 in 2008, in spite of declining rents across the region.
You may be doubting these potential benefits because you think that the majority of your customers use cars to visit your business. However, it’s been shown that businessowners consistently overestimate the importance of cars for customer travel. In fact, a 2018 study by Transport for London showed that pedestrians and cyclists spend 40% more than motorists in local shops each month, and cycle parking delivers a 5 times higher retail spend than the same area of car parking!
Here are some more examples which show the importance of pedestrians to retail:
- A study on shops in Berlin found that only 7% of customers came by car, whereas the remaining 93% came by public transport, walked, or cycled. This 93% accounted for 91% of spending!
- In 2011, a London study found that shoppers who walked, cycled, or took a bus were far more frequent visitors to shopping centers than those who drove. This study also found that walkers spent £373 per month at shopping centers, compared with a monthly £226 spent by drivers.
- A survey of retailers in Bristol showed that walking was the most frequent mode of arrival for their customers, 42% of which lived within a half-mile radius.
- Two thirds of shoppers on Byres Road, a main shopping road in Glasgow, make their way there by means of transport other than a car. Only 30% of the shoppers who drive there park on Byres Road.
- Surveys across the UK have found that most people say that the mix of shops and general atmosphere is more important than parking and accessibility in drawing them to a particular shopping center.
- A 2015 study in Toronto found that more than half of customers arrive at businesses by foot, while 22% use public transport and 9% cycle.
Pedestrianisation is often blamed for falling sales by business owners.
Business owners in Ennis, Ireland protested last year because of a perceived decrease in footfall and revenue as a result of pedestrianisation. After the introduction of car-free days in Bogota, Colombia, 16% of local businesses reported a reduction in revenue.
Business owners are also more likely to oppose their local LTN than non-business owners. A number of businesses inside the Highbury LTNs in Islington, north London, have noted drops in trade of up to 50%, though it’s not clear how much of this owes to factors other than the LTNs, such as the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the evidence has consistently shown that customers are drawn to pedestrian environments and are put off by traffic. Businesses that have experienced decreases in revenue as a result of pedestrianisation are definitely an exception, and the majority of business owners support schemes which aim to limit traffic.
Most business owners (58%) in London support their local LTN, and more residents of LTNs visited local shops, bars, cafes, and restaurants more frequently last year as a direct result of the implementation of LTNs than those who visited these less frequently. 69% of SMEs in the UK also think that the introduction of Clean Air Zones will have either a neutral or positive impact on their operations.
The future of LTNs and pedestrianisation in the UK
As the LTNs introduced in 2020 have already caused so much controversy, their future is uncertain. Croydon, Redbridge, Sutton, and Wandsworth Councils in south London have already axed many of their LTNs following outcry from residents. However, a poll conducted in March 2021 found that Londoners were 3-to-1 in favour of LTNs, with just 16% opposing them, and there are plans for more to be set up throughout the capital.
Outside of London, councils up and down the country are pushing for temporary pedestrianisation schemes to become permanent due to their positive impacts on the environment and local economy. Temporary street closures in Bristol will become permanent this year and York will ban private vehicles from its centre by 2023.
If your business is in an urban environment and your local area hasn’t already been affected by schemes to reduce traffic and improve the pedestrian experience, you can expect changes in the coming months or years. Even if your area doesn’t change, you should consider switching to using a bike or public transport for shorter journeys if driving is still your primary mode of transportation.
Further Reading / Sources