Opponents of LTNs, in this area and elsewhere, frequently assert that they have adverse impacts on the groups in our society who are legally protected under equalities legislation. This blog takes a dispassionate look at the evidence and finds these claims at best unsubstantiated, and in some cases completely unsupported, on the balance of evidence.
What groups are protected under equalities legislation?
Under equalities legislation, there are nine categories giving people legal protection against discrimination: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. The law protects people with these characteristics from direct and indirect discrimination, and imposes the Public Sector Equality Duty on councils and other public bodies – requiring them “to consider how their decisions and policies affect people with different protected characteristics.” (There is a good summary of the law and its implications on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s website.)
So far as we know, no one has suggested adverse impacts from LTNs based on gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, or sexual orientation. (If we are wrong about that, please let us know in the comments.)
So this blog looks at the evidence on age, disability, race and sex.
What do opponents argue?
Opponents argue the following:
- LTNs result in benefits to residents of areas where traffic and its adverse consequences (air and noise pollution, traffic danger) have reduced as a result of LTNs.
- They result in harm to residents living elsewhere, notably on main roads, as a result of increased traffic and its adverse consequences.
- Those experiencing benefits (living in LTNs) are more likely to be white and higher income than those experiencing harms.
- Whether they live in LTNs or not, older and disabled people are likely to experience harms, principally that journeys they or caring or social visitors make by car are impossible or more inconvenient.
(If our summary of these arguments is incomplete or unfair, please let us know in the comments.)
We have not seen any opponents make arguments based on younger, rather than older age, nor about adverse impacts on men or women as groups. But a full consideration of the issues should look at children and young people, and gender, as well.
What can the data tell us?
Government statistics are published according to units of geography called (tongue-twisting jargon alert) Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs). These are areas of around 600 households. Data is not made available for smaller units or individual households for privacy reasons. A convenient place to explore the data online is the London LSOA Atlas. Each LSOA has a unique 4-character reference. Importantly, the data does not enable us to distinguish between households living inside the LTN as opposed to those living on the main roads which bound it. LSOAs include both. For example, LSOA Croydon 007D includes households living on Lancaster Road, the streets connecting it to South Norwood Hill, and South Norwood Hill.
TfL publishes the results of its London Travel Demand Survey. This does contain data on the characteristics of respondents living on main roads as opposed to other locations. But it is a representative survey, not a complete count of London’s population. We can assume the survey, by TfL’s professional statisticians, is a valid basis for drawing conclusions about, say, whether members of an ethnic group are more or less likely to live on main roads than other ethnic groups, across London as a whole. But we cannot draw any conclusions about it for our particular area. A summary table showing where households live according to ethnicity and household income can be found in a report by the University of Westminster Active Travel Academy (page 35), and is reproduced below.
The TfL data suggests that, across London as a whole, around 90% of the population does not live on main roads, regardless of ethnicity, disability, and household income. Opponents’ claims that “white people live in LTNs and BAME people live on the boundary roads” are therefore demonstrably untrue.
Who experiences benefits and disbenefits?
Opponents’ views of who experiences the benefits and disbenefits of LTNs are simplistic. Few of us spend our entire lives in one location. If we live on a main road, bounding an LTN, we are likely to travel through the LTN. Indeed, the LTN provides a safe space, with lower noise and air pollution, which we can use for essential journeys and for recreation and exercise. For example, someone living on Church Road and wanting to travel to South Norwood on foot or cycle, could do so through the LTN. Likewise, students at the Harris Academy living on local main roads and elsewhere, can enjoy safe, unpolluted journeys to school through the LTN. On the other hand, people living in the LTN are likely to travel on nearby main roads. If those roads were more congested and polluted, they would experience that harm too.
Opponents so frequently and loudly assert that local main roads have become more congested and polluted recently, as a consequence of the LTN, that it has become widely accepted as a truism. In fact, the evidence reported in the recent council paper on the LTN is mixed; and, if there were more congestion, there is no way of attributing it to the LTN as opposed to other factors – most notably the alternate one-way restriction in place on Church Road from March to October. The about-to-be-removed LTN was not in place long enough to draw any reliable conclusions one way or the other, especially with travel behaviour so dramatically affected by the pandemic and restrictions on activity outside the home.
Main roads vs LTN streets: summing up
- We don’t know whether there is any significant difference by ethnicity, disability, or household income between people who live inside the LTN and on main roads.
- If we were to take a guess, based on TfL’s London-wide survey, we would have no reason to think a significant difference was likely.
- We don’t know whether main roads have become more congested and polluted as a result of the LTN.
- Even if they have, the reduction in traffic and pollution in the LTN benefits everyone who lives in the area.
The frequently-made assertions that ethnic minority people living on main roads are suffering as a consequence of the LTN whose benefits are enjoyed by white people has no foundation in evidence or logic. It is a red herring and distraction from the real equalities issues, which the rest of this blog addresses.
Age (1) older age
The circumstances, needs and preferences of older people are very diverse. Some older people are very infirm, are unlikely to be able to travel on foot or bike far, or at all, and may be dependent on professional carers, friends and family for care and support. To the extent their journeys, or their visitors’, are necessarily by private vehicle, longer journey times and distances will adversely affect them.
However, more than half of all older people, and nearly two thirds of those aged 65-74, do not have a limiting disability or illness, according to the Office for National Statistics. For them, walking and cycling in safe conditions, remain possible, indeed highly desirable. (Even some older people with a limiting disability or illness may still be able to walk or cycle.) In the Netherlands, 23% of trips by older people are by bike compared with 1% in the UK. Regular moderate exercise is a vital protective factor for wellbeing in later years (see summary of evidence by the NHS). So, whether older people in our community live in the LTN or nearby main or other roads, the LTN offers them benefits in terms of a safe, local space to exercise, and to incorporate physical activity into daily routine, for example shopping trips.
During the 12 month monitored experiment, it is vital that the council improves its evidence base about impacts on older people, and finds ways of letting all older residents speak for themselves. But, at this stage, the evidence on impact is certainly not all one way, and suggestive of considerable benefits for many older people in our community.
Age (2) children and young people
There are three major public health risks to children and young people associated with high traffic – air quality, inactivity and traffic danger.
The particular physiological characteristics of children put them at particular risk from poor air quality, according to a review of the evidence by the Royal College of Physicians.
In their paper for the 12 January Traffic Management Advisory Committee (paragraph 9.2), council officers wrote: “A public health crisis facing Croydon relates to inactivity and obesity … inactivity is having profound health effects and is a major contributory factor to the levels of obesity in Croydon. One in five children in the school reception year is overweight or obese and this rate more than doubles between reception and year 6. The LIP explains that early childhood is a critical time to tackle childhood obesity as children are developing and learning healthy or unhealthy behaviours from a young age. By year 6 (age 10 to 11 years) a greater proportion of children in Croydon carry excess weight than in London or nationally. Two in five children aged 10 to 11 years in Croydon are overweight or obese and this proportion is increasing over time.”
Analysis by Public Health England found that each year nearly 250 children and young people are killed on the roads and over 6,000 a year seriously injured. Children living in more deprived areas are most likely to be killed or injured.
It therefore follows that measures which improve air quality on the streets where the vast majority of children and young people live, and on which all children and young people travel, and make them safe for active travel, are likely to have a strongly beneficial impact in relation to younger age as a protected characteristic.
In our neighbourhood, we have some evidence about the views and preferences of children from a survey undertaken by Cypress School. A survey carried out in October revealed significant latent demand by children for cycling: nearly half would like to cycle to school, compared with 3% who are cycling now.
Our campaign members have observed an increase in children walking and cycling to school, including unaccompanied by adults. There was little or no unaccompanied walking and cycling by primary age children before the LTN was introduced.
During the experimental phase, it is vital that the impact of the scheme on children and young people is captured more systematically, and their views heard.
Transport for All has recently published a study of the impact of LTNs on disabled people. The circumstances, needs and preferences of disabled people vary a lot between individuals. The report found that some disabled people “reported easier or more pleasant journeys; an increase in independence; a decrease in traffic danger and benefits to physical and mental health.” Among other disabled people, “criticisms included longer journey times for residents, as well as their visitors who provide care and support. This leads to travel becoming more exhausting, expensive, complicated or difficult. There were also cases of a negative impact on mental health, issues with taxis and a perceived rise in traffic danger.” The report, however, concludes that the answer is not to get rid of LTNs, but to address the widespread view of disabled people that they were not being listened to, and to enable more disabled people, where possible, to undertake more active travel.
So far as our LTN is concerned, there is currently no solid evidence about the experience of disabled people. On social media, some people have reported benefits (safer streets and better air quality) and others disbenefits (difficulty accessing doctors’ surgeries and other facilities, and more difficult access for carers, family and friends).
It is vital that, in the next phase, the council tries to establish a more solid evidence base on the experiences of disabled people.
A study by Imperial College suggests that areas with a high proportion of minority ethnic residents experience higher levels of air pollution. Measures which reduce air pollution are therefore likely to have particular strong benefits for people from ethnic minorities – though those which reduce air pollution on minor roads need to be complemented with measures on main roads.
In London, people from minority ethnic communities are also less likely than white people to own a vehicle, according to a TfL analysis.
Claims by our opponents that the LTN is an enclave of white privilege are completely wrong. Across the LTN as a whole, there are more minority ethnic than White British residents, and it is more diverse than Croydon as a whole. There are nearby areas which are more diverse, but large parts of them have also benefited from measures to reduce traffic. There is another LTN to the south of ours, around Albert Road, building on the longstanding closure to motor traffic on Regina Road. Holmesdale Road, to the South West, has had three modal filters installed along its length.
Response to the council’s consultation by people from minority ethnic communities was lower than from White British people. Engagement around the next phase needs to use a wider variety of methods to ensure the views of all parts of our community are heard better.
The gender impact of street safety appears to be less well researched than other aspects of equalities. However, we know that across all age groups, only 34% of women in London have access to a car, compared with 46% of men, according to a TfL analysis. Women are also much more likely than men to be responsible for escorting children to and from schools, according to Department for Transport analysis, with the consequence that they are more exposed to poor air quality and traffic danger, and are likely to benefit more from environments in which they do not need to escort children.
There is no basis for opponents’ assertions that the LTN has adverse impacts on groups with protected characteristics. In fact, the evidence, such as it is, is that these groups experience greater harm from high traffic and its consequences and therefore benefit from measures to reduce it. However, the proposed 12 month experimental scheme should be used both to collect more reliable data on equalities impacts of the scheme, and to ensure that all sections of the community are able to talk about their experience and aspirations.