Research shows that the health benefits of low-traffic programs are up to 100 times greater than the costs

Policies to help people walk and cycle, such as in low-traffic neighborhoods, can deliver public health benefits that are up to 100 times greater than the costs of the programs, a long-term study of active travel measures shows.

The researchSix years of research among thousands of people in three London suburbs where LTNs or similar schemes were introduced found that these tended to encourage people to switch some journeys from car to active travel, even though the effects were varied.

The cumulative public health benefit of people being more active was estimated at as much as £4,800 per local adult over 20 years, the authors found, while the per-person cost of building LTNs is around £28-£35, or £112 depending on the type of system built.

Significantly, the research found that the positive effects, particularly in terms of walking and cycling fares, were felt after the schemes had been in place for a year or two, rather than immediately, indicating that councils are seeing the success of a LTN may not determine otherwise too much. asked.

It comes on the day that Lambeth meets in south London one LTN scheme deleted following complaints it led to significantly slower bus journey times on a main road.

The research, led by Prof. Rachel Aldred from Westminster University, also suggested that the positive benefits continue to grow over time, meaning the benefit-cost ratio for LTNs is between 50-1 and 200-1, estimated by the study, is likely. be conservative.

LTNs are another name for what is known as modal filtering, a traffic management tool that uses signs or physical barriers such as planters that prevent motor vehicles from using smaller residential streets as thoroughfares but allow full pedestrian and bicycle access.

Although widely used for decades, including in the UK, the rebranding as LTNs and a massive expansion of sometimes initially failed schemes during Covid – new LTNs covered 4% of London’s population in 2020 – made them controversial.

Although studies appear to show their effectiveness, and polls and elections often indicate they are popular, the Department for Transport announced last year that it would no longer fund councils to introduce them following media controversy.

The new study suggests that blocking new LTNs would be counterproductive, both in terms of traffic planning and public health.

It was based on surveys of the same group of people in three London suburbs, Enfield, Kingston and Waltham Forest, plus a control group in other suburbs, over a six-year period, with between 1,354 and 1,712 people taking part in each borough. wave of questions. They all built LTN-style schemes pre-Covid as part of the ‘mini-Holland’ program that dated back to when Boris Johnson was Mayor of London.

The respondents were divided into different groups: a ‘low dose’, who lived in one of the three city districts, but not in a mini-Holland project; “high dose,” who lived on such a schedule; and a control group, living in other London suburbs.

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The most striking changes over time were found among people within LTNs, with what the authors called “substantial” average increases in reported walking and cycling levels, and a smaller such effect for people who did not live in LTNs but in close to other active travel programs such as cycling routes. lanes.

Both areas also showed signs of decreased car ownership, although this was marginal in the non-LTN group

Using a Department for Transport tool that calculates the economic benefits of more active people, both in terms of better health and less illness in the workplace, the study calculated a 20-year total dividend from the LTN areas in the three boroughs of just over £1 billion. , with £821 million coming from public health. This showed that an average of 37 deaths and more than 500,000 sick days were avoided annually.

“Active travel interventions provided good value for money when the health economic benefits of physical activity were compared with the costs of program implementation, particularly in low-traffic neighborhoods,” the study concluded.