We welcome the Arthur Grey Low Traffic Area in Onehunga, and commend the team who launched this important pilot project! Bike Auckland joined their paint-a-crate day over the weekend, and it was gorgeous to see an active transport space being filled with love and colour. Read on to learn more about these spaces, and how much they offer our communities when they come to life!
What is a Low Traffic Neighbourhood?
A Low Traffic Neighborhood (often called LTN or Low Traffic Area) is a people friendly area which allows motor vehicles into it but not through it, and often has lower speed limits. You may drive to the area, but you cannot use the area as a short cut to somewhere else. This greatly reduces the amount of car traffic, making the roads safer for walking, cycling, and play.
The motor vehicles are stopped from entering the area by physical barriers called modal filters – they filter out the cars – but you can walk, cycle, pushchair, skate, and wheelchair through easily, and you’ll want to, as walking and wheeling is now safer, more enjoyable, and highly convenient. Modal filters may be temporary, such as planter boxes and concrete blocks (tactical urbanism), or permanent, such as building out the curb, planting trees, and installing bollards or metal poles.
Using a temporary approach can be useful in finding out what works best in an area, enabling easy, inexpensive changes to make the Low Traffic Neighborhood most effective – and later turning these into permanent solutions.
We love the creativity and community spirit that reclaiming the road can create!
Why we like Low Traffic Neighborhoods
Low Traffic Neighborhoods change the feeling of the road to the point where parents feel that it’s safe enough to let their children cycle and walk to school, to the shops, to their friends’ houses. And of course fewer vehicles and more cycling and walking means less traffic noise, reduced emissions, a friendlier neighbourhood and safer streets for pets.
Low Traffic Neighborhoods reduce the amount of traffic not only within the local neighbourhood itself but also within the surrounding residential areas. 15% of the traffic disappears as people choose to change to other forms of transport or take alternative routes – meaning these simple and cheap solutions make a noticeable difference to traffic volumes.
In the UK, the London Borough of Waltham Forest increased the number of people cycling by 42% between 2015 and 2016 through initiatives dubbed “Mini-Holland Schemes” which included Low Traffic Neighborhoods – resulting in a 20% reduction in the likelihood of car ownership between 2016 – 2019.
Low Traffic Neighborhoods also provide more room, literally, for social connection. This is important because getting to know neighbours can create greater feelings of safety and belonging.
This image from Donald Appleyard’s Livable Streets illustrates perfectly that less traffic means more connections. The lines show where people feel that they have friends, and the dots show where people gather. On roads with light traffic there are more opportunities for people to interact with their neighbours and build friendships!
Low Traffic Neighborhoods create spaces for families to play and be creative. They are attractive for spontaneous children’s games and temporary skate ramps, and families can have picnics at the pocket parks. Temporary tactical infrastructure can be decorated by the community and can include creative ideas for play – such as painting wooden blocks with chalkboard paint (like the community in Onehunga did recently).
More about Onehunga!
The Onehunga LTN is almost complete! They’ve created some pop up parklets like the Arthur-Galway park where recently there was a community painting day to decorate the wooden crates. Some of these boxes were treated with chalkboard paint, so there’s an ongoing space for creativity and play. It was so inspiring to see the community come together to reclaim their streets – children cycling, scooting and skating the now-quiet roads and playing games in the parklet. I’ve heard tales of an impromptu parkour session over the wooden boxes too!
This trial project (and another one underway in Glen Innes) is 90% funded by the Waka Kotahi Innovating Streets for People Programme and has a strong and growing base of support from the community and the Maungakiekie-Tāmaki Local Board – key things for success! If the trial period goes well, the LTN may become a permanent part of Onehunga.
“Globally, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods have often led to reduced car ownership or reduced car use, and more biking and walking, so we hope this is something we can achieve here.” Peter McGlashan, Local Board member and the project’s main sponsor on Board, told Onehunga Community News.
When we visited the Arthur-Galway parklet Peter was talking with local residents as they walked through, explaining the project and encouraging them to contact him or to give feedback through the official channels once they had let themselves adjust to the change.
In total 5 roads have been closed to through traffic. As with any project, there is an adjustment period where people will experience some mixed emotions as they adjust to change and develop new habits. If they live nearby, they might try walking or cycling instead of driving, and while exploring the streetscape in this way they might wave at some neighbours, or exchange a friendly word. They may notice how much happier they feel cycling and walking – and that they can hear the birds. They may begin to trust that their children will be safe enough to cycle and walk to school on their own – or with their friends. People will play games in the parklets and quieter roads. The streets will begin to feel more comfortable, more human – a space we are allowed to occupy. And, through all of this, neighbourhood connections form and grow.
Peter told us that the majority of his conversations with locals were positive. Sometimes they were confused or upset at first – but once they understood what the project had the potential to achieve, they became much happier and more supportive. We all want safer, healthier streets and a feeling of belonging.
A Vision for Auckland
Why stop with Onehunga? Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are most effective when they are part of a citywide network of connected 1Km2 Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. Why not make Auckland a cluster of connected LTNs? Greater Auckland’s blog explored this idea early last year and made this example map of Auckland. Each coloured section represents a different Low Traffic Neighbourhood.
When we made our Bike Blueprint we didn’t explicitly mention LTNs as a solution – but they would be an inexpensive way to reduce and slow down car traffic in the areas we focussed on. Better yet would be a whole Auckland wide network.
Bike Auckland member and Onehunga resident Nicholas Lee says that $200 million could create 600 Low Traffic Neighbourhoods if they were built using tactical urbanism. If Waka Kotahi covered 90% of that, as they have for the two Low Traffic Neighborhood trials in Maungakiekie-Tāmaki, it would leave $20 million to be covered from Auckland rates. Urban Auckland is 637Km2 – not far off 600! Tactical designs seem to offer the most affordable option for safer neighbourhoods, especially at this time of Auckland’s constrained post-covid budget.
For comparison, and a sense of scale, a series of Auckland roads recently were $352 million over budget: $150 million more than the estimated cost of an Auckland wide system of tactical low traffic neighborhoods!
Done well, these areas would link to cycling and pedestrian paths through green spaces like parks, valleys, and along coastlines, as well as longer separated routes along the Northwestern Pathway.
Imagine, if every child had the opportunity to cycle safely to school, families to walk together to local shops, neighbours to organise gatherings on their streets, elderly and disabled residents to cross roads easily to reach their destinations. The road would no longer be a dangerous barrier dividing the neighbourhood, and would instead become a multipurpose space for human-centric activities.
This is the Auckland we want to live in – what about you?