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Artillery Row

The war on cars

LTNs are ruining LDN

All across the UK, a war is being waged against car drivers. Matters became worse last week when new research emerged, appearing to support Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs).

The Guardian called it “the most comprehensive study yet of such schemes in the UK”. It soon received praise from Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and his Walking and Cycling Commissioner, as well as activists, who used it to conclude that LTNs are a roaring success.

You didn’t need a statistics degree, though, to immediately spot that there were a few “issues” with this much-celebrated investigation. For starters, it had been funded by an organisation called Possible – “a UK based climate charity working towards a zero carbon society” – which has held events to encourage people to go “car free”. It is hardly the natural adjudicator one would hope for.

Then there were the researchers, from the University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy. According to its website, this academy (that no one’s ever heard of), wants to “address the acute global problems that car dominated transport systems have created.” So that’s two opinionated guides to the data.

The data, itself, raises eyebrows. Researchers reviewed data from schemes “introduced between May 2020 and May 2021”. Although they reassure that the study has been “adjusted to account for Covid-era and other longer-term and seasonal changes”, it is an odd selection, given that traffic was in no way normal for parts of those years due to Covid lockdowns. Another issue with the research is that, for all the claims of being comprehensive, it was collected from less than half of the 96 LTNs installed in London between these two dates.

Anyone with a basic understanding in statistics can see that everything about this “study” — from the flawed methodology, to its partisan commissioner and researchers, to the journalists who bigged up its results (one of whom, The Guardian’s political correspondent, Peter Walker, has written a book titled How Cycling Can Save the World), to the Mayor and his “czar” doing the same – stinks.

It is, in fact, part of a much broader movement taking place across the country, in which elected bureaucrats, supported by a “Lycra Lobby” of cycling activists and eco wonks, are doing everything they can to end car use. Their tactics include cherry picking data, abusing democracy and smearing their opponents. Walker, for instance, recently wrote an article in The Guardian, in which he said “people objecting to traffic restrictions can easily become exposed to much murkier ideas”, implying that these include “alarmist conspiracies, often overlapping with antisemitic ideas of the New World Order and all-powerful “globalists”.” He and others get away with their militant anti-car campaigning because a large section of those in the upper echelons of power — from the media, to other politicians to the financially better-off — are on board, or complacent, perhaps because they don’t need to drive to work.

As a journalist, I should explain that I am not some sort of “car fanatic”, as some have implied when I have have criticised anti-traffic schemes (as well as suggesting I am an “WEF conspiracy theorist”). I don’t drive, enjoy cycling and probably have a relatively low carbon footprint, having not eaten meat for over 20 years. I came into this political area after a chance meeting with a delivery driver in 2021, who complained to me about the issues he was having conducting his business, due to increasing anti-car measures under Khan. I felt for him and said I’d look into it. I did, interviewing local tradesmen — and they were mostly men — to find out their views. Their frustration, and financial losses, were palpable.

Since 2020, things have become much worse for these traders

Since 2020, things have become much worse for these traders, with councils across the UK stepping up their efforts to ban cars, increasing anti-traffic schemes, including ULEZ (Ultra-Low Emission Zones), in spite of people continuing to make their objections known. Opponents of traffic reduction schemes are not conspiracy theorists or worse — self-employed couriers/ plumbers/ decorators, for instance, are some of the biggest economic victims, losing money each day because LTNs elongate their journeys, reducing the number of jobs they can carry out. Some traders have spent lots of money on upgrading their car to electric to be ULEZ compliant, only to find out that the car is now simply banned from certain routes. There’s also the disabled, vulnerable and elderly to consider.

Drivers have turned to democratic channels in the hope that their concerns might be listened to. Recently, for instance, constituents in Haringey attended a council meeting, hoping for an exchange with the elected representatives who had installed LTNs. But the councillors called it off, blaming “disruption”, which others disputed. Often, bureaucrats — pretending to care about what locals think — launch farcical LTN consultations long after they’ve implemented them. The LTN resistance cannot win, not least because they rarely have the time, platform or economic bandwidth to stop anti-democratic measures, and they are up against a wealthier elite — including wonks — that deploy biased research to gaslight them. The concerns of ordinary people are no match for the white papers and purported intellect of the Lycra Lobby.

Trying to raise these concerns, which I do regularly on Twitter and in articles, has been a lonely business, namely because I am trying to convince people who don’t drive to care about cars. People should remember that this is about more than vehicles; we are seeing an assault on democracy, in which one part of the population thinks it can override the rights of others, to the point of crippling their businesses, by using a dubious moral justification; that LTNs are good for everyone. For all these claims, it was shocking to see London recently become the most congested city in the world. How did this come about? Based on recent events, don’t expect an objective analysis any time soon.

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