Smarter comms can lay the path to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

A sign on a bridge closed to vehicles. Low Traffic Neighbourhood or LTN measures

Are councils waging ‘war on motorists’ by driving forward plans to open neighbourhoods to walkers, cyclists and public transport? Or, whisper it: are they creating places that at least some people who live there support?

Six months after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak commissioned a report into controversial Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (or LTNs for those in the know), news emerged that his review found people may like them.

Given Mr Sunak’s pledge to ‘slam the brakes’ on the ‘war on motorists’, it’s fair to feel that his report’s findings jar with the pre-election narrative.

Please leave aside any scepticism at yet another review masquerading as ‘action’ for a moment.  It’s striking to see efforts to capitalise on controversy about the clumsily named LTNs (that’s Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, remember) fall flat.

My social feeds contained several posts saying that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are working and worthwhile. They have a point, which I instinctively support.

But this shouldn’t let promoters off the hook. As we said on related issues surrounding 15 minute cities, those responsible for making them happen need to raise their game.

And they should put smart, human, two-way communications at the centre of their approach to give silent supporters the confidence to back them.

How human comms can help healthy, connected places

For those leading Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), doing these three things will help as a starter for 10.

#1 Drop the jargon

Healthy, active, vibrant, connected. Those creating great places will strive for these things, while too often shrouding their work in technical language and acronyms. Phrases like Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (or LTNs) don’t convey positive benefits. They alienate people. And they provide an easy target for those who do not trust the idea or are strongly opposed to it. Teams need to start with basic principles of what they’re trying to achieve, not what they’re looking to do. Then work back from there.

#2 Communicate solutions before restrictions

A regular theme in conversations we’re involved in about any proposed change is scepticism around how and when it will happen. How and when will communities see support for alternatives to car use to support any transition? Will better bus services or active travel routes really follow? What needs to happen to enable this? Even if the answers don’t exist yet, saying ‘that’s for [someone else] to answer’, won’t build confidence. It’s up to promoters to join the dots and set out a roadmap to progress, to build confidence in the approach.

#3 Listen (and learn)

Although there are some who may try to whip up opposition to any proposals, we know others will present genuine concerns. How will emergency services access the area with new traffic restrictions? How will measures stop traffic from simply moving to nearby streets? How will these changes affect local businesses and their ability to receive deliveries? Promoters should listen to them and reassure where possible so they can build trust and shape better outcomes.

Clear, connected, human communications

As I write, an engagement exercise we’re supporting on proposals to temporarily close Cheddar Gorge to traffic for one day a month draws to a close.

We’ve had more than 1,700 responses. Although we need to analyse them, there’s a wealth of feedback that will inform these proposals for the better. It’s a world away from the fevered rhetoric about anything seen as ‘anti car’ in parts of the media.

We have also offered advice to partners working for local authorities promoting Low traffic Neighbourhoods. Some found our jargon point difficult to accept, because that’s what it’s called. This created the battlefield on which their plans to create better places remain ensnared, at least for a few years.

The ‘war on motorist’ rhetoric is effective in creating a noise because it’s simple. The challenges for those promoting Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, LTNs, Liveable Neighbourhoods or any other buzzword is to find clearer more engaging ways to explain this work.

Communities affected by congestion and bad parking, and those who rely on cars to live and work, need the space to have adult conversations about these challenges.

Whatever Mr Sunak’s official report or political attack line of the day says, councils need to step away from LTN-speak if they want to move forward.   

We’re happy to offer anyone grappling with these issues an hour to chat things through – just get in touch if you’d like to speak.

Written by


Latest news & insights

Inspiring news, insights and comments from our Distinctive team.