Too much traffic. What’s the answer?

No-one likes traffic, whether you’re walking through clouds of exhaust fumes, risking collisions on your bike or inching your car along in ever increasing frustration.

Motor vehicle usage has increased massively in the UK over the last 20 years: from 289.7 billion miles to 356.5 billion miles in 2019. That’s a 23% rise in traffic– pretty impressive for something so unpopular!

In Birmingham, 7 in 10 journeys under 2 miles are driven. Many of these trips should easily be taken by other means.

But our city has been designed to make driving the most convenient choice, even for short journeys. It’s little wonder that the traffic keeps getting worse.

What we really need is space that makes alternatives to car use easier, safer and more accessible for everyone.

The modes used for 1 to 2 mile trips by urban residents of English regions (Source – National Travel Survey 2017-19)

This is where Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) come in. LTNs place filters on smaller roads, preventing motor vehicles cutting through but permitting cycles, pedestrians and scooters. These ways of travelling then become more convenient than driving, so people start to forgo the car for shorter journeys.

This has many benefits: it boosts physical and mental wellbeing, and substantially improves road safety across the whole area. But the bottom line is, by reducing car use, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods cut traffic.

But how about boundary roads (main roads on the edge of an LTN)?

The overall reduction in traffic across the area is more noticeable in filtered streets. In fact, boundary roads often experience an initial increase in congestion when LTNs are established.

Vicarage Road, for instance, experienced several days of gridlock in late April to early May 2021, to the understandable annoyance of its residents. This became a much cited example of why the LTN did not work, an analysis which overlooked other contributory factors. Traffic improved dramatically when local roadworks stopped and the council changed the timings on traffic lights – all without removing a single bollard.

There are still days when Vicarage and other bigger roads are congested, but this has significantly improved since early spring 2021. Evidence from studies into other LTNs also shows that boundary road traffic settles over time as people use their cars less.

But why should side roads be preferentially filtered? The simple answer is that they were never designed to handle large volumes of traffic.

Per mile travelled on a smaller road, a motorised vehicle is twice as likely to kill or seriously injure a child on foot and three times as likely to kill or seriously injure a child on a bike when compared to a main thoroughfare.

Vicarage Road, June 2021. There are days when the traffic is bad on Vicarage Road, but it can also be relatively empty, even at normally busy times

Heavy traffic on small streets presents a far greater safety risk than on main roads. It is unreasonable to compare them in these terms.

Luckily, there are many ways in which boundary road residents do benefit.


LTNs are not a silver bullet. More needs to be done to reduce traffic on main roads, such as segregated cycle lanes, improved public transport and better car sharing options.

York Road – bustling with life after pedestrianisation in Kings Heath (Picture @jordanBHX)

But these changes aren’t alternatives to the LTN. They build on its achievements in reducing motor vehicle use, improving road safety and encouraging healthier transport choices. Together, these shifts will create a community where public space is no longer dominated by the car, where our children can breathe clean air and where a more vibrant environment can be enjoyed by all.

What residents of Kings heath think of the LTN:

“During lockdown there was a spontaneous snowball fight at the corner of Highbury and Grange Road, which brought lots of people together at a difficult time. We knew we would be safe on these roads.”

Fiona, Grange Road

“My two year old goes to nursery in Moseley, and the LTN has helped us travel there safely by bike every morning, without fear of speeding cars up Poplar and School Road, which used to be a problem.”


“With the introduction of the LTN, I decided that wherever possible I would use my bike. My family are all used to turning automatically to our bikes for shorter journeys now. Boundary roads need to support the LTN if we are going to realise the benefit of safe low carbon transport networks”.

Penny, Vicarage Road

“I support LTNs – safer streets and cleaner air are a priority for me in an area where there are so many children.” 

Kieran, Springfield Road

“The LTN’s got me to dig my bike out of the shed and cycle more. It feels great to get more exercise and use the car less.”

Carolle, Westfield Road

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About this campaign

This is an ongoing campaign. We have created leaflets which contain the contents of this page. We still have copies available to be distributed around Birmingham. Get in touch if you would like some.