A wee case study in change management for Sustainability
Regular readers will know I’m a City Councillor here in Newcastle. A month ago I girded my loins and kept my tin hat to hand as we finally got the long promised ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN)’ measures put in across a chunk of my ward. If you don’t know, a LTN means ‘filtering’ streets so only pedestrians, bikes and scooters can use them as through routes. Motorists are diverted onto major streets around the LTN.
Despite a somewhat botched implementation, now fixed, we have had overwhelmingly positive feedback from residents within the LTN. Everyday feels like a Sunday morning and the queues of traffic at rush hour have gone. This is in stark contrast to other parts of the country where LTNs have been highly controversial, provoking propaganda battles, vandalism and even death threats often fanned by people fighting the Culture War. Yet, I have been able to ungird my loins and put away the tin hat – almost an anti-climax as I’d decided that this was a hill I was prepared to die on.
We did prepare the ground well for the change. For a start we avoided the phrase ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhood’ (I’ve used it here for clarity), which can been seen as negative, in favour of ‘family friendly streets’ which is harder to argue against. We’ve been keeping people informed of the proposals for the best part of two years.
The Council’s online consultation platform shows all responses and we were worried that a Culture Warrior might launch a co-ordinated campaign against the LTN by spreading lies and misinformation (I’ve seen similar happen before). So we reminded those who had previously campaigned for such measures to take part in the consultation to ensure a representative set of responses. The official publicity for the consultation was delayed, so the initial responses were all positive – we’ll never know how much this helped reassure people, but it certainly didn’t do any harm.
What’s interesting is that similar measures were implemented in the 1970s just across the ward boundary after a group of mothers got together to campaign for safer streets for their kids. I don’t know why our area only got very modest filters at that time given we’re closer to the City Centre and suffer a lot more rat-running – or why few through-traffic restrictions have been put in since. However, it remains the case that I have never been asked to remove a traffic filter once it goes in – people soon find less traffic is a very nice thing indeed.
Another interesting point is that when I went looking for trouble on a local Facebook group (which covers a much wider area than the LTN), a couple of those who were against change were self-proclaimed environmentalists. If you think you are green and find yourself arguing to maintain current traffic levels/patterns to suit your own lifestyle, maybe it is time to have a wee word with yourself… physician, heal thyself etc.
But the summary is, it is possible to make quite radical change and for people to like it!