The "huge cost" of repairing vandalised low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN) schemes — introduced to improve air quality and boost active travel — has been revealed by councils in London.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by reporters at the Guardian found that the bill for repairing vandals' work has now exceeded £850,000, with Hackney's council paying almost £400,000 for repairs. Lambeth had the second biggest repair bill, spending £310,000.
The cost relates to damage to infrastructure since 2020 and includes signs being painted over, cut cables, cameras being tampered with, as well as damage to bollards.
The nationwide bill will be even greater, with incidents this year including masked youths ripping out LTN bollards in Exeter — before somewhat ironically fleeing by bike, a mode of transport likely made safer and more accessible by quieter streets. In Rochdale too LTN planters were overturned and set on fire by vandals on the first day of a scheme's trial, while repeat vandalism has also been reported in Oxford.
A councillor from the worst affected London council Hackney stressed the vandalism is the work of a "small minority".
Mete Coban said: "The evidence shows our LTNs and 'school streets' work, with traffic down, more people walking and cycling and children benefiting from being able to walk safely to school.
"A small minority of people continue to vandalise enforcement cameras, wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds that could be better spent on freedom passes for older people, introducing more cycle parking and road safety classes in schools.
"In addition to working with the police to identify those responsible, we are also trialling new types of camera and equipment that stops the vandalism, as well as CCTV surveillance of sites where this is happening."
One Hackney resident, 29-year-old Nicki Wedgwood, told the newspaper the low car ownership in the borough (around 30 per cent) is "one of the best things about living there".
"There's no reason why you should feel entitled to continue causing air pollution, noise and traffic," she said. "I think it's a real shame that people are vandalising this stuff and it's causing a huge cost to the council, but if Hackney council stopped repairing it then you just let these people win, don't you?"
An independent survey from the borough found that LTNs had encouraged a quarter of residents to cycle more. Despite commonly heard internet accusations about the schemes slowing emergency services, ambulance trusts across England, Scotland and Wales denied this, while police in the Tower Hamlets area of London in February urged against scrapping the schemes due to a reduction in anti-social behaviour.
Analysis by Hackney's council revealed that 82 per cent of drivers fined during the first months of the scheme's implementation did not live in the borough, with more than £2.7 million raised in fines in that time, relating to 44,525 penalty charge notices.
The schemes have been once again thrust into the spotlight in recent times and are likely to be a significant campaigning issue ahead of the next general election. Last month, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the government wants to end funding for policies "that are about... banning cars or making it difficult for motorists".
Shortly after, Cycling UK urged Prime Minister Rish Sunak not to use low-traffic neighbourhoods as a "political football" after he ordered the Department for Transport to undertake a review of them, a pledge he first made while bidding to become Tory leader last year.
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.