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LTNs and 15-minute cities accused of being led by cycling lobbies, official review called a “whitewash”

Petitions signed by thousands have asked for a national referendum on 15-minute cities, also raising questions over the legitimacy of LTN reviews led by Sustrans and Prof Rachel Aldred

Over 14,000 people have signed a petition calling for an “independent” review of LTNs, which will now be led by Active Travel Academy’s Professor Rachel Aldred, leading to claims that it will declare them successful in a ‘whitewash report’, while another petition has asked for a national referendum for implementing 15-minute cities amidst reports of Oxford Council ‘covering up’ risky data.

Prof Aldred of University of Westminster, who has more than 15 years of experience researching active travel, has been appointed by the Department of Transport (DfT) to “undertake an independent evaluation of active travel schemes funded in 2020/21, including low-traffic neighbourhoods”.

However, people have complained to the petitions committee that Prof Aldred has a track record of supporting the creation of cycling infrastructure and LTNs and so the review will not be independent, The Telegraph reports.

The newspaper, which was recently condemned for using divisive rhetoric such as ‘death traps’ without any evidence, said that it has seen letters that highlight how Prof Aldred was a director and elected trustee of the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) for six years, and that she had proclaimed her “work has helped shift perceptions among policymakers”.

Prof Aldred has been previously involved in authoring several peer-reviewed and published researches, as well as reports and studies for organisations and the government that claim that that LTNs help “overall traffic evaporation” both inside and outside the LTNs. 

> Low traffic neighbourhoods in London are not mainly introduced in more affluent areas, researchers find

A spokesman for the Department for Transport, which has allocated £171,916 for the review, said: “All independent research is commissioned through a competitive process, in line with strict Government guidance. Once research has been conducted, policy decisions will ultimately be for ministers to take.”

The Telegraph reported that one of the letters sent to the petitions committee and Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, accuses Prof Aldred of “clearly setting out to present LTNs as a success, even though the evidence on the ground suggests otherwise,” adding that “this will be seen as a whitewash and [be] widely repudiated.”

Another letter claimed that pretending Prof Aldred’s unit was conducting an independent review of the Government LTN policy was “one of the worst cases of being allowed to mark one’s own homework.”

Similar concerns of pro-cycling policies being led by cycling lobbies were raised this year in January, when The Telegraph reported that cycling charity Sustrans was paid £200,000 for consulting on two controversial LTNs in Haringey, north London.

> London borough Conservative group posts images to social media likening low-traffic neighbourhoods to apartheid

During the consultation, Sustrans allegedly did not speak to businesses on the High Street. Cllr Mike Hakata, the deputy leader of Haringey Council, said: “We are launching a business survey soon, and I’d strongly encourage the Myddleton Road traders to take the opportunity to have their say again.”

However, residents soon spoke about the benefits of the LTN. One mother wrote on a local news website: “Walking with the kids, we can hear birdsong and leaves rustling in the trees. The air smells fresh, and it’s so calm and peaceful. It’s like being in the countryside, except we’re in London. In the park I meet a woman who tells me she’s delighted not to have lorries thundering past her home, and she'll finally get another cat - her last two were killed by drivers outside her house.

“But it’s seeing my five-year-old daughter be able to ride her bike on the road that really brings it home,” she added. “‘I’ve been waiting for this for so long,’ she tells me. She happily rides to the park on the road, singing away.”

Accusations of pro-cycling policymakers don’t end here though. The Telegraph recently reported that “left-wing” council officials in Oxford “covered-up” data that could potentially put the 15-minute city plan in jeopardy.

The council provided a summary report during the official survey, which said modelling estimates show the scheme “will reduce traffic flows by around around 20 per cent within the city inside the ring road, and around 35 per cent in the city centre” but “increase total traffic flows by around three per cent on the ring road”.

> Why is the 15-minute city attracting so many conspiracy theories? Plus access for disabled cyclists in the latest episode of the road.cc Podcast

However, The Telegraph claims that it has obtained the full results now which shows that traffic will increase in eight of 19 locations modelled, and its speed will stay the same or decrease in all but one of these areas – some of which are already controversial low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).

A petition, which already has 13,000 signatures, has been launched by a Lewisham resident (who regularly tweets “LTNs don’t work”) calling for a “legally binding national referendum on whether any local authority should be able to implement a 15-minute city policy”.

The petition reads: “People need to be given the choice about whether or not they want these policies to be implemented in their areas. We believe it's far too important for the people not to be allowed to vote on these policies before they are implemented!”

However, a 2022 survey found that majority of people in different parts of Oxfordshire wanted “remarkably similar” amenities within their neighbourhood, such as GPs, cafes, pubs, banks, gyms, parks and so on, serving as a foundation for the 15-minute city policy that aims to provide these within walking distance to the residents.

> Tory MP attacks 15-minute city concept with known conspiracy theory

However, despite the council repeatedly clearing that there would be no physical barriers, nor would residents be confined to their local areas or need permission to travel across the city, several groups like Not Our Future and the Together Declaration have come forward to protest these developments.

The Oxfordshire Council, in response, has said that an internal review this month found the information provided was “sufficient and appropriate” and complied with the Gunning Principles of how local councils should engage residents.

Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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86 comments

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Rich_cb replied to eburtthebike | 11 months ago
0 likes

I'm literally using your quote as an example.

Thanks for that.

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Awavey replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
3 likes

its another Steve Bird Telegraph article, objectivity towards cyclists goes out of the window, just trawl the archives for examples https://www.telegraph.co.uk/authors/s/sp-st/steve-bird/

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ShutTheFrontDawes replied to Rich_cb | 11 months ago
4 likes
Rich_cb wrote:

If she has previously been involved in campaigning for LTNs then it's not unreasonable to question her objectivity.

Why? We have bias at all levels of government
We've had MPs who campaigned for Brexit in charge of delivering Brexit. We have Lords with vast property portfolios commenting on and amending legislation concerning property ownership. 1 in 4 Tory MPs are private landlords and tenancy reform has been kicked into the long grass again and again and again.

Give me one good reason why this campaigner's objectivity should be questioned when we refuse to question the objectivity of UK government.

Landlord reform is just one example by the way. Another would concern gambling and sports industry and the reforms that should be in place to protect addicts.

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Rich_cb replied to ShutTheFrontDawes | 11 months ago
0 likes

Is that bias in government a good thing?

Is bias in research a good thing?

If it's not a good thing then perhaps we should aim to reduce the impact of bias in our society?

My main point is that this review will achieve nothing if headed by Aldred as her, obvious, bias will undermine the findings and we will have missed an opportunity to move the debate forward.

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Steve K replied to Rich_cb | 11 months ago
6 likes

I disagree that her "bias" will in itself undermine the findings.  There is such a thing as academic integrity and, as I said, peer review.

I do, however, agree that there is a risk that those who want to, will use her previous activities to try and undermine it.  So I am not entirely in disagreement with you. 

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Rich_cb replied to Steve K | 11 months ago
1 like

The latter is my main concern.

Whatever her findings, no matter how rigorous and objective her analysis, her bias will sompletely undermine the credibility of the report in the eyes of LTN opponents.

Let's not give them any more ammunition.

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hawkinspeter replied to Rich_cb | 11 months ago
4 likes
Rich_cb wrote:

The latter is my main concern. Whatever her findings, no matter how rigorous and objective her analysis, her bias will sompletely undermine the credibility of the report in the eyes of LTN opponents. Let's not give them any more ammunition.

I'd much rather that we stuck to the facts and not fall into the trap of believing that it's a matter of personality.

Active Travel is a topic that is close to many people's hearts and it is risible to demand that reviews are conducted by experts that have never campaigned for improvements. If you exclude everyone who has an interest in the topic, then you're left with people who are only interested in the money and we know which side has the most money.

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
2 likes

Does rich_cb have a proposition for someone who's suitably qualified but actually seems neutral though?  Perhaps there is a suitably knowledgeable foreign academic?  But then - presumably much of the data will still be coming from the University of Westminster's work... won't that "taint" this for some regardless?

Mixed on this.  First - the very definition of "success" or indeed "value for money" appears to be contested here.  Evidence of traffic evaporation or lower speeds might be welcomed by some AND seen as the problem by others.  What would "value for money" be if that's debated?

Plus some of those wanting the review just want these reversed full-stop.

So it's difficult to see how changing who's doing the review will reassure folks - unless it's someone clearly "on the right side" (are Right Said Fred or the Association of British Drivers available?)

On the other hand it doesn't really look good to have someone who's been an activist checking these.

Still not sure what a "review" will actually do.  And a "referendum"?  Does the government (or indeed any major party?) have central control over this, with firm plans backing LTNs?  Certainly councillors and individual MPs would appear to have a wide range of views.  Certainly some very enthusiastically anti folks on all sides - Rupa Huq, Jacob Rees-Mogg...

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ShutTheFrontDawes replied to Rich_cb | 11 months ago
4 likes
Rich_cb wrote:

Is that bias in government a good thing?

Is bias in research a good thing?

If it's not a good thing then perhaps we should aim to reduce the impact of bias in our society?

My main point is that this review will achieve nothing if headed by Aldred as her, obvious, bias will undermine the findings and we will have missed an opportunity to move the debate forward.

What's your solution then? To grab people off the street with no interest whatsoever and get their completely uninformed opinions on the matter?

It probably would be a step up from the government we have now, and have had recently, to be fair.

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Rich_cb replied to ShutTheFrontDawes | 11 months ago
0 likes

My solution is to appoint an expert in the subject who hasn't been actively involved in campaigning for one side or the other.

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IanMSpencer replied to Rich_cb | 11 months ago
2 likes

Given that there has been so much disquiet over political appointments in recent years, I would have thought the issues of apparent bias were well understood. For example, Sharp might be operating the BBC perfectly neutrally but nobody believes it.

So, regardless of the credentials, Rich_cb rightly points out that someone who has a history in campaigning for an outcome is not going to overcome the apparent bias test that should be taken into account.

I'd say campaigning is different from having a known personal opinion, because you've shown not only do you have a set of beliefs, but you want to make others share them. Was it wrong for Harmon to be Chair on the Johnson committee? Well, it's unlikely that there is anyone in the HoC without some preconceptions, and announcing them doesn't really make a lot of difference to those beliefs being held, but the test is whether they can manage a process fairly and openly. Given that the Committee are not the final determinators of the decision, there is a safety net against any biases in the committee (and of course, you have the likes of JRM and Mad Nad throwing rocks at the committee, trying to undermine it as it operates, so you don't have to be part of a process to damage it).

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hawkinspeter replied to Rich_cb | 11 months ago
2 likes
Rich_cb wrote:

Is that bias in government a good thing?

Is bias in research a good thing?

If it's not a good thing then perhaps we should aim to reduce the impact of bias in our society?

My main point is that this review will achieve nothing if headed by Aldred as her, obvious, bias will undermine the findings and we will have missed an opportunity to move the debate forward.

Is there any evidence that her report has bias or are you just assuming that she is bad at her job and allows her personal views to distort the facts?

Focus on the facts and not the person unless there's reason to think that the facts are misrepresented.

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Rich_cb replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
1 like

You are entirely missing my point.

It does not matter how objective her review is.

It could be the most objective piece of work ever conducted by an academic.

That is irrelevant.

The good Professor clearly has a personal bias. The existence of that personal bias is public knowledge.

This will be used by opponents of LTNs to undermine the validity of the results and will ultimately harm the LTN movement.

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hawkinspeter replied to Rich_cb | 11 months ago
1 like
Rich_cb wrote:

You are entirely missing my point. It does not matter how objective her review is. It could be the most objective piece of work ever conducted by an academic. That is irrelevant. The good Professor clearly has a personal bias. The existence of that personal bias is public knowledge. This will be used by opponents of LTNs to undermine the validity of the results and will ultimately harm the LTN movement.

I get your point, but you're focussing on exactly what the LTN opponents want. We need to call out their ignorance of the facts and refuse to play their game of personality.

All this talk of bias is just yet another excuse to kick the can down the road and not actually do anything.

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Rich_cb replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
1 like

You can refuse to play but the game will just go on without you.

We know there are people who are, literally, violently opposed to LTNs etc.

If a pro LTN report is published they will scrutinise it for any flaw, no matter how minor, and try to undermine the report.

If the lead researcher is a well known advocate of LTNs they will just dismiss the report entirely as a 'whitewash' and many will believe them.

Why give them an open goal?

If the evidence is clear cut there is literally nothing to lose by appointing an objective lead and everything to gain.

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chrisonabike replied to Rich_cb | 11 months ago
3 likes

I don't think those who are "literally violently opposed to LTNs" will scrutinise the report.  They will use it to set the open goal (and the planters) on fire.

I'm still not quite sure who would be the target audience for this.  I mean, I'd be vaguely interested to see more evidence - though I'm fairly confident it won't tell me much new.  Presumably there are some people who are undecided, or have an opinion but are willing to look again?

I agree that in an argument having evidence available to all is a sound principle.  Ideally obtained while being careful not to bias the data or simply seek that which could only bolster a theory.  But this is now "politics" and as HP and brooksby point out some people don't want an argument.  They want a fight - or rather to beat some other group.  For some the LTN idea is merely a symptom of some deeper issue with distrust of certain authorities or worries about "freedom".

Anway, I still can't think of a suitable neutral reviewer... any ideas?

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Rich_cb replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
0 likes

I disagree, if you look at opposition to mundane things like wind farms or even, as Burt so beautifully demonstrated, bicycle helmets you see a common thread.

People are keen to give their incredibly subjective opinions the veneer of objectivity.

Somebody in the movement scrutinises a piece of evidence and then makes a statement denouncing it, you will see the same statements repeated over and over almost verbatim.

Take Burt's post and substitute in Aldred and LTNs.

That's what we'll be seeing, ad nauseam, if she leads the review.

TrevtheTaxi wrote:

That's odd: no-one ever questions the validity of the Aldred Review of LTNs conducted by the most vociferous, blatantly biased researcher on the planet, which has seriously devalued the reputation of Independent Reviews. So clearly your observation only applies in certain circumstances, but what those are, I couldn't possibly comment.

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chrisonabike replied to Rich_cb | 11 months ago
1 like
Rich_cb wrote:

[...] People are keen to give their incredibly subjective opinions the veneer of objectivity. Somebody in the movement scrutinises a piece of evidence and then makes a statement denouncing it, you will see the same statements repeated over and over almost verbatim.

Can't disagree there but I wouldn't say that's new under the sun.  If there is a large pool of folks who are both interested and aren't already in "motivated reasoning" mode - on either side - then of course I'd be more inclined to support the idea that an independent referee would calm the mood.

It isn't clear that to me that there *is* anything other than "this was all a terrible mistake and we'll reverse all of this and put things back how they were" would satisfy.

Maybe it's just the passage of time that solves the "argument".  Looking at history the Dutch didn't have an easy ride (aha).  And when they started changing things they still had far more people riding bikes AND existing cycle infra than we do.  Apparently there were still riots and criminal damage both by those for change and against it.

Don't know TrevtheTaxi myself but if Rachel Aldred is "the most vociferous, blatantly biased researcher on the planet" I suspect he wouldn't be moved if they got Jeremy Clarkson or Laurence Fox to do it.  Even if they came back and said "guess what - there are lots of positives!" (whatever Trev thinks is positive) or reassurance that whatever Trev fears just isn't a biggie.

And saying that I've recalled that several folks who predicted the end of the world still had careers after it failed to happen - so it's probably all good for the naysayers...

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Rich_cb replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
1 like

I think LTNs are still at the point where most people are interested in the actual facts, most haven't reached Trev levels yet.

An objectively independent review would add to the debate, a review with significant questions about bias would muddy the waters by allowing the Trevs to shout any discussion down.

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RDaneel replied to Rich_cb | 11 months ago
3 likes

If the evidence is clear cut then it doesn't matter who has produced it surely? Unless right wing press are allowed to spout their usual fact free rubbish to the fact free loving anti LTN'ers. And the small flaw is she's a Militant right, as opposed to an expert in her field? The right wing press would find any issue with said positive report because  they don't want LTN's! If it wasn't about her it would be something else. Play the game my arse. 

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hawkinspeter replied to Rich_cb | 11 months ago
2 likes
Rich_cb wrote:

You can refuse to play but the game will just go on without you. We know there are people who are, literally, violently opposed to LTNs etc. If a pro LTN report is published they will scrutinise it for any flaw, no matter how minor, and try to undermine the report. If the lead researcher is a well known advocate of LTNs they will just dismiss the report entirely as a 'whitewash' and many will believe them. Why give them an open goal? If the evidence is clear cut there is literally nothing to lose by appointing an objective lead and everything to gain.

So, your recommendation is to ignore the facts and the report and instead maybe plan on getting together a comittee to appoint focus groups on selecting someone impartial to produce a report that will then be ignored for some other fatuous reason.

The problem is that ignoring the facts and focussing on personalities will end up in a slanging match ("well you used to ride a bike", "you drove here and have a speeding ticket") and nothing will be done.

So, assuming that you're not just attempting to kick the can down the road, who is the objective lead that you've got in mind?

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Rich_cb replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
1 like

You're misrepresenting what I've said, again.

I've not said we should ignore the facts, I've said that if we want people to actually focus on the findings of the report we've got to remove any easy excuses they would have to ignore said findings.

If Aldred leads the report then anti-LTNers will react exactly as Burt did. The argument will focus entirely on the personalities involved and not the actual report.

I don't have a candidate in mind but I struggle to believe that in the world of transport research there isn't a single, suitably qualified, person who hasn't actively campaigned for LTNs.

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JustTryingToGet... | 11 months ago
2 likes

The challenge in addressing the concerns of Anti-LTNers is that in a lot of cases their concerns are do many and so bdtshit crazy, you simply can't cover any issue before they have ricocheted off into a new direction.

Undoubtedly there are some genuine concerns which would benefit from being addressed but the nutters are drowning out all opportunity fir logic.

Media like the telegraph then like to amplify the rhetoric without any sense check because it's good for business.

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Steve K | 11 months ago
4 likes

For some time now, we've had anti-vaxxers out most Sundays protesting at the cross roads in our (urban) village.  Their range of protests has grown, and no encompassing opposing ULEZ, 15-minute cities, the cashless society etc.

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GMBasix | 11 months ago
5 likes

When do we get the independent assessment of misinformation lobby groups?

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Brauchsel replied to GMBasix | 11 months ago
3 likes

I demand a legally binding national referendum on whether there should be a mental proficiency test before people are allowed on the internet. 

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