Cowley LTNs survey results
Oxfordshire County Council on 21 Jan 2021 decided in favour of trialling three low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) in the Cowley area of Oxford. This followed the publication of survey results asking residents their opinions on the project, in line with updated guidance from the Department for Transport.
The survey ran 23 November to 18 December 2020 and showed a favourable response to the trials. People indicating “fully support” or “support with reservations” outnumbered “do not support” by greater than 2-to-1. On a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis, the picture ranged from 1.6 : 1 in favour in Church Cowley to 4.2 : 1 in favour in Florence Park, with Temple Cowley in-between (2.6 : 1).
Looking at responses on a timeline (Figure 1), the positive results came in quickly and late with one burst in-between, and always outnumbered negative ones. Below we speculate what drove them.
23 November 2020 – survey opened
24 November 2020
- Council sent press release to local media about the survey.
- Council Tweeted and Facebooked the survey.
- Cyclox’s kerb-nerd mailing list alerted (7 pm on 23rd).
- Residents’ association for a small sub-section of Florence Park blasted mailing list.
25 November 2020
Local newspaper ran the story. There were only 11 comments on that article, mainly in favour.
26 November 2020
Cycling UK Oxfordshire newsletter contained LTN survey link.
27 November 2020
Oxfordshire Liveable Streets newsletter contained LTN survey link (117 opens and 33 clicks)
1 December 2020
- Cyclox emailed members in the Cowley area (appx 150).
- One active local resident blasted their list of 120 fellow residents.
18 December 2020- survey closed
- Flurry of Tweets from Cyclox, OLS and others alerting “last chance”
- Resident sent follow-up email to 120-person local mailing list.
It’s worth noting that there were supportive Tweets for the survey throughout the survey period.
Early engagement paid off. Florence Park residents had already been exposed to a variety of information and engagement events to promote the LTN concept. This started about 18 months before the survey and featured lots of help from campaigners, residents and officers in Waltham Forest. This included meetings at the community centre; safari trips to Waltham Forest; a crowdfunded, professionally drafted LTN draft plan; and a three-day festival to celebrate LTNs. This could be part of the reason why the Florence Park survey results were the strongest.
Second, there was a value in mailing lists. In the Cowley survey, these email lists ranged from the personal to the organisational/institutional. One of the LTN supporters in Florence Park was able to blast a list of over 100 residents when the time came. Cyclox, the cycling campaign in Oxford, blasted a list of 150 people in the Cowley area. Cycling UK Oxfordshire and Oxfordshire Liveable Streets used their mailing lists, too. A related lesson is to be sure to ask your allies to utilise their lists. The pro-LTN group failed to ask all of the members of Oxfordshire’s Coalition for Healthy Street and Active Travel (CoHSAT) to email their lists.
Follow-up emails were crucial. Social science research suggests multiple reminders are effective in getting people to engage with surveys. A recent study using a sample of 24,000 people suggested that the odds of a survey response were improved with each of three follow-up invitations. Odds were also significantly improved if (a) the email was personalised with a first name and (b) the email text varied each time.
The Florence Park resident sent one email and one reminder — although without personalisation. The message did vary between the initial invitation and the subsequent reminder. The texts of these emails are copied below.
A private Facebook group also helped. A Cowley resident started a “Liveable Cowley” Facebook group in August 2020. This grew to a size of 250+ by the time of the survey’s close (Figure 2). The group was findable on Facebook and has a liberal admittance policy. The ethos is to bring as many people in as possible, as this will be the first exposure to ‘liveability’ for many residents. Being private just ensures that members adhere to sensible rules around civility.
The Church Cowley area had the least exposure to the LTN concept pre-survey. The Cowley liveability group put on some information tables there in the summer of 2020 (when the LTN was first mooted) and flyered the area with invitations to a zoom call. Temple Cowley is the smallest of the three and benefited from at least one very strong Whatsapp group that had come together during the early stages of the pandemic.
Social media played a role in the campaign but in a more personalised way than public to-and-fro with opponents. The aforementioned private Facebook group allowed for considerate and civil discussion of the schemes in an atmosphere that was one of general support. (Indeed, initial rules governing admission to the group set out support for the LTNs as a requirement; these rules were ignored for many applicants and later dropped altogether.) The Nextdoor platform also saw very long threads on the proposals. These took place on and off from about June 2020 until the survey kicked off in November.
The residents’ group supporting the LTNs — Liveable Cowley — set up a website (liveablecowley.org.uk) early on, where it pushed visitors to the consultation portal and featured blog articles touching on ‘hot’ issues around the three estates.
Breadth of resident support
Resident support was constantly cultivated and put to use or demonstrated. Supporters were reachable via the Cowely-dedicated Facebook group or a separate East Oxford WhatsApp group. These resident supporters provided 600+ signatures to a pro-LTN petition. They gathered for a photoshoot in the heart of one of the LTNs. They pitched-in to deliver six thousand leaflets on several occasions.
It should be noted that these areas would not have been considered for LTN trials without the enthusiasm of the local authority elected member (County Councillor John Sanders). Cllr Sanders had been to Waltham Forest at least once, had kept in touch with Clyde Loakes, the portfolio holder for transport/environment there, and even introduced Cllr Loakes at a 200+ person Town Hall talk in Oxford in October 2019.
Oxfordshire is a two-tier local authority, meaning that there were four city-council wards in the relevant area for the LTNs — meaning eight councillors to keep on side (two per ward). Letter writing campaigns were effective in alerting these councillors to the strength of local support, alongside regular keep-in-touch sessions via Zoom. Even so, the city councillors could have been brought into the process earlier. Hurt feelings were quickly assuaged and for the most part all relevant councillors were supportive. Some didn’t engage; none actively opposed.
Oxfordshire Liveable Streets, a county-wide campaign group much interested in LTNs, played a key role. This organisation did the bulk of the LTN-promotion work in the Cowely area in 2019 — including organising the crowdfunded LTN blueprint and the LTN festival. When the EATF was announced in May 2020, it organised a big Zoom meeting, which became a weekly Zoom call for residents, campaigners, officers and councillors.
Oxford Brookes University researchers Tim Jones and Ben Spencer put a great deal of time and energy into the 2019 Florence Park LTN promotion as part of their CO-CAFE project. This undoubtedly also gave the LTN concept additional credibility in the eyes of some residents.
Cyclox and Oxford Pedestrians Association along with other members of the CoHSAT group were also constant supporters of the LTN concept and promoters of it among their audiences.
Email 1 — Invitation to survey. Sent 1 December 2020.
I’m sorry not to be able to personalise this email.
I hope you are well.
You will have (hopefully) received a letter from Oxfordshire County Council encouraging you to participate in a survey about the county’s three proposed low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).
I’m simply asking you — begging you — to take the time to complete the survey.
If you know of others who will be interested in this — in or near any of the three areas — please forward this email to them.
You won’t be surprised that I’d hope you’ll support the LTNs. Even if you have reservations, I hope you’ll support on the basis that the county is asking for a trial. There will be a formal consultation to accompany the trial, and if the things are not satisfactory, the LTNs will be removed.
But if you cannot support, I respect this decision. If you complete the survey, do describe your concern in section 16 and 17. Having spoken to many residents personally I understand, and sympathise with, many of the concerns. I wanted to give my thoughts on some of these; see below.
It might be worth noting that 41% of Walthamstow Village residents opposed their LTN before it was installed in September 2015. One year later, only 1.7% wanted it to be removed.
I think it’s also telling that, in London, the charity associated with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust is donating £250k to the Southwark Council to build LTNs.
With warm regards
Some key concerns and my response to them
“This is hell for people living on main roads”
I understand this anxiety and it is 100% legitimate. My hope is that we’ll find — as Waltham Forest has — that the perimeter roads impact has not been as big as envisaged by some. Moreover, we have got to tackle traffic volume across the city, and this means we don’t stop with LTNs. We have to take action on road use in OX4. I for one have been a tireless campaigner for city-wide solutions — probably equally as much as I have been for LTNs. So we must see LTNs as only the start.
“Emergency services will be impeded”
This is often a straw man argument. The fact is that emergency services are statutory consultees in the LTN planning process. This means that the law requires that the LTNs can only proceed if the emergency services agree to them.
“I will have to go out of my way (by car)”
All I ask is that you weigh-up the costs (driving further to exit or enter the estate) and the benefits. The benefits include a whole lot more people feeling safe to walk and cycle. Imagine the impact on the school run if all three Cowley LTNs go forward. Primary schools in our area count a huge fraction of their intake in this combined area.
Email 2 — Reminder. Sent 18 Dec 2020.
Thanks to the many, many of you who have already done the consultation — and please know I respect dissension from this plan. It’s not a small thing and I appreciate it won’t be for everybody, it won’t solve everything, and it will create new troubles. I wouldn’t support it if I didn’t think it’s a necessary step and that the troubles can’t be treated, however.
The “pre-” consultation (survey) closes at midnight today. It can be accessed from the link below.
Wishing you a great holiday season and break.
Click here for the survey questions (PDF).
Click here for the survey responses, anonymised (XLSX).
Click here for summary tables of the survey results (Google Sheets).
Click here for locations of the filters noted in the survey (Google Maps).