Saturday, 14 August 2021

Remarkable Railton LTN

With warm, but not too hot weather forecast, I decided to head off early for another long pootle to see what's changing around London. I like to have an aim and so this time, I headed South Of The River to have a look at another Low Traffic Neighbourhood - Railton, in the London Borough of Lambeth.

The LTN is to the southeast of Brixton town centre and encompasses streets in a broad corridor between Brixton and Herne Hill stations. As with many changes to how streets are used in reaction to the Covid emergency, Railton was implemented on an experimental basis using temporary materials. However, in common with many other schemes, there was actually lots engagement predating the roll out which rather contradicts the usual vocal minority claim that the scheme is undemocratic.

As with other schemes, a local campaign has popped up to stop the road "closures" and remarkably, this includes a few people living within the filtered area (above). 

The scheme has its roots in the Brixton Liveable Neighbourhood project which looked at both the town centre and the areas around. You can still have a look at the Commonplace site for the scheme background and in and around Railton Road, there are plenty comments about how busy with traffic and unsafe the area felt and so it was one of a group of neighbourhoods identified for treatment.

In February 2020, Lambeth started to take proposals forward, just as Covid was entering the news cycle. By June, the council had pushed on with bringing forward a scheme using emergency and experimental powers because public transport capacity was slashed. It's a slightly different arrangement to many of the LTNs I have covered because Railton Road is a bus route which needed to be maintained. This means that the filters used were mainly bus gates, but there's some other traffic management such as the no entry, except cycles on Trelawn Road at the junction with A204 Effra Road (below).

There are also changes to Atlantic Road near Brixton Station whereby a short section south of Coldharbour Lane is only accessible to buses and loading permit holders (below), but there is general access beyond this little buses only section road from elsewhere.

As you can see on the official plan of the scheme below, there are broadly four traffic cells created by the scheme, with the largest being to the southwest of Railton Road itself.

Atlantic Road gives way to Railton Road with a bus gate separating two traffic cells (below). As usual, there is nothing stopping people driving to where they need to get, it's just they may need to arrive from a different direction from what they are used to.

The treatments are simple timber planters with no motor vehicles expect buses signs and bus gate road markings. The filters are enforced by cameras and because it is a bus route, it's probably the only realistic option. As a result, a few drivers will take a chance and this means the area around the filters don't "feel" as safe as they do with a bollard-protected design. 

Further south and just off Railton Road, there is another filter at Shakespeare Road, just east of the junction with Mayall Road (below). This creates around 25 metres of motor-free space and another traffic cell beyond. Although, again, it's camera enforced the layout does rather shout no access to motors.

Personally, I think this filter should have had central lockable or overrunable bollard for emergency access because it's not a bus route. In the fullness of time, this link could be redesigned and I think it would be nice with a short section of 2-way cycle track and landscaped space with rain gardens (below) which could still have emergency access - a mini-version of Old Bethnal Green Road.

Potential longer term treatment for the Shakespeare Road filter.

Further south still and there's a second bus gate on Railton Road which uses two sets of planters to create a very short section of bus only road flanking some open space. Again, this has the potential for future development (below).

I have one very tiny criticism with this filter and that is there is one house and small block of flats within the filtered area. This means that motor vehicles (strictly speaking) cannot stop outside two addresses. I think this has been done so the filter is easily seen from each direction (there is a double bend). It means one needs to walk 20 metres from the filter to the front doors concerned. It's not significant, but it's the sort of thing the noisy minority like to point at and shout "gotcha" - it's really not an issue, but in the interests of objectivity, I am bound to point it out.

Beyond the second filter, Railton Road continues awhile and ends outside Herne Hill Station (below) in a semi-pedestrianised streetscape meaning there is pretty easy access for residents to this and Brixton Station made possible by the LTN.

One thing I did notice was lots of the filters and other temporary street changes had been vandalised. You may have noticed it the photographs so far, but anti-democratic people have tried to paint out the various traffic signs to presumably disrupt the experiment. Well, Lambeth has responded by simply adding replacement sign faces over the damage and there have been recent arrests linked to damage to other LTNs in the borough.

Just to round off the development of the Railton LTN, by the end of July 2020, the scheme was in place and being enforced. In December 2020, early data showed that the scheme had dramatically reduced motor traffic in the area (although there was a slight increase on the Coldhabour Lane). The scheme has also enabled lots more cycling.

As I looked around the LTN, there was some other little features that are worth pointing out. Opposite the Brixton Advice Centre on Shakespeare Road, some cycle parking has been added (above), whilst outside Hamilton Supermarket, a parklet with seating has been installed, complete with a chequerboard/ chessboard (below).

The other lovely little addition is the guerrilla garden I found in one of the side streets (below).

As well as the planters, this little piece of tactical urbanism included seating for small children, such is confidence of local people to be in the street watching the world going by (below).

I was cycling around at about 10am (Saturday) and like many of my trips, I can only give a snapshot of what I see. However, people were up and about with a steady stream of people walking and cycling, the occasional bus and indeed, the odd transgressor of the filters. What was very noticeable was the almost total absence of motor traffic and this made the traffic calming, zebra crossings and centre line road markings look very incongruous in the streetscene (below).

If you think about it, we have in many cases simply allowed driving to expand everywhere to the point where the trappings of managing driver speed and flow spread everywhere. Railton Road looks like a main road because of the engineering, and to that extent, the addition of a handful of cheap filters with some CCTV cameras have actually solved the problems the traffic engineering which cost many times more failed to deal with.

As ever, it brings me back to the point that we can cheaply deploy LTNs to manage the operation of entire places. Instead of investing to try to accommodate through traffic away from main roads, the bulk of our budgets can be used on the actual main roads in terms of walking and cycling protection as well as high quality public realm.

I'll leave you this week with a little cycle through the Railton LTN. In the meantime, you might want to follow the @RailtonLTN Twitter feed to find out more about this wonderful scheme.


  1. Fascinating to read a description of our LTN thru a visitor's eyes - particularly someone with a civil engineering background. It has felt so amazing and transformative for my family and I that some days it's hard to believe it's the same road we've lived on for 16 years. Some sunny mornings I sit on the doorstep with a coffee, watching cycles and walkers streaming past and thinking 'This is what the future of London feels like.' 18 months ago, Railton was a polluted, high speed short cut for thousands of cars every day, with regular crashes and punch ups between drivers refusing to give way to each other. The LTN feels like a minor miracle

    1. I found it quite strange to see all of the cues one associates with a busy through road and yet the place was utterly peaceful. I really hope it sticks.

  2. Are you for real we had the first lockdown and the last time I checked nobody was talking about closing roads off. This is anti-democratic because no one was to that this was going to happen and if you are OK with something like this been imposed on you wait until something that you don't like is imposed on you. LTN's are not justified or legal as no Impact Assessment was carried out in anyway so if someone dies because of these wretched LTN's there will be legal consequences 4 hours people who implemented LTN's.

    1. I've literally provided links to the engagement that was taking place before Covid hit and there is even more background if you took a few minutes to go and read up.

      I not your comments about legality, but in *fact* there was a legal challenge and the council won -

      In terms of impact assessment, I'm afraid you're quite wrong there too

      LTNs are an internationally and nationally proven way to address the blight that traffic has on our communities. As for me, well I was never consulted about the huge growth in motor traffic in my neighbourhood over the last generation.

  3. All it does is move 'the blight' onto other roads that were once fairly low traffic. The traffic has not magically disappeared!!

    1. EXACTLY! All this has done is inflict misery on the rest of us- working class families who live and go to school amongst the increased pollution. If you want to live where there is no traffic- BUY A HOUSE WHERE THERE IS NO TRAFFIC. Don't move to an area and then try and change it. Complete selfishness!

    2. Are you suggesting that people have moved in who don't work then? This "working class" trope is really very tiring.

    3. It's good to see you acknowledging that excess motor traffic is a 'blight'. Perhaps you could put forward your own suggestions for reducing the volume of motor traffic blighting our roads?

      Alternatively, those who are capable (the majority), can choose not to make short journeys by car, then we could all get to use the roads safely and peacefully.

  4. @Anonymous - the impact assessment that you say didn't happen is here
    The roads aren't closed off, they're closed off to through traffic, thus stopping rat running by commuters. Residents, visitors, deliveries, emergency vehicles etc are still free to drive in.
    I would entirely be happy to live in a LTN, rather than on a traffic infested cut through road.
    Cheers, Sarah

  5. Echoing Steve's comments, yesterday cycling down Railton road with my toddler on the back, thinking this would not have been possible a year ago.
    Looking forward to seeing how the area develops. I really hope Streatham Wells and Brixton Hill secure their LTNs soon as well.

  6. Railton Road looks like a main road, because, for London, it is a main road - direct link betweeen Herne Hill centre- and Dulwich - and Brixton centre. Close it off to legitimate through traffic, great!, that traffic can go round a similar but longer "main road", still lined with houses and shops, pedestrians and local traffic - maybe also including some of those "Residents, visitors, deliveries, emergency vehicles etc ... still free to drive in..", but have to get round to the other side of the barriers .
    Never mind the extra congestion, the slower traffic includng buses, the more pollution for those foolish enough to live on and use that diversion main road, never mind the extra mileage and contribution to climate emergency- just think of all the happy cyclists let loose in Railton Road ( or maybe not? not a single cycle on the move in the pictures...).
    Fact is, most LTNs, and I think including these ones, are just nice feel-goods for right minded people and those lucky enough to live in the right places in the LTNs. What they are not are decent do-goods that seriously address the complicated issues of urban living, mobility, efficiency, resilience, equality and general living together.

    1. I think it is pretty clear that the main road and traffic signed route (south to north) is the A2214 then A204 then A23. Railton Road was much more a back route/rat run used by those who knew or in recent years sent that way by Waze to avoid traffic in the centre of Brixton. This backed up buy the fact that Dulwich Road doesn't drop below 6m between the parking bays on either side, yet Railton has sections as narrow as 4m. I think you can argue that motor traffic should be spread out between primary routes and side roads, but I don't think you can argue that Railton Road was ever intended as a main road for journeys between centres.

      In terms of buses I haven't noticed any difference. The 322 obviously is helped by the bus gate. For buses like the 3, going north any traffic backs up on the way into Brixton and there are bus lanes there. Going south traffic backs up at the Half Moon Lane junction. But car traffic going north along Railton Road already needed to join A2214 Dulwich Road at Rymer Street, so it just means the traffic is in one queue rather than two. These buses have always been somewhat slow anyway because of the number of people who get on and off in Brixton and Herne Hill, hence what there have been periodic suggestions to extend the tube to Herne Hill.

    2. You're treating traffic like a force of nature, something that will exist no matter what and has to go somewhere. It's not, it's a product of millions of personal choices. Give people safe and more convenient alternatives that create less danger and pollution for others and they'll use them.

    3. We all need to take responsibility for our choices and look at alternatives (if we can) for short journeys. Can we walk or cycle. Looking at the awful figures about air pollution issued yesterday, it is clear we all need to do more. LTNs alongside measures for main roads and school street are some of the ways we can enable people to make these choices.

    4. Railton Road a not a main road? well, I suppose if we want to get a bit nerdish about it, it is only a B road - B223 I understand, so yes, lower classification than the A roads Anon quotes. But it is still formally higher classification than for instance the C roads making up the blocked roads at and around the Dulwich Village Junction disputed LTN. And higher yet again than straight unclassified residential roads. Calling it a rat run makes no difference to either this classification fact or the road's fundamental connectivity.
      Two other things - I spent about 25 years commuting-cycling along Railton Road ( cycle "rat-running"?), during the latter period of which traffic levels in Lambeth were if anything higher than they are today. I don't recall any serious problem for my cycling on account of that,and I am sceptical that any huge problem would exist now. I found no big accident record in Railton Road in the years immediately before the closure.
      However, there were riots which laid Railton Road waste in 1981 (maybe luckily for me, I was on a short overseas posting at the time). They were there partially because RR was something of a ghetto. Although I would hardly say that the LTN here creates a "ghetto", nevertheless, to take a nearby example in Dulwich, Southwark was clearly aiming at something approaching a gated community in its so-called Area B LTN around Calton Avenue and Court Lane. This sort of splitting up of London into exclusive neighbourhood areas, with anyone passing through, or even coming in for business on the way to somewhere else, to be abusively labelled as a Ratrunner, is too much of a nod to tribalism and social separation for me. While there may be situations where there is a real traffic problem in back streets, Railton Road is not one of those. While we live with this city as it is, there is always going to be the legitimate need for traffic to move around. We should all share the load, not split into little communities of the have's in their LTNs and the have not's on the diversion routes.

  7. Thanks for visiting! I love the new Railton Road and it feels so much safer cycling around there now, even with the occasional illegal rat-runner still there. I see a lot of other cyclists, including families with kids, and the seats and mini parks are a really nice touch. Something to be proud of and a huge improvement.

    1. Yes something we all should be really proud of.