It’s a model that has the potential to work well here. With an ETO you make the project happen and you consult on the success with the data you have. So much of our current consultation process is at the start of a project, which is when success is swayed by consent or opposition. Using an ETO, the consultation is shifted to the other end of the project process, so data driven insights can be demonstrated.
It lets those affected by a proposed change, such as reduced speeds or parking, try before they buy. Research shows that opposition to traffic changes comes from the perceived negative impact that, in fact, often doesn’t eventuate. However – and this is a crucial element – taking on board feedback and being prepared to modify in the first six months is essential.
As with any change, it’s still complex and controversial. In Edinburgh, where ETOs have been in place since May 2020, a Low Traffic Neighbourhood project generated considerable objections, with local interests and councillors urging that it be dropped without testing or subjected to more traditional extensive consultation. On the positive side, stakeholders including the regional cycling campaign were able to identify potential problems or omission prior to implementation that have resulted in easy remedies. For example, a proposed cycle lane was to be unsegregated, but the consultation reversed this before installation.
ETOs have the potential to redefine how we approach traffic change projects. While they aren’t a solution in themselves, there is an opportunity for them to be used as a powerful tool to deliver people-first transport.