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Chris Fox's Politics Section

My Views: Transport

Anyone who has been in or near a traffic jam knows the effects of congestion. It costs time, and in turn money, and exacerbates the pollution from road vehicles.

Given that congestion is caused by an excess of vehicles per unit road space, there are basically two solutions: to increase road space or to reduce road traffic levels. Supporters of the former refer to the convenience of cars and lorries - they provide flexible, door to door transport - and say people will not easily be persuaded to give them up. A car is in any case the best form of transport if people have a lot to carry or if they need to travel long distances quickly. For some people, the car may be the only form of transport available.

While these may be valid points, they do not constitute a case for a roads-based transport policy. Even if no new roads were built and the money saved spent on public transport, people would still be able to use cars, lorries and roads. If, however, all the public money that would be spent on public transport were diverted to road building, those public transport services that are not self-supporting would fold, which would disadvantage those who do not have access to a car. New roads damage any countryside through which they pass. They also encourage traffic growth by making cars and lorries more convenient to use.

Given the above, I favour a policy of traffic reduction. The best way to reduce road traffic levels is to reduce the need to travel. This can be done by locating services and businesses closer to the people they serve and by having projects that bring services to people. Mobile libraries already exist. There could also be such things as mobile shops and post offices for neighbourhoods that do not have permanent versions. Having traffic reduction as an objective provides a case for supporting small, local businesses, given that their products are likely to have travelled shorter distances.

Where there is a need to travel, alternatives to cars and lorries can be provided. For short journeys - within or between settlements - cycling and walking are valid alternatives to the car. Both provide exercise and are pollution-free. However, their use is sometimes discouraged by substandard road safety. This problem can be alleviated by installing traffic calming measures, including pedestrian crossings, where there would otherwise be potential for accidents, and by pedestrianising selected shopping streets. In addition, the safety of cyclists can be improved with cycle lanes, off-road cycle routes and cycle crossings.

Longer car journeys can be replaced by public transport. Buses have approximately 75 seats to the car's 5, and are less than three times as long. Trains do not use the roads at all. If more people use public transport, road traffic levels will therefore fall, and the benefits of reduced congestion will be felt both by those who use public transport and by those who still need to use cars. Furthermore, operators could use the extra revenue to improve services, buy additional vehicles and extend their networks, although outside investment may still be needed.

Demand responsive and dial-a-ride services, which serve particular routes or neighbourhoods only on demand, are used in areas where demand does not support a regular service. I favour their use for all neighbourhoods that are not currently connected to the public transport network.

The railways can reduce the need for lorries as well as cars. If long distance freight were carried by rail, it would only need to travel by road to and from the nearest railway station at either end. In order to encourage this, freight handling facilities should be introduced to every railway station that can accommodate them. In addition, industrial estates lying near railway lines could be connected to them by short branch lines.

Freight can be carried by water over short distances. This form of transport would be especially useful for those who want to transport freight within urban areas and who would otherwise face congestion.

Improved road safety is not only important as a means of encouraging cycling and walking. Roads are more than just transport routes. In residential areas, they serve as playgrounds for children and meeting places for residents. In shopping areas, the custom of shops and other services depends on people being able to move freely. Traffic calming measures should therefore be installed such that they encourage these non-traffic uses.

Contrary to the arguments of those who oppose traffic calming and speed cameras, speed is a factor in both the probability and severity of accidents. The faster a vehicle is travelling, the less time it has to avoid an obstacle that appears a particular distance ahead; this is probably why speed limits in built-up areas, where sightlines are blocked by buildings and parked vehicles, are lower than in open countryside. Furthermore, a vehicle travelling faster has more momentum, and therefore imparts a greater force if it hits anything.

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