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A Country in a Jam

28th September 2017

Traffic on Otley Road, Harrogate

Traffic on Otley Road, Harrogate, by Hedgehog Cycling

In August 2017, the Local Government Association (LGA) produced a report on congestion, titled A Country in a Jam: Tackling Congestion in our Towns and Cities. The purpose of the report is to set out how councils are dealing with congestion and how they could do more.

A Country in a Jam: foreword

In the foreword, Councillor Martin Tett, Chairman of the LGA Environment, Economy, Housing & Transport Board, sets out the current position and future challenges. He notes:

  • *traffic is a sign that a lot of people have jobs to go to, but it is an inconvenience and can act as a drag on local growth
  • *the DfT predicts traffic levels up to 55% higher by 2040, and congestion up to 85% greater
  • *congestion will cost the economy £307 billion between 2013 and 2030
  • *4.9 days per person per year are wasted due to delays on the strategic road network
  • *traffic in a jam emits 4 times as much pollution as free-flowing traffic; there are 40,000 premature deaths per year due to air pollution
  • *councils as local traffic authorities have a duty to secure 'the expeditious movement of traffic'

Councillor Tett writes, 'Some journeys will always need to be done by car but our goal should be to shift journeys to other means, such as onto public transport, or off the roads entirely. This will help those that need to use the roads as well as those that have to live with the consequences of congestion.'

'This report is being presented at the same time as the Government has started drafting legislation on transitioning towards electric and autonomous vehicles. It is not clear how this will impact the transport networks of the future. Different outcomes are possible - road capacity could increase as smart technology could make better use of existing capacity, or it is also conceivable that a reduction in the cost of travel could make car travel so cheap people do far more whilst undermining the viability of public or other forms of transport. What is clear is that we have a pressing problem on our roads now, which require more immediate solutions.'

A Country in a Jam: nine innovative schemes

The report looks at nine innovative schemes by councils around the country, to tackle congestion.

Those schemes include the workplace parking levy, which allows transport authorities to impose a charge for every parking space provided by an employer, with revenue raised spent on local transport. This has been implemented in Nottingham, and it has reduced the number of workplace parking spaces, while the revenue from the levy has been spent on tram improvements. The number of car miles is in decline.

Every full bus can take 75 cars off the road, but buses are susceptible to congestion, and people are less willing to take the bus if they think they will be stuck in traffic. Brighton has developed an extensive network of bus lanes with priority, and increased information for passengers. Reading has also invested in making bus travel attractive.

Big data has the potential to make travel more efficient. In Northamptonshire, the University has combined travel data from the County Council, the University, the General Hospital, and two private healthcare organisations, to see where efficiencies could be made.

Staffordshire has led the way in coordinating roadworks, to boost the number of joint street works by different utilities at the same time. In Kent, there has been a trial scheme where utilities are charged for the time and manner they work on the busiest sections of the area's roads.

A Country in a Jam: active travel

One of the innovations identified by the report is active travel - walking and cycling. It can reduce congestion, and there are associated health benefits.

Bristol has some of the worst congestion of any English city - residents lose 148 hours a year because of it. Cycling is being prioritised there. Some of Bristol's ideas are:

  • *to deliver segregated not shared use cycle infrastructure wherever possible
  • *more cycling parking
  • *to promote new infrastructure to employees, schools, and in new residential developments
  • *to provide loan bikes, cycle training, and route planning
  • *to coordinate with the planning department to include cycling infrastructure in developments

The number of cyclists in Bristol doubled between 2001 and 2011, and the proportion of cycling journeys has increased by 25% in the last eight years.

A Country in a Jam: how councils could do more

The LGA believes that a number of measures would help councils tackle congestion more effectively. One is greater certainty and influence over transport funding. Highways England and Network Rail have 5-year funding programmes. The same should apply to local authorities. Also, competitive bidding for funds from a number of different funders should be eliminated.

The use of the workplace parking levy should not be subject to approval by the Secretary of State for Transport; local authorities throughout England should have the power to enforce 'moving traffic offences', as London and local authorities in Wales currently do.

'Highways England should mitigate the impact of their road improvement programme on local networks. Almost all road journeys start and end on local road networks and if they cannot cope with the increased capacity of the strategic road network all we are doing by improving it is making it easier to get between traffic jams...This could include Highways England funding park and ride schemes or parkway stations. It could also mean funding for local network improvements.'

Other powers the LGA would like local authorities to have are to manage streetworks (without government permission), to combine public sector journeys, to promote bus travel, and to introduce Clean Air Zones.

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Inspiration from Dutch cycle infrastructure

Bikes in Zandvoort

Bike lanes in the Netherlands are designed with thought and intelligence to create a joined-up, easily  usable network. I took a few photos of cycle infrastructure in Zandvoort, and I've added some comments about the intention of the planners. In the UK, we should pay particular attention to the way they give bike routes continuity, instead of making them give way to every side street.

Read about inspiration from Dutch cycle infrastructure.

Santander bikes, London Cycle Superhighway, LondonSantander bikes near King's Cross

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