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Councillor Aspden Promotes Debunked Theory that Road-Building Reduces Congestion

Another Motorway - No Thanks, by JL57, Licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Another Motorway – No Thanks, by JL57, Licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

City of York Council’s Executive met on Thursday 16th June 2022. Among the items discussed was a proposal to dual northern sections of York Outer Ring Road (YORR), about an hour into the meeting.

Speaking in support of the road-building project, Councillor Keith Aspden, the Council Leader, promoted the debunked theory that road-building reduces congestion.

He also stated that dualling the ring road would see car journeys “move out of the city centre”.

‘Upgrading the Ring Road provides us with an opportunity to reduce congestion and journey times for the thousands of local residents who use it, but the project also enables us to enhance pedestrian and cycle facilities along the network, and would see car journeys move out of the city centre, supporting our work to improve air quality in the city centre.’

Councillor keith aspden

These comments are repeated on the York Liberal Democrats website.

Road-Building Does Not Reduce Congestion

The proposition that road-building reduces congestion has been thoroughly debunked, with research going back decades.

According to the Fundamental Law of Road Congestion, Vehicle Kilometres Travelled increase in direct proportion to the number of lane kilometres available. Therefore road-building results in the same amount of congestion but with higher overall volumes of traffic.

Further, the evidence is that increasing capacity does not reduce traffic volumes elsewhere.

‘Increasing lane kilometres for one type of road diverts little traffic from other types of road’.

duranton & Turner, the fundamental law of road congestion

This indicates that the hope that traffic will “move out of the city centre” is misplaced.

Is there any evidence for the proposition in York? As far as I can tell, it is simply an assertion that has been repeated so often that no one questions it.

The Impact of Road Projects in England

Although much of the evidence on road-building and congestion is from America, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) commissioned a report called The Impact of Road Projects in England.

It showed that road projects generate traffic over and above background increases. Further, they have a long-lasting negative impact on landscape and biodiversity, and there is little evidence of economic benefits.

York’s Climate and Transport Strategies

York is developing a climate strategy, but its “ambition” is to be net zero by 2030.

The city is also drafting a Local Transport Strategy which will be closely aligned to the climate strategy. Transport emissions will have to be cut by 71% by 2030, which means a 25% reduction in vehicle miles.

It is obvious that dualling YORR goes against the climate and transport strategies – so why is it still happening? It seems as though they are trying to push the YORR project through before the strategies are complete.

And why are Councillor Aspden and his colleagues using thoroughly debunked theories as justifications for road-building?

My best guess is that they lack the courage to explain the situation honestly and openly to the people of York.

Councillor Aspden Promotes Debunked Theory that Road-Building Reduces Congestion

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