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Sustainable Towns And Transport Proposals Part 1

Thundery wintry showers


Here I'm going to put my neck on the line and suggest a series of proposals that will be rather controversial, as many of them contradict conventional ways of thinking. But I strongly believe that they should be challenged, since although many of their aims are good, they seek to achieve said aims in unnecessarily negative ways.

[b]1. Encourage a more sustainable/balanced transport system by aiming to turn cars into more of a recreational thing, promoting the use of alternatives for point-to-point journeys.[/b]

This certainly goes against conventional thinking, but think about it, the advantages of private transport aren't the "getting from A to B" but mainly the spontaneity and the sense of freedom, and certain social benefits, such as taking people for trips out and going to visit people. The only reasons why a lot of people "need" to drive for work is because there aren't enough initiatives for alternatives, including working from home, pooling schemes (think of how workplaces could implement voluntary schemes similar to the school buses that are used in some secondary schools for instance, and the European Union's recent sustainability manifesto has various interesting ideas on how smaller-scale forms of public transport can be developed). Some people enjoy driving, but others find it a chore but feel that they "have" to drive. It surely, thus, makes sense to try to reduce overall car use by removing the drivers who find it a chore, reducing car use without negating its benefits, and thus making it better for everyone. This approach also encourages an emphasis on improving alternatives to the car, a positive approach aimed at giving a sustainable transport system at a high level.

At the same time we can promote initiatives for cleaner vehicles, while discouraging excessive consumption through taxes on fuel consumption, and compensate the traditionally disadvantaged groups, e.g. with fuel tax breaks for people registered as living in rural areas. I consider this to be compatible with the European Union's ambitious proposal of phasing out petrol-driven cars in cities by 2050.

In contrast, today's mainstream policies of traffic calming, reducing speed limits etc. will have the opposite effect- they will negate the main advantages of cars, phase out social-recreational car use, and leave us in a situation where people continue to drive but everybody sees it as a chore, and if they do achieve a sustainable, balanced transport system (which is by no means certain) it will be based on the lowest common denominator.

[b]2. Ideas for promoting walking and cycling.[/b]
I am in favour of segregated cycle facilities provided that they are thoughtfully laid out rather than just bunged in to be "seen to be doing something" (as haphazard segregated facilities don't really succeed in encouraging cycling and actually cause more accidents). Environmentalists usually dismiss this idea as "giving in to motorists" but it's not about that, it's about giving them an alternative. I agree with the Highway Code's stance that use of segregated cycle facilities should be encouoraged but not made compulsory, i.e. cyclists should still be allowed to use the roads if they wish. I also think dedicated cycle lanes, rather than shared cycle/pedestrian lanes, are more effective and less likely to lead to increases in accidents. At the same time, we should encourage more respect between drivers and cyclists who are using the roads together.

I am in favour of [i]selective[/i] use of "home zones" with low speed limits, cobbled streets etc, the aim being to create communal areas where people can congregate without being subjected to heavy traffic, play out in the streets etc. The idea is that, when combined with a network of relatively high-speed roads around towns, "through-traffic" is directed, through a carrot-and-stick mechanism, out of those areas and into the high-speed roads.

In contrast the wholesale application of low speed limits and traffic calming will largely lose that benefit as using major routes won't be significantly more attractive to drivers than taking shortcuts through "home zones". Instead, in my opinion, that agenda (such as the blanket 20mph limits in Norwich) is mainly about discouraging social-recreational car use, and will have numerous negative side-effects such as longer bus journeys and potential for increased traffic volumes (due to increased journey times).

The blog will get too long if I go onto sections 3 and 4 here, these will be urban planning and road safety respectively, and will be covered in the next blog.


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