Thursday, December 10, 2009

Question: how do we reduce traffic?

As I stared forlornly at the horror that is Brockley Road at peak traffic a question was peculating in my mind. If we wanted to cut traffic, say, in half... how would we do it? It's not my field but busy roads divide communities physically and psychologically, pollute the air and their constant roar is like taking a sledge hammer to your quality of life.

I don't think I have the answer although I tried to come up with three ways that would help cut down the traffic.

First of all: superb public transport.
It seems to me that the only way we'll ever get top class public transport is under public control. Taking the rail and buses back into public hands will allow a focus on quality, reliability and cheapness of tickets that is just impossible whilst there are rotund felines taking their cut.

If we have a decent alternative that we can rely on to get us where we want with the minimum of hassle it will take us out of our cars. And by us I mean you because I don't have a car.
Second up: tackling rush hour
Rush hour occurs because our working hours are so set. If we could develop more flexible hours to spread that out we might reduce the amount of time people are sitting in traffic, which means the vehicles spend less time on the road which makes them clearer.
Thirdly: reducing the need for journeys
Out of town supermarkets and those good awful shopping centres are, by design, only reachable by car. We should be looking to having most things we need within walking distance. Cities should be perfect for this because people live so close together but often they aren't. Really attempting to tackle why people make journeys could drastically reduce traffic.

However, having said all that I'm not sure my solutions would halve the traffic. Cycle lanes, pedestrianising town centres and the like are all good things but how much of an impact on traffic do they really make?

What am I missing from my plans that could really take this issue on? Bearing in mind I'm not up for punishing people but just encouraging good behaviour I'd be happy to hear what else we'd need for my plan.


Jo Simmonds said...

So blog obsessed am I, I thought you were asking for ways to make yourself unpopular as a blogger.

If that is indeed the case I have many tips for you :)

ModernityBlog said...


Also reducing the overall number of cars in streets.

As 100,000s of cars clog up streets and so make getting around slower, if the overall number of cars could be reduced by providing access to good quality, but cheap rental cars, so the necessity of actually owning a car is diminished.

And with a massive rental scheme it would allow for the phasing in of decent electric cars.

There's got to be some way of persuading, gently, people to give up car ownership but have access to one if they needed it, so the overall total number of cars would be reduced, etc etc.

Stuart Clay said...

Car Clubs? I think that's what you're saying Modernity- studies show that having 1 Car Club bay in an area can remove between 14 to 22 privately owned cars.

Dave Riley said...

We've been kicking this one around a bit in Australia in the context of the privatisation and dismantling of transport infrastructure:Socialist Alliance Draft policy on public transport.

Simon Grover said...

Most car journeys are under 5 miles, and a quarter are under 2 miles. In London, half of car journeys are less than 2km!
Yet people prefer to make those journeys by car rather than by bike or foot, even if it takes longer.

So it's partly a psychological problem. The habit of taking short car journeys must also be coming from the relatively recent phenomenon, "the school run" (ironically named - there's no physical exercise involved).

So one way of helping would be to open people's eyes to the odd way they are behaving: reclaim the streets for them with methods like those from Living Streets (eg 20mph limits), and combine this with education and incentives for non-car use.

For longer journeys, the main problem is commuting. So the answer has to be reduce the need for commuting. Give incentives to businesses to avoid the usual big cities.

Anonymous said...

I'm sort of in favour of "punishing people" as the fact is the cost of driving isn't solely absorbed by the driver. So making it more costly, i.e. a carbon tax would help.

Public transport is good in some places, for example I live 2 miles from somewhere with excellent (if overpriced) public transport, the problem is travelling those two miles means I have to cycle 4 miles everyday up and down a very big hill.

Public transport needs to be linked up and it will have massive returns to scale, another reason for state ownership I guess.

The school run is a joke, for 10 weeks a year driving in the morning is actually fairly easy (at least it was when I was learning) and kids really need to go to the schools near them, or again, public transport or school buses need to be better.

I think your unwillingness to be mean may also hurt your case, because cars are quite convenient, they are your own space, you can have your stuff, your music and your air freshnener how you like it and theres a culture that says "car GOOD" to fight against.

Dave Riley said...

Any number of research projects have pointed out that moving people to and by public transport is a no brainer, the question is how you do it. Punishing car owners and drivers is not the way nor is it very useful to rely on one single fix. This has to be a dynamical and staged approach. I drew attention to our developing position on public transport because a lot of Green thinking on transport simply defaults to individual solutions. We run campaigns for free public transport, against privatisation of rail, ferry and bus systems and while a lot of the work is simply defensive, you soon learn that getting everyone on their bike has limited take up which the demographics of transport are so complex.

ModernityBlog said...

What Dave Riley said.

For sure there needs to be measures taken to wean people off of car driving, but proscriptive measures won't work, and might be counter productive.

Better to aim at an overall reduction in the number of cars used, and look for intelligent schemes to allow the multi-usage of cars (community rentals, sharing, etc).

Jim Jepps said...

Re rental cars/ car clubs - very good point. In London we have two very good schemes - street car/van and city car club - which are both really easy to use and reasonably priced.

There main problem is that the network does not yet cover the whole of london and more people don't know about it.

Short journeys and school runs - the frustrating thing is that the more cars that are on the road the more parents feel they have to drive because the roads are unsafe... where walking buses exist (kids all walking together with a parent picking up local kids on the way) they seem very popular and social and a good active way of doing things.

I was wondering if there would be an alternative solution to the school run problem by staggering school opening times, or at least scheduling them so they don't coincide with the work rush hour.

In some places you can really tell that school holidays are on by the massive reduction in traffic.

Mean - well I'm now persuaded that the congestion charge is a good thing which, theoretically is being mean - but frankly sitting in bumper to bumper traffic is pretty mean too so it just seems like a good way of freeing the roads up so they can at least work.

ModernityBlog said...

"There main problem is that the network does not yet cover the whole of london and more people don't know about it."

That's why I suggested a massive rental scheme (or something similar) to highlight to people that they don't need to *own* a car, as they can get hold of one when needed.

I think also there is a tendency to view this from the urban point of view.

Many people live in the outskirts or may always want access to a car (being disabled, large family, need to shift stuff, etc any number of reasons).

So an approach which isn't punitive but encourages people to give up their car, use (a much improved) public transport system whenever possible, but still have access to a car if needed, is more likely to succeed.

Persuasion is the key.

Jim Jepps said...

How annoying - I used the wrong 'there' - but totally agree with you on this.

Simon Grover said...

As a father of a school-age child I can tell you that significant staggering of school times would never work, because of the combination of local teachers (with their own kids) getting to school, parents trying to get to work and parents trying to drop kids off at different schools.

Jim Jepps said...

Good point - the school run does seem difficult to tackle. More local schools perhaps.

Alice said...

What tends to work effectively in changing people's behaviour is social stigma. When it's seen as embarrassing to drive a 4x4, people will stop driving them.

This has worked a little with some school runs, where school initiatives to walk kids in in supervised "crocodiles" have pointed out the danger to the children of there being so many vehicles in the streets. This implies to parents that if they still drive their kids to school they are being anti-social in some way, and no one likes that kind of social stigma.

Can anyone think of other ways to actually stigmatise car use?

Anonymous said...

"More local schools perhaps."

Local schools all over the country are being shut down as they are considered uneconomically viable. Or in other words, their land value is too much to pass up for short-sighted greedy councils.

My nearest school is two miles away, no public transport available, so I drive it. But this school is on the list of potential closures (to be decided next year) and then we will have an even further drive.

So to answer your question re reducing traffic - it would need joined up thinking from those in governance, and not short term greed for money and power. Therefore, never gonna happen! Sorry.

Jim Jepps said...

Sadly I think you're right earwicga. Certainly where I am there is a shortage of local nursery, primary and secondary school places with hundreds of kids being bused out the borough everyday.

That need for joined up thinking really is lacking at moment!

Gregory A. Butler said...

I live in America - I'm a New Yorker, and we're a very old city with a European-style transit system, so half the population don't drive, or own cars, or even have a license.

But New York Is Not America.

In America outside of New York, a car is a NECESSITY FOR A FUNCTIONAL ADULT.

We're a huge country, with a spread out population, and in most of our country public transportation is basically nonexistent.

In light of that reality, it's more realistic to talk about nonpolluting cars (hybrids, ect) then to talk about abolishing cars.

Gregory A. Butler said...

Oh, I forgot to mention, by "New York" I mean New York City - the rest of New York State (and even the outskirts of New York City) is just like the rest of America as far as the necessity of car ownership is concerned.