The Government is fixated with tackling congestion on our strategic roads – the motorways and A roads – but it's missing the bigger picture: almost 90% of congestion is in towns and cities. Transport planning has to take account of shorter trips and urban areas.
It all comes down to how we think about transport. At the moment our transport planners appear to act as though traffic disappears once it turns off the motorway. But that’s not what happens at all: journeys have to start and finish somewhere and almost all of them start and finish on minor, not major, roads.
The image on the left shows how transport planners assume people travel: mostly trips between major cities using motorways and trunk roads. But the image on the right is more accurate: there are some strategic trips but plenty of shorter journeys which only use motorways and trunk roads for a short portion of their journey.
If we only take account of long-distance traffic, the solutions to congestion appear very limited. But if we include those shorter trips and the cities at either end, a very different pattern appears.
Government studies over the past few years have repeatedly found that it is possible to reduce congestion on the motorways by managing demand in urban areas.
It’s not just the biggest cities which need attention: there are plenty of smaller hot spots where targeted programmes could reduce congestion without the need for costly, and ultimately futile, road building. Improving public transport or providing workplace or school travel plans in areas surrounding heavily congested junctions can have a dramatic impact on journey times – and cost far less than building roads.
We recently published some research that backs up these assertions:
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