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blog: What do transport planners really want?

Author: Jon Parker

The Transport Planning Society annual survey results for 2018/19 make for interesting and highly relevant reading. You can read the full results here, but in summary it makes compelling evidence that we should be turning transport funding on its head, with transport planners making it clear that the priority should be on walking, cycling and public transport investment, and NOT road building.

So how can it be then, that in October 2018 the Chancellor announced nearly £29 billion (just for clarity, that is £29,000,000,000) for the UK’s largest ever roads programme to be delivered over the next 5 years?  How can that possibly align with a highly skilled professional body representing transport planners across the UK calling for the top five priorities of investment being:  

  • Walking/cycling 61% 
  • Travel behaviour change (Smarter Choices) 49%
  • Tackling poor air quality 45%
  • Non High-Speed railway capacity improvements 42%
  • Urban Rapid Transit schemes 35%
Cycle Path

HS2 and strategic road-building are consistently very low in the priority list (support was just 12% and 9% respectively).

The survey also highlights the professional view that we should be implementing more progressive taxation and funding mechanisms, including road-user charging, workplace parking levies, and more stringent vehicle taxation against the most polluting cars.  In essence, ‘managing demand’ for private car travel, which again is completely at odds with a treasury decision to invest massively in more roads, which will of course induce more demand for car travel?

The survey also reveals the need for improved appraisal techniques to take more account of the health benefits of active travel and the negative impacts of car use – to avoid biased decision-making that has historically favoured new road investment based on journey time savings by car.

Public Space Out Of Focus

So, it feels to me that the transport planning industry is saying all the right things, we just have to find a way to convince Whitehall that the funding streams should follow. And that has to start with a more informed and progressive discussion on the way budgets are allocated nationally to different modes of travel – with a switch away from investing in roads and cars towards a progressive programme of investing in people and places.

By my simple calculation we would only need the Treasury to agree to shift £6 billion of the £29 billion announced for the roads programme to active travel measures in order to achieve a reasonable investment of £20 per head of population (over a sustained 5 year period), which would make a massive difference to the health, happiness, and prosperity of local communities across the UK.

Surely that shouldn’t be too difficult?  And the prize of creating truly sustainable places has to be worth fighting for.


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