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blog: A decade in Transport Planning

Author: Nicola Siddall

Ten years ago, I was starting to wonder: where does a Geography degree really get you, if not forging a career in teaching or colouring in? It turns out it can get you a job in Transport Planning, and if you’re not concentrating, it goes by far too quickly.

In late 2013, I started out teaching road network analysis in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for an online training provider, and before I knew it, I’d fallen into a career planning logistics, roads and junctions. Or so I thought.

A decade on and everything’s changed – not least me, but also lots that I learnt in those first few formative years as a Transport Planner. Here are the top ten things that stand out, looking back on a career (so far) of development planning and transport strategy. I hope you’re ready to geek out with me:

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1. GIS rapidly became a lot less mysterious, and arguably with it came the demise of my own mystique. Now every bright graduate who walks through the door seems to pick up GIS in a hot minute. Well, at least I’ll always know how to use ARCADY better than them…

2. ...yes, ARCADY and PICADY were a thing, and we were pretty pre-occupied with how many seconds of delay precisely 30 new vehicles would generate at a junction.

3. My encyclopaedic knowledge of the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions also became a lot less desirable, and it’s increasingly apparent that it would be better redirected at LTN 1/20. But is that as fun?

4. People started to forget about the recession…eventually. And with that came a raft of new-generation transport planners who are not tarnished with the same trauma. It’s refreshing.

5. I’ve witnessed the release of two Census datasets, which has recently given me great excitement. One dictated a decade of journey to work and mode share analyses, the other tells us almost nothing about ‘typical’ travel patterns. But maybe that’s the learning point to take from it?

6. So yes, Covid-19 happened. And that’s really it. It also came and went, and now some of us travel to work, some of us don’t. We are in the new normal and things are kind of…normal. I don’t think the Covid buzz word (in the sense of transport planning) will last much longer.

7. Autonomous vehicles came…autonomous vehicles also…went. This isn’t one I’ve got high hopes for hanging around, either.

8. We used to go out and sit at the side of the road counting cars. My first manager even bought me a special pink traffic counter. Now there are drones and cameras! Many hours of labour saved, yes. But nothing beats the memories.

9.Travel Plans were ‘Green Travel Plans’, when it was still a bit novel to equate transport to sustainability.

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10. Finally, and most regrettably, I still mourn the loss of the Guidance on Transport Assessment. These were the golden days, when you knew exactly what you needed to do and how. Now we quibble over the Planning Practice Guidance and the meaning of “safe”, “suitable” and “severe”. Those times really were much easier, but maybe not so rewarding?

PS: if you’ve gotten this far, and wondered why I haven’t written about the total seismic shift in the industry from ‘predict and provide’ to ‘decide and provide’, well that would just be too…predictable. If you do want to read more about that, we did a blog last year on it here.


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