Saturday, December 02, 2006

Car congestion? Simple, build more roads!

The publication of Sir Rod Eddington's report on the future of transport, and roads in particular, seems to epitomise our political elites attitude towards cars these days. Indeed, comments made by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, a few years ago, illustrates perfectly contemporary attitudes towards modern motoring. The Mayor once said 'I hate cars. If I ever get any power again, I'll ban the lot'.

The debate about the future of transport and roads in the UK is dominated by bean counters and small-mindedness. Eddington's solution to future urban car congestion is simply to make drivers pay more for using congested roads and motorways during peak times - it took him all of some 350 pages to work that one out, how imaginative. The report is in reality, just an echo of the government's own mantra, that is, whatever happens, Britain cannot simply just build it's way out of the problem of congestion. In the foreword of the governments white paper on transport two years ago, the Prime Minister Tony Blair argued that Britain 'cannot simply build our way out of the problems we face'. It was a mantra that was repeated by his Transport Secretary Alistair Darling, in case you didn't quite get the message, he reminded everyone at a speech to the Institute of Public Policy - that - yes, you've guessed it, 'we cannot build our way out of the problem'. Ok, ok, ok, message received and understood.

To me, the report and it's solutions are, to all intents and purpose, a shining example of the politics of petty, small-minded, local green Nimbyism, that is being placed over and above the fundamental notion of providing universal provisions. Indeed, according to Eddington, 'there is no attractive alternative to road pricing'. Well, he's certainly wrong about that, because there is an 'attractive alternative' - BUILD MORE ROADS.

Eddington admits in the report that the invention of the car and motorways have improved the quality of our lives like never before in human history. He also accepts that the car has given us all more freedom and wealth in the process. The history of human development, is the history of making things bigger, better and more efficient. The report is bereft of vision, leadership, and more importantly bold ideas. The truth is, our society, the 5th wealthiest nation on the planet, needs new, bold and exciting ideas to deal with congestion. The only things that our political masters seem to have in mind is rock bottom horizons and taxing motorists out of existence - how novel.

For a more amusing and skeptical view on this issue take a look at the excellent Longrider's piece.

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24 Comments:

At 2:08 AM, Anonymous Lucyp said...

I would prefer the opposite vision of not building anymore roads and make public transport more affordable and attractive and force drivers onto that rather than add to the pollution and erosion of the countries green areas.
If you make the space available it will not take long to get us back to where we are now with the congestion problem and we cannot keep building more and more roads because at some point we will run out of available space and HAVE to find alternatives. Why not do it now?

 
At 6:51 PM, Blogger max said...

I really wouldn't know where to build these extra roads.
But maybe I'm affected by Nimbysm!
Shall we evict people and shops to make way for wider roads?
Shall we use more and more land for lanes and gigantic car-parks?
I thought that you were "arguing for a world that's fit for us humans to live in" not one fit for cars.
To me a world for cars as opposed to one for humans is one were there are big roads to allow more and more people to drive their cars to far-away places to reach those amenities that once they had at their doorstep.
This car-based economy is part of the package that comes with big roads schemes.
It has been a feature of American towns for decades but is now creeping up here too. A couple of examples in point in South East London are the Retails centre and Multiplex Cinema on the wasteland of the Greenwhich Peninsula and Bluewater Shopping Centre.
These developments are actually not bad once you're there, that's why they are successful but their existance is the cause of so many small local shops and cinemas closing near where people live.
(They also become a barrier to those that cannot reach them indipendently because cannot drive like children as well as some elderlies and disabled).
Town centres are emptied of what makes life there enjoyable and with less people walking around our streets crime and anti-social behaviour takes hold of neighbourhood that were once safe places, "fit for humans to live" become places where to run away from.

 
At 6:56 PM, Blogger max said...

I really wouldn't know where to build these extra roads.
But maybe I'm affected by Nimbysm!
Shall we evict people and shops to make way for wider roads?
Shall we use more and more land for lanes and gigantic car-parks?
I thought that you were "arguing for a world that's fit for us humans to live in" not for cars.
To me a world fit for cars as opposed to one for humans is one were there are big roads to allow more and more people to drive their cars to far-away places to reach those amenities that once they had at their doorstep.
This car-based economy is part of the package that comes with big roads schemes.
It has been a feature of American towns for decades but is now creeping up here too. A couple of examples in point in South East London are the Retails centre and Multiplex Cinema on the wasteland of the Greenwhich Peninsula and Bluewater Shopping Centre.
These developments are actually not bad once you're there, that's why they are successful but their existance is the cause of so many small local shops and cinemas closing near where people live.
(They also become a barrier to those that cannot reach them indipendently because cannot drive like children as well as some elderlies and disabled).
Then town centres are emptied of what makes life there enjoyable and with less people walking around our streets crime and anti-social behaviour take hold of neighbourhoods that were once safe places "fit for humans to live in".

 
At 4:42 AM, Blogger The Intolerant One said...

Lucy,

Although your suggestion sounds noble on the forefront it is simply unrealistic.

For example, not everyone lives within city parameters. Commuters who live on the outskirts in small villages and towns have no access to public transportation should they hold a job in the "Big" city.

If they (government) were willing to build public transportation into rural areas to make it more accessible the costs would override that of just building more roads.

It would also help if those who are so big on these "Hybrid" enviormentally friendly vehicles would not market them at such ridicoulusly high prices.

In Canada they are trying to push the "Smart" car. I would love to get one for commuting ( I live out of the city I work in). It would be great for the enviorment and extremely fuel effecient. HOWEVER they want me to pay them over $20,000.00 Canadian for a little two seater.

I bought my 4 door sedan model (fully loaded) for $14,000.00. Paying twice the price for half the car is just not a lot of incentive for people to be more enviormentally conscious.

Start building more roads because when the product is not made accessible to the average "Joe" the problem is not going anywhere anytime soon.

 
At 4:45 AM, Blogger The Intolerant One said...

Courtney,

350 pages?!!!! You just got to love bureaucracy and all it's red tape. What a waste.

 
At 7:01 PM, Anonymous Ellee said...

It's typical denial, the congestion problem is created because of the need of commuters to get from A to B, it is not a pleasurable experience. If the "new, bold exciting ideas" included clean and efficient rail links and buses running frequently at affordable prices, with free car parking spaces provided too, then I think they would be on a winner.

 
At 11:16 PM, Anonymous Lucyp said...

Ellee sums it up, we need to improve all sections of public transport and make it affordable to take peoples dependency on cars away and solve the congestion problem.
Park & Ride systems are becoming popular for out of townies and need to be expanded.

 
At 11:44 AM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

Lucy, Max,and Ellee,

How can a growing society, not have a proper growing infrastructure to go along side it? As a society, we have always built our way out of congestion - isn't that how humanity has built it's way out of the cave?

Even the Romans' understood how critical roads are for economic success. The Victorians understood this perfectly all to well, that's why they invented the railway system, and used it to built an empire where the Sun never sets.

There is no coherent economic, or political reason why Britain cannot build it's way out of it's problems. After all, this is what humanity has had to do, in order to overcome what appears to be an unsermountable problem.

In the UK, we have had to live with traffic 'hell' and 'chaos' for well over a decade. Our roads suffer from cronic overcapacity - a punitive, or even a draconian pricing system will not alieviate that overcapacity - only because people will pay whatever price to use their cars.

Lucy's argument about tarmacing the whole country is just an old, over exaggeration of what's really going on - the RAC have rubbished such notions when thier indepth research suggested that, as they stand 'roads take up 1.4 per cent of our green and pleasant land'.

http://www.spiked-online.co.uk/Articles/00000006DC76.htm

Max,

I cannot see no reason why Britain cannot build 10 of those Forster designed bridges in London alone, in order to relieve congestion - what's wrong with having motorways in the skies? If anything, the new M6 toll road, or it's proper name, the 'Birmingham Northern Relief Road', is all the proof you need that new roads relieves congestion. For the cost of a couple of quid, Birmingham vanishes into thin air as you travel from London to Manchester - which many people do especially on a Saturday.

Bold and new ideas should envolve absolutly everything - whatever happened to building a super-fast monorail system, that could travel at speeds at 500 mph? Britain is only now developing high speed rail links - which is something the French have doing for well over a decade - and all powered by nuclear energy I might add.

Britain has the money for such projects, our government takes £40 billion in motoring taxes alone. I've heard too much blah, blah, blah, about stupid little schemes like the 'car sharing' proposal. It's should be obvious that our political masters do not have the political will to build our way out congestion - all they appear to have is very low expectations.

 
At 3:01 PM, Blogger Gavin Ayling said...

Quite right Mr Jacobin sir.

 
At 3:16 PM, Blogger Serf said...

A Question:

If we take Tim Worstall's oft repeated mantra that fairness requires people to pay the cost of their externalities, how would this apply to roads?

Take two scenarios:
1) Government refuses to build new roads, congestion is terrible.
2) Lots of new roads built, traffic flows more freely.

Obviously in Scenario two, each car's externalities are less, yet that depends on government action (or inaction). So would it be fair to charge higher in the first case?

The reason for the question is that scenario one is closer to where we are going.

 
At 3:25 PM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

Thank you, Gavin - if I haven't linked your blog already, I shall do it as soon as I have time.

Best wishes.

 
At 3:40 PM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

Serf,

Your right, scenario one is where we are at right now. How many more Bank-holidays traffic 'hell' do we need to see before our government understands that building new roads is the only way of reducing car congestion?

I personally wouldn't mind paying a little extra to drive on a clear road, just like the M6 Toll road - but what the government seems to be offering, is making people pay much more money to sit in traffic jams.

 
At 5:27 PM, Blogger max said...

Courtney, I see that you equate transportation, any transportation, to economic growth and progress.
I do accept that a part of it is indeed beneficial but I also think that there is a large marginal part of traffic that is not so.
I think that the cause of congestion is not the beneficial transport but all of the unnecessary burden on roads caused by people that could have either chosen public transport or opted for no transport at all (like people going for "a drive").
Sometimes I meet my next door neighbour at the corner shop at the end of my road. It's probably 100 metres and he drives there even if he has to buy a pint of milk.
How many of them there are out there? I really can't see what economic growth is associated to this kind of private mode of transport.

 
At 6:29 PM, Blogger Gavin Ayling said...

I should have said, of course, that road charging is nothing to do with trying to avoid car use. Fuel tax already does that.

The only difference this would make is an immediate and easy way to track people's movements. Oh, and I have been advised that this helps fund the Galileo satellite system that we all paid for by membership of the EU!

 
At 6:33 PM, Anonymous Ellee said...

Courtney, If it's obvious to us, why isn't it obvious to Govt? Motorists will only foresake their cars if there is an easy and affordable alternative.

Did you receive my email re the forums, btw?

 
At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Lucyp said...

I fail to be persuaded by the argument that we need to build more roads at extra expense to the nation, to ease congestion. Instead of tackling the effect, why not tackle the cause which is that there is just too much traffic on the roads.
We build more roads and they will fill up so we build more roads and so on and so on and then we are locked in a vicious circle.
I really cannot understand how anyone can fail to see that and if they do, how they can even start to imagine that it is a good thing.

 
At 10:31 AM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

Lucy,

"We build more roads and they will fill up so we build more roads and so on and so on and then we are locked in a vicious circle."

Not so long ago, such a 'vicious' circle would be aptly named - technological and societal progress - which is something I can 'imagine'.

I can 'imagine' our society, long after all of us have gone, looking like something from the film 5th Element or Blade Runner. I can imagine London being filled with skyscrapers, and motorways in the skies.

What I can't imagine is our generation getting rid of urban car congestion by simply trying to tax motorists of the road. That won't work.

Today, tax on fuel has gone up, but we all know people will just pay the extra tax, rather than do without their cars - no matter how much tax is put on fuel.

The Chancellor thinks such punitive measures will benefit the 'environment' - who does he think he's kidding? All this will mean, it that we'll get slightly less petrol for our money - that's all.

 
At 10:48 AM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

Ellee,

"Motorists will only foresake their cars if there is an easy and affordable alternative."

This is true - however, at present, there is no 'easy and affordable alternative' to motoring.

I could put £15 of fuel in my car and go to Brighton and back, and I'll know I'll get a comfortable seat, and listen to Radio 4, or my music. The same journey by rail is £17.50.

Yes, I got your info - I'll let you know what I think after I've been through it - thanks.

 
At 7:50 PM, Anonymous Ellee said...

Well petrol prices have gone up again, this really hits us hard as we live in the country. It used to cost me £20 to fill up my petrol tank only a few years ago, now it is £35. But my salary hasn't gone up in the same ratio.

 
At 1:16 PM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

Lucy,

It has been the sheer lack of road building over the past 30 years that has got us into the jam (no pun intended), we're in today.

Back in the late 60's, there were around 7 million private cars on the roads - today, there are some 26 million cars on the roads. Car ownership has risen over 300%, yet road building has only gone up by 20%. You don't need to be a mathematician to know that it's the lack of roads that cause terrible congestion.

Welcome to the stay-at-home society

 
At 5:02 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Here in our area (Sonoma County, North of SF) there is plebnty of room to widen the freeway from two to four lanes in each direction w/o evicting anyone. The reluctance is the canard that a wider freeway will bring more people. Cheaper real estate brings more people here. They don't care if the freeway is still too narrow.

 
At 12:05 AM, Blogger beatroot said...

People have got stuck with the idea of ‘brown’ and Greenfield sites’. That was alright back in, when was it, 1945? But these days cities are not separate enteritis divided by green and pleasant land. They often merge into suburbs which merge into other suburbs of other cities.

So lets get rid of the idea of ‘town and country’ and maybe people can move on again.

 
At 2:01 PM, Blogger max said...

Courtney, I went to read the link that you provide and it doesn't say at all as you say that "road building has gone up by 20%" but that "total road length in Britain increased by approximately 20 per cent".

It's length, not width.

In fact as a data it doesn't say really much as it isn't any surprise that in the 60's much of the current road network was already in place.

Surely since the 60's many of those roads have been re-done over and over again and surely many of them have been widened of a great measure.
Where it hasn't and will not be possible to do so is in the towns and this means traffic calming and investment in public transport.

Where you are quite right is that rail transport is very expensive and you mention the cost of a ticket to Brighton.

Of course car journeys are more expensive than the cost of petrol when you add in all other expenses from insurance to parking so your argument is true about the cmfy seat, less so about the £2.50 saving.

It is true however that rail tickets can be very expensive for those with a family to move, for them the car becomes an attractive choice and here's your weekend gridlocks on the motorways.
I think that there's a need to contain costs for rail users and give an adequate service so that considerable numbers would find a switch from the car attractive.
Unfortunately the privatization and fragmentation of the rail industry meant that it is now very difficult to overrun the small interests of the operators.

 
At 10:49 AM, Blogger merrick said...

The roadbuilding budget was slashed ten years ago because it had become clear that building roads *creates* congestion.

The more roads, the more car owners use their cars.

Making a world for the convenience of motorists excluses those without access to a car. In the UK that's a third of the population. They are, by and large, the poorest third of the population.

The alternatives - better public transport and a relocalisation of our lives - are not only better for the environment, they are more socially inclusive.

 

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