Traffic management – a disastrous policy?

Over the past decade vast sums have been spent on public transport despite the fact that nearly 90% of passenger miles are by car and to places that are difficult or impossible to serve by bus, let alone by train.

For example, government expenditure on rail over the last decade amounts to c. £50 billion, equivalent to £2,000 for every household in the land.  Yet nearly half of us use a train less than once a year and those from the top quintile of household income travel four times as far by rail as do those from either of the bottom two quintiles.

Simultaneously, road capacity has been reduced by a series of minor adjustments at junctions such as:

  • Setting stop lines back from the opposing curb line by several car lengths.

  • Lengthening the all-red times at traffic lights.

  • Channelisation schemes that ensure the busiest turning movement may be congested whilst the lanes reserved for other movements are empty.

  • Banned turns and one way systems that force long diversions on the motorist.

These measures were driven partly by the desire to reduce road accidents, partly to assist pedestrians at all costs and partly on the mistaken idea that if motorists are delayed they may well go by bus. However, the costs have been very large. Here are the numbers based on the DfT’s values for time:

  • A one minute delay to one thousand vehicles per day costs £83,700 per year. Two minutes added to all vehicle trips would cost £12 billion annually.

  • Adding 1 km to 1,000 journeys per day (e.g. by banning turns), where the speed is 40 kph (25 mph), costs £189,000 per year. Adding 1 km at 40 kph to all vehicle trips would cost £13.5 billion annually.

The economic cost to the nation is vast. Detailed calculations are available here (and pictures).

Member of the Advisory Council

Paul Withrington graduated in Civil Engineering from Bristol University in 1962. In 1966/7 he took an MSc in Transport Planning under the aegis of the Greater London Council, where he worked for two years followed by a period as a lecturer at Portsmouth.  He joined Northamptonshire County Council in1975 as Project Manager, Transport Planning. Since 1994 he has directed Transport Watch appearing at public inquires and undertaking policy analysis. In 2000/01 he appeared as the Strategic Objector at the Public Inquiry into Railtrack's West Coast Main Line Modernisation Programme.

2 thoughts on “Traffic management – a disastrous policy?”

  1. Posted 08/09/2011 at 13:44 | Permalink

    Its disgusting how much money has been wasted – this has also led to further degradation of our fast disintegrating road network. The car brings in a massive tax take, the Train network and Buses absorb vast quantities of this. It is really annoying seeing empty buses blocking road space when you realise they are only there as they have heavily subsidised fuel.

  2. Posted 10/09/2011 at 19:54 | Permalink

    There are so many places where minor junction improvements could bring about massive improvements in traffic flow yet nobody in authority seems to even consider taking action. We appear to have given up decades ago largely due to a false ‘green’ agenda to clog up the system. The only area where money seems to be available is in further restrictive measures. Add this to the encouragement to drivers to drive ever slower to further clog up the system and we have the economic disaster we face here. Radical action is needed but successive goverments have been so under the thumb of the green extremist movement that I see nothing changing anytime soon.

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