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New road schemes create more traffic concludes study

Government road-building programme will achieve nothing but increased demand for roads, according to Campaign to Protect Rural England

A new study into the economic benefits of road building has found that any respite from congestion provided by a new or widened road is temporary. The Impact of Road Projects in England report, produced for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), says that road building and associated development generates more traffic, which in turn creates pressure for more road building.

CPRE's head of infrastructure and legal Ralph Smyth told BikeBiz: “The Government is keen to sell the biggest road-building programme since the 1970s, but this is a programme that will forever fail on its own terms, producing a depressing, self-perpetuating cycle of more and more roads that do little for the economy and harm the countryside."

The report, by travel consultants Transport for Quality of Life, looked at the short-term impact (defined as between one and five years after scheme completion) of over 80 road schemes via information published by Highways England through its Post-Opening Project Evaluation (POPE) process.

In addition to this, four road schemes that were completed between 13 and 20 years ago were used as case studies: the A34 Newbury Bypass, the M65 Blackburn Southern Bypass, the A46 Newark – Lincoln dualling and the A120 Stansted to Braintree dualling.

Britain's traffic reaches record high with van and HGV traffic rising rapidly

The four case studies, plus nine other randomly selected schemes, were examined to gauge their impact on traffic levels.

The average increase – over and above background traffic growth, as measured by county and regional trends – was seven per cent over the short term (3-7 years) and 47 per cent over the long term (8-20 years).

The roads that were the subject of the four case studies were also found not to be ‘the answer’ to the problems they were supposed to solve.

Referring to these, the report states:

“The local authority, national government and business community were together locked into a highly car-dependent development model, in which road building and the associated development generated more traffic, which in turn created pressure for more road building.

“The case for more road building was (and is) partly justified on the basis that existing roads cannot take the strain any longer, and partly on the basis that increased road capacity will magically unlock the economic potential of the area. However, provision of more road capacity does not deliver a stable situation – the more capacity is increased, the more capacity increases are ‘needed’.”

Of 25 other road schemes that were justified on the basis that they would benefit the local economy, only five were found to have had any economic effects, and the report adds: “Even for these five, the economic effects may have arisen from changes incidental to the road scheme, or involved development in an inappropriate location, or involved changes that were as likely to suck money out of the local area as to bring it in.”

In addition to this, the impacts of road schemes on landscape and biodiversity were found to be long-lasting.

As an alternative approach, the report suggests greater investment in rail and light-rail networks, linking in with walking and cycling, and focusing development in towns, so as to make walking and cycling the modes of travel of choice.

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the road.cc team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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14 comments

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fizrar6 | 6 years ago
1 like

Increasing population, growing economy, higher employment. All these plus more leads to more road congestion.  The CPR are very naive in their study to conclude that it is the construction of more roads which is leading to increased traffic. What are we supposed to do? Timewarp back to the 1950's?

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davel replied to fizrar6 | 6 years ago
3 likes
fizrar6 wrote:

Increasing population, growing economy, higher employment. All these plus more leads to more road congestion.  The CPR are very naive in their study to conclude that it is the construction of more roads which is leading to increased traffic. What are we supposed to do? Timewarp back to the 1950's?

The point is more traffic, not more congestion, with the conclusion being that any relief from congestion brough by new roads is only temporary. Build new roads and they fairly quickly reach the same levels of congestion.

The solution isn't a time machine: it's being more 'joined-up' with transport initiatives and giving alternatives to roads a proper chance.

If only there was someone in government whose remit covered all transport...

Avatar
Dnnnnnn replied to davel | 6 years ago
2 likes
davel wrote:
fizrar6 wrote:

Increasing population, growing economy, higher employment. All these plus more leads to more road congestion.  The CPR are very naive in their study to conclude that it is the construction of more roads which is leading to increased traffic. What are we supposed to do? Timewarp back to the 1950's?

The point is more traffic, not more congestion, with the conclusion being that any relief from congestion brough by new roads is only temporary. Build new roads and they fairly quickly reach the same levels of congestion.

The solution isn't a time machine: it's being more 'joined-up' with transport initiatives and giving alternatives to roads a proper chance.

If only there was someone in government whose remit covered all transport...

You're right, and proper planning can minimise traffic growth. Indeed traffic growth has been coupled from growth over the past 25 years in the bigger cities as population and jobs have returned to inner urban areas where there are alternatives to driving.

It happened largely despite, rather than because of, much national policy though. London is the obvious exception where things are more joined up and the city has powers across transport. Elsewhere, cities/city-regions don't have the powers or money and national government works in silos.

The trouble with the likes of CPRE is that they predictably oppose pretty much all development and aren't credible. Their wailing about the green belt is the same - never mind that the green belt is the same size as it was 20 years ago (and much bigger than all urban area).

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Simon E replied to fizrar6 | 6 years ago
3 likes
fizrar6 wrote:

Increasing population, growing economy, higher employment. All these plus more leads to more road congestion.  The CPR are very naive in their study to conclude that it is the construction of more roads which is leading to increased traffic. What are we supposed to do? Timewarp back to the 1950's?

Two things.

1. as already said, CPRE are not the first to break this, it has long been known as factual.

2. genuine solutions such as more active travel & better public transport do not mean reverting to the 1950s. Active travel is the nearest we have a 'magic bullet' because it can help solve or reduce so many of our current problems.

Do you have a financial interest in the construction or fossil fuel industries? If not then I'm struggling to understand the motive for posting your comment. Or perhaps you didn't actually read any of the article or previous comments.

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FluffyKittenofT... replied to fizrar6 | 6 years ago
0 likes
fizrar6 wrote:

Increasing population, growing economy, higher employment. All these plus more leads to more road congestion.  The CPR are very naive in their study to conclude that it is the construction of more roads which is leading to increased traffic. What are we supposed to do? Timewarp back to the 1950's?

You can't just declare that the CPRE are 'very naive' to conclude that - you'd have to actually read the study and construct an argument as to why it is wrong. All the factors you mention could potentially be controlled for (and the economy isn't growing very much, economic growth is far lower than it used to be).
However, in fairness, I'm too lazy to read it either, so can't say for sure how well they control for such factors. But if you are going to make the claim that they don't, the onus is on you to show that.

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DavidC | 6 years ago
2 likes

Induced demand and its role in road traffic management has been fully understood for decades.
I did not read the article, only the title.

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cdamian | 6 years ago
3 likes

One thing that is also often forgotten: more roads also mean less maintenance for each road. While building then is expensive, but a one off cost, the maintenance is forever.

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HarrogateSpa | 6 years ago
2 likes

There is an expanding population, but there is massive scope for more sensible ways of travelling. Most car journeys are unnecessary, in that the person could have walked, gone by bike, or public transport. My neighbours drive into town, when it takes 10 minutes to walk; it will take them longer to get the car out of the garage, drive, then find somewhere to park.

North Yorkshire County Council currently have an appalling proposal to build a 'relief road' which will destroy some treasured local countryside if it ever happens. It is supposed to relieve congestion by providing a route around the town for through traffic, but the council's own studies show congestion is caused by short, local journeys. It will do exactly what the report says, and induce traffic.

An expanding population doesn't mean we have to keep building more and more roads; they will never solve congestion.

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Yorkshire wallet | 6 years ago
3 likes

Surely as the population explodes this means all respite from new road building will be always temporary?

The biggest problem with modern life is no local work unless you work in the trades or similar. Everything else is commuting - luckily mine is easily done a bike, most people aren't so lucky.

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Dnnnnnn replied to Yorkshire wallet | 6 years ago
1 like
Yorkshire wallet wrote:

Surely as the population explodes this means all respite from new road building will be always temporary?

The biggest problem with modern life is no local work unless you work in the trades or similar. Everything else is commuting - luckily mine is easily done a bike, most people aren't so lucky.

IIRC, in the past couple of decades, the average number of trips and distance per person per year has decreased slightly. But the increasing number of people has largely cancelled that out.

Of course new roads will generate some additional traffic beyond just catering for population increase - if it's suddenly easier to drive to a more distant shop or workplace some people will. That's not helped by our national hopelessness at sensible transport and land use planning - we're pretty hopeless at building enough homes near workplaces, or offering attractive alternatives to driving.

But I'd take most things CPRE publish with a pinch of salt - they tend to be anti-any development and often hysterical with it.

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Wolfcastle50 | 6 years ago
3 likes

I was going to mention the Ben Elton sketch too!

Here it is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0bUbki0dgY

 

 

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burtthebike | 6 years ago
5 likes

This has been know for many years, but it's good to have it confirmed again.  Best described in this quote "builiding more roads to cure congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity."

The real question is why our betters keep building roads despite knowing that they won't reduce congestion?

My local council, SGlos, wants a new motorway junction to "cure congestion" so are spending £500,000 on a study to prove it, despite the fact that a study done nine years ago for the same junction found that it would increase congestion.

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PaulBox | 6 years ago
4 likes

Ben Elton did a routine back in the 80/90's that explained this very clearly. Comparing a swing-top-bin to widening the M25, it's probably a bit dated now, but the principals will still stand.

Avatar
brooksby replied to PaulBox | 6 years ago
1 like
PaulBox wrote:

Ben Elton did a routine back in the 80/90's that explained this very clearly. Comparing a swing-top-bin to widening the M25, it's probably a bit dated now, but the principals will still stand.

Isn't there a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy section about building shoe shops, which is relevant, too? - passing the shoe event horizon...

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