Roads to prosperity?

In 1989 a White paper titled ‘Road for Prosperity‘ (frequently referred to incorrectly as ‘Road to prosperity’) discussed the problems of increasing transport demand and in particular increased demand from ‘road users’. It famously went on to outline the ‘biggest road building program since the Romans’ to alleviate the predicted congestion on our roads. This got both middle England and environmentalists up in arms by the mid 1990s with major road protests at Twyford Down and elsewhere with most of the remaining schemes being quietly canceled soon after.

This post is not about that period however, but there is a nugget of truth tucked away on page 2 of the introduction of the 1989 report which is worth discussing. It points out that: “The different scales of road and rail activity is also important. Road transport is responsible for twelve times more passenger travel and ten times more freight movement than rail. A 50 per cent increase in rail traffic would reduce road traffic by less than 5 per cent. Rail has an important contribution to make but it is not a panacea for congestion on inter-urban roads“. It turns out that by 2000 the situation had become even more skewed. By then distance traveled by road was now fourteen times more than passenger mileage by rail.

It is therefore a fact that to accommodate a 7% increase in passenger traffic though increased use of rail would need an expansion of rail capacity by a factor of two.

During the election all three political parties were pushing for rail expansion. In the spending review huge investment in rail was protected, including Crossrail and High Speed 2 with at £13.1 billion per year. How far is this going to get us?  High Speed rail is not attractive from a carbon perspective, it is hugely expensive, will take an age to get planned and built and there are signs that middle England is rising again. We even have the bizarre situation where those enemies, the Campaign for Better Transport and the Association of British Drivers seem to actually agree on something, ie that High Speed Rail is not a sensible project in a cost-constrained world.

The 1989 report was right that rail couldn’t deliver, its conclusion that we need a massive road’s program is of course not. We are recommending moving from cars on roads to coaches on roads. Every coach creates its own space on the road by taking cars off it. This means that we can almost use exactly the same infrastructure as that designed for use by private cars.

This will deliver big environmental, reduce congestion and increase productivity very quickly. It will benefit huge numbers of people travelling intermediate inter-urban distances all across the country, rather than focusing all the benefit on two or three major cities (London, Birmingham and possibly a few more). In this blog we will be both promoting the vision and also the infrastructure work required to deliver it. This infrastructure work is mainly about the creation of Coachway Interchanges which in some cases can be simple bus stops close to junctions, in other cases may be as fancy as the Milton Keynes Coachway.


About PeterEastern
Amongst other things I am interested in the overlap between information technology and personal travel and how we can remain mobile whilst also greatly reducing the negative effects of our travel.

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