The CoHSAT view on Transport

Our current transport system has, quite literally, run out of road. More and more people are realising that the current approach causes harm to people, the environment, and it doesn’t even function well. But what is the alternative?

With pressures of growth from housing and electric vehicles, ‘doing nothing’ is not a credible option. But there is a route to a safer, healthier and fairer transport system.

Jump to Solutions: What are the the Alternatives?

What are the problems with the current transport system?

We all need to travel in our lives, to work, to shop, to go to schools and other facilities. Since the 1960s, UK transport strategy has focused on roads and cars. More of us have travelled by car, and traffic has doubled even since the 1980s. But as more vehicles have filled our roads, problems have become apparent with this approach. Here we look at seven major problems of the current transport system:

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Problems of the current transport system

1. Climate change. The climate crisis is now frequently producing violent storms, floods and wildfires in the UK and worldwide, and still worsening. Transport is the largest sector in the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and unlike other sectors, has not decarbonised significantly. (Read more)

2. Road Casualties. We all have a right to travel safely. But 5 people killed and 76 seriously injured on UK roads every day is an unacceptable and unnecessary price to pay for our mobility. [Read more]

3. Physical inactivity. Physical inactivity, often caused by dangerous or unpleasant street environments, causes far more deaths and health problems than the direct casualties. With over half of children and quarter of adults not sufficiently active, inactivity contributes to 1-in-6 deaths in the UK: 100,000 deaths every year, and costs the UK £7.4 billion a year. [Read more]

4. Air pollution. Air pollution causes 28,000-36,000 early deaths each year in the UK. It reduces lung growth in children and causes asthma and other lung and heart problems. Road transport is the biggest source of the NOx pollutants causing these health problems and much of the particulates and noise pollution as well. [Read more]

5. Congestion. Traffic congestion – jams – has been a persistent problem in our towns and cities, causing problems for decades. It has been identified as one of the two major threats to the Oxfordshire economy. [Read more]

6. Public Space. Over a third of space in some cities is used for car  movement and parking limiting space for housing, jobs and people to enjoy. [Read more]

7. Inequalities. The benefits and harms are not evenly spread. The wealthy get most of the benefits of running private cars, but the poor suffer more of the pollution and casualties. People may not run a car for many reasons: medical, financial or choice, but they can be excluded from jobs or activities that require a car or pushed into debt by the costs of running a car. [Read more]

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It’s going to get worse

If we do nothing, things will get worse. Current plans are for 100,000 new homes in Oxfordshire by 2031. Electric vehicles will reduce the cost of motoring, and so increase the amount of traffic, congestion, casualties and health problems from inactivity. Every attempt to build our way out of the problem with more roads has just added more traffic.

Will electric cars solve the problem?
No. Electric cars will reduce emissions, but will encourage more driving and make other problems worse.

Can we build roads to solve the traffic problem?

No. Building more roads encourages more driving, creating more traffic.

Solutions: What are the alternatives?

When a habit like private car use has become entrenched over 50 years, it is difficult to see alternatives. But by looking at examples across the world and thinking about their practicality and pros and cons, we can see how a positive and less harmful transport system can be built, step-by-step.

A. Neighbourhoods you can live in

Our alternative starts at our front doors, by enabling more daily activities to be possible without a car, and with so many people not being able to afford a car this is the only fair approach. This means:

·       Bringing key facilities in walking range of people’s homes: shops, pharmacies, post offices, green spaces, cafes, etc. Find out more about 15 minute neighbourhoods or cities..

·       Making the streets safe to walk or wheel for all ages and abilities, with less and calmer traffic. Find out more about low traffic, liveable neighbourhoods.

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B. Better transport options

Our transport alternative focuses on making options available to people to avoid the expense and harms that come with a car.

1. Improved walking and wheeling routes. Virtually everyone walks and or uses an assisted equivalent. This option needs to be as easy as possible, with smooth, wide and unobstructed pavements, and easy crossings. [link to more coming]

2. Cycling connections and parking. Cycling multiplies range and carrying capacity, and 87% of adults know how to cycle (only 75% can drive) and 71% of trips are under 5 miles. For cycling routes to be successful there are 5 criteria identified by the Dutch in the 1970s and re-proven many times since: routes must be coherent, direct, safe, comfortable and attractive. [link to more coming]

3. Better public transport. Buses, trains and other public transport are an essential part of a future system, working with walking and cycling to move people across the city, county and country. Investment in these modes needs to provide reliability, quality on-board and good interchanges, as these are an essential part of most longer journeys. [link to more coming]

C. Safer for Everyone

Road collisions resulting in death and serious injury are not inevitable, and across the world, governments, local authorities and police forces are adopting an approach that tackles them with a ‘systems approach’, considering and eliminating the causes of injury and death, in the same way that is used in other industrial and transport settings (e.g. air and rail).

The understanding that road deaths can be reduced towards zero is called ‘Vision Zero’. The common system approach to this is called the ‘Safe System’ and identifies five areas where the risk of harm to humans can be reduced (see graphic).

Oxfordshire County Council committed to Vision Zero in June 2022, with the target of reducing road deaths and serious injuries 25% by 2026, 50% by 2030 and to zero by 2050.

Safe System Wheel With Post Crash Response Pacts

Central Oxfordshire Travel Plan video

D. Push and Pull

Even with more and better options available, kicking a 50-year habit is difficult. In Milton Keynes and Stevenage, where good walking and cycling networks were built into the towns from the start, extensive road networks also made it easy to drive and now they suffer the same traffic jams as other cities.

So, action to change people’s transport choices will be required. An analysis of 800 peer-reviewed studies (also available as a more readable article) showed that the most effective interventions involved direct or financial measures, such as traffic filters, parking restrictions, congestion or emission charges which both reduced car use (push) and improve public or active transport through funding and reduced traffic (pull).

In Oxford, the plan includes strategic Traffic Filters, a Zero Emissions Zone and Workplace Parking Levy – all planned since 2015. These will reduce traffic and road casualties on main roads. 

For residential areas, ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ make residential streets safer for people walking, wheeling and cycling, and block dangerous and polluted ‘rat-runs’, without preventing people using cars or vans when they need to.