Friday 29 January 2016

Traffic Signal Pie: The Great Switch Off? No, It Runs Far Deeper.

So the excitement in the press last weekend was a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs where the headlines shouted loud about ripping out traffic lights.

The full report titled "Seeing Red: Traffic Controls & The Economy" is a 56 page tome with more to it than meets the swiveling eyes of those stuck in their cars in traffic jams. I am being as deliberately provocative as the IEA's own webpage which announces the report in an unashamedly car-centric way. Don't take my word for it, the IEA's head of transport, Dr Richard Wellings (PhD in transport policy) said;

"For too long policymakers have failed to make a cost-benefit analysis of a range of regulations – including traffic lights, speed cameras and bus lanes – making life a misery from drivers nationwide. It’s quite clear that traffic management has spread far beyond the locations where it might be justified, to the detriment of the economy, environment and road safety."

This is very clearly a report only interested in the plight of people who are driving. The report is co-authored by Martin Cassini, who campaigns against traffic controls, preferring a utopia where people would simply get on with each other on the road in pure equality (and presumably where the laws of physics don't apply);

"Traffic control seeks in vain to achieve safety through coercion. To avoid more needless deaths on the altar of the malign current system, reform is vital. At major junctions at peak times signal control can be useful. But it should be a last resort. By and large, we are better off left to our own devices, on a level playing-field with equal or no priority."

The report is about far more than traffic signals as can be seen in the summary;

Not only is a high proportion of traffic regulation detrimental to road safety, the economy and the environment, it also imposes huge costs on road-users, taxpayers and communities.

Despite the potential for social and economic harm, traffic regulation is introduced without analysing the full cost to road-users. All too often, policymakers neglect negative effects and approve schemes even when costs outweigh benefits.

From 2000 to 2014, when there was little growth in traffic volumes, the number of traffic lights on Britain’s roads increased by some 25 percent. The number of junctions controlled by signals has risen to about 15,000 with a further 18,000 pedestrian crossings.

The number of instructional traffic signs in England reached 4.57 million in 2013 – an increase of 112 per cent since 1993. Britain’s first speed camera was installed in 1992. By 2012 there were over 3,000 at 2,300 fixed sites. Monitoring now extends to large sections of the motorway network, a step change in the surveillance of motorists.

In 2013 Islington became the first borough to bring in a blanket 20 mph speed limit. By summer 2015 around 14 million people lived in local authorities that had adopted or were in the process of adopting a 20 mph standard.

The rapid expansion of bus lanes began in the late 1990s. In London they grew from 59 miles in 1997 to 172 miles in 2007.

The importance of the road network means the cumulative effect of these measures imposes an enormous burden on the UK economy. Just a two-minute delay to every car trip equates to a loss of approximately £16 billion a year.

There is a strong economic case for replacing standard traffic regulation with strategies that harness voluntary cooperation among road-users. ‘Shared space’ schemes – such as the one in Poynton in Cheshire – show the transformational benefits of this unregulated, design approach.

A high proportion of traffic lights should be replaced by filter-in-turn or all-way give-ways. Many bus lanes, cycle lanes, speed cameras and parking restrictions should also go. Culling such traffic management infrastructure would deliver substantial economic and social benefits.

You will have noticed by now that I am setting the report up for a rant and you would be mainly right. In my opinion, it is founded on shaky principles from the start and it seeks to construct an argument to justify the end position that traffic controls should be removed which leaves people to it (although there is more depth as I will explain later). In essence, let the market decide which is what one can expect from such libertarian authors. To extend this economic analogy, just think for a minute what happens whenever we let the market decide. The strong and powerful screw over the weak. The introduction gives a flavour of this belief;

"Before there were any statutory traffic regulations, road-users were governed by common law. All had equal and mutual rights to be exercised  so as not to interfere unreasonably with the rights of others. They were required to avoid unnecessary obstruction and to use such care for their own and others’ safety as a reasonable person would under the circumstances."

Of course, back in the old days before cars, pedestrians were still being clobbered by carts and carriages, so the proposition is daft. Why do we have regulation on our roads? Well, the report would have us believe that in terms of the growth of traffic controls;

Such measures spring from an attempt to coerce road-users into behaving in certain ways, instead of allowing practices to develop spontaneously through free choice and cooperation, with road-users assessing costs and benefits to decide on an appropriate mode for their individual needs. 

In my mind, this is precisely why we need traffic controls, because otherwise we are firmly in the territory of "might is right". A simple example is the provision of a zebra crossing. It is done in order to help people wanting to cross the road gain priority from motor traffic, possibly because flows are too high to find a gap. If one stood at the side of a busy urban road, I wonder how long one would have to wait for drivers to "cooperate" and stop to let one cross. What about the economic impact on the pedestrian in all the time waiting to cross?

The report goes through each of the headline above and essentially moans and whinges about all of these traffic controls, before getting to the meat of it; the economic case. Well not quite, there is still space to have another moan about yellow lines and traffic signs. But the economic case is simply not presented. There are figures on how much is spent on traffic management and yes, if it wasn't put in and then maintained, there might be a capital and revenue saving to be had, the report states;

Traffic management involves major installation, operation and maintenance costs. DCLG accounts reveal that in financial year 2012/13, local authorities in England spent £428 million on traffic management and road safety (DCLG 2014). In addition, £293 million went on transport planning, policy and strategy. Precise figures are hard to gauge, but a fair slice of English councils’ £3.5 billion annual construction and maintenance budget is likely to go on traffic management.

I make that either 12% or 21% of £3.5bn depending on whether one thinks lumping planning, policy and strategy into installation, operation and maintenance is fair. I don't, but you may have a different view. It's relatively small numbers when gauged against the highway maintenance backlog of £12bn or expansion of the strategic road network with £15bn (or High Speed 2 at perhaps £100bn). The report does accept (in a footnote) that English councils made £458 million from parking services (I assume parking charges and fines) in 2012/13. Given that this "profit" must be reinvested in local transport, this looks like a win to me.

On "environmental costs", the report asserts;

"the [traffic control] measures themselves have produced serious environmental costs. These must be set against presumed (and highly questionable) benefits. For example, modal shift to public transport may deliver few if any gains if motorists switch to noisy and polluting diesel buses, or if energy-intensive new rail infrastructure forms part of the policy package. Moreover, the environmental costs and benefits of ‘anti-car’ policies are notoriously difficult to quantify, particularly in the case of global warming, which involves forecasting economic and climate outcomes decades in advance."

This is not backed up with any data and so is no more an expression of opinion than me suggesting it is total cobblers. I have no data to support my position! 

I do agree with some of the comments about street clutter (aesthetic environment) and to be sure much is generated by regulation. I would in turn suggest that the majority of street clutter resulting from regulation is as a result of regulating the use of motor vehicles - why? Well, if we didn't we would have a free for all (from drivers). Where we don't have vehicles, we have very few traffic signs!

Why aren't these scroungers being regulated like drivers?

Let's have another example. Double yellow lines are put in either to stop people parking in a way which would block road traffic flow or to try and prevent people parking in places which cause problems for others (such as pedestrians trying to cross at side roads). In the Wellings-Cassini world, drivers would simply think for themselves and not park in stupid places

Still on environmental costs we are informed;

Similarly, anti-car policies can damage local businesses by making it less convenient to visit their locality. With car owners’ spending pushed elsewhere, local businesses may fail or go downmarket in a spiral of urban ‘degeneration’.

The data supporting this claim is certainly robust;

"A survey of local newspaper reports reveals this to be a widespread problem across the UK. For example: ‘Bus lanes have put me out of business, claims shop owner’, Manchester Evening News, 12 January 2013."

Beg you pardon, the anecdata supporting this claim is based on reading local rags which use aggrieved car-centric shop-keepers as their bread and butter page fillers. I take your anecdata and I raise you a proper report on the pedestrian pound.

The report then moves onto the "economic impact on road users", but I suggest you replace "road users" with "drivers" because that is the nub of it. First, the allusion that traffic controls are only needed at peak times (I think they mean traffic signals), with the argument extended to active traffic management on motorways not being needed if only people used the inside lane as they are told in the Highway Code. I will cover signals later, but the suggestion is that a change in priority rules could do away with them.

There is then a pop at Transport for London's East-West Cycle Superhighway where the report trots out the old argument that TfL's traffic models proves the scheme will cause serious delays. For drivers.

"For vehicles, peak journey times between the Limehouse Link tunnel in Docklands to Hyde Park Corner will more than double, adding around 20 minutes to this crucial cross London route (TfL 2014). At the same time, the new lane will do little to speed up cycling, shaving only two minutes off the journey from the East to West End."

For driving times, there has been much debate, often around the way in which the City elite travels in this part of London. Yes, the traffic modelling predicts that there will be increased journey times for people driving of about a minute and a half at peak times. I don't know where the 2 minute saving for people cycling has come from (I've never seen that reported), but it rather misses the point. If we are looking at road capacity, then I would counter than cycles are hugely more efficient than cars and so surely a bit of time shaving in favour of shorter cycling times is a good thing. 

The profound reason for the project (and the North-South route) is that it is far cheaper to reallocate road space to cycle capacity than it is to build tube and train capacity. London is growing and if the argument is that the East-West route is screwed now for drivers, it was never going to get better. Of course, it was possible to cycle fast with the heavy traffic before the Superhighway, but at peak times, the roads were often blocked to the extent that one couldn't cycle very fast. 

What is not built into the report's debate is that the protected nature of the Superhighway (and this goes for the others being built) means that cycling is becoming accessible to all on a key route. We are seeing kids on the route and people not fitting the lycra profile of days gone by. Of course, children are not part of the report's economic model and so their needs are conveniently ignored as are the needs and time value of anyone not driving a car in the middle of a city.

Remember, kids, you don't count, you are not economically active.

The footnote to the cycling time savings is probably the most revealing piece of anecdata on this section of the report;

"In fact these alleged reductions in journey times are questionable given the tendency for some cyclists to minimise journey time by nipping through on red or using pavements."

This driver is definitely not using the footway to nip to the front of
the traffic queue.

Well, ditto for drivers. Idiocy transcends transport mode, but the vulnerable always come off worse.

The report continues with the thread that time is money for drivers and them alone;

"The importance of the road network to the UK economy means that delays caused by traffic management impose heavy costs. Government estimates of the value of travellers’ time imply that a delay of just two minutes to every car trip imposes annual costs of roughly £16 billion, equivalent to almost 1 per cent of GDP."

For my own piece of anecdata, I use a toucan crossing twice a day. It is a two stage crossing and so that is 4 crossing per day. I regularly time my wait for a green signal and usually each one is around 60 seconds (unless I turn up at the right time and the button has already been pressed). What about my several minutes a week, and why isn't that being costed? I am not talking about crossing at a junction, this is a standalone crossing site - waits times at junctions are often counted in minutes. Of course, the authors would counter by saying that the signals are a traffic control we don't need. If it wasn't for the signals, I would struggle to cross quite often. If I couldn't move quickly, then forget it.

We then get onto "accidents, health and safety". The report questions whether traffic controls have made things safer, suggesting that there was a long term trend downwards in any case. A quote from Adams is given (sorry, not someone I have come across, I am sure my academic readers have though);

"There are many dangerous roads that have good accident records because they are seen to be dangerous - children are forbidden to cross them, old people are afraid to cross them, and fit adults cross them quickly and carefully. The good accident record is purchased at the cost of community severance - with the result that people on one side of a busy road tend no longer to know their neighbours on the other."

Actually, this is the first bit of logic I have read in the report. This quote makes perfect sense and provides an insight into the concept of "subjective safety", or as I prefer "experienced safety". The quote also uses a perfect example of different types of people trying to cross the road. It is a strange thing to quote because the report has banged on about getting rid of the very controls which enable Adams' children and old people need in order to cross the road.

Don't worry, we are quickly back to the belief that controls create "accidents" and if only the rules were changed and people obeyed them all would be dandy;

"At a four-way crossroads with traffic lights, two opposing traffic streams are in a stationary queue at red. On the opposing junction arm, traffic is crossing or approaching on green. Cautious drivers slow down, anticipating a return to red. Assertive drivers accelerate to beat the light in a bid to avoid another hold-up. Is it surprising that a great many injury accidents take place at traffic lights or priority junctions?"

It's a straw man being used to suggest that the answer at such a junction would be a 4-way stop or give way to the right - the idea is advanced elsewhere in the document. Of course, a 4-way give way to the right is called a roundabout and the last time I looked, we are allowed to build them. The report's introduction laments early debate on the matter where the AA apparently argued for priority from the right, whereas the RAC won with the concept of major and minor arms on junctions, with those on the minor arm giving way no matter who arrived there first.

On health impacts, we are told that road humps kill 500 people a year;

"In London it has been estimated that traffic calming is responsible for the deaths of 500
people a year. This partly reflects the extreme time-sensitivity of heart attacks, with delays in treatment of just a few minutes dramatically increasing mortality rates. Road humps can also cause pain and discomfort to travellers with arthritis, back pain and similar ailments, requiring ambulances to negotiate them at a snail’s pace."

The evidence for this is a 2003 BBC News website story which itself is laden with quotes from the former London Borough of Barnet councillor (and other positions), Brian Coleman who was particularly outspoken against road humps. So outspoken that under his tenure, Barnet pretty much outlawed their use. The 500 deaths is a Coleman comment on a London Ambulance Service comment at the time, but sadly there is no link to the actual report; I have had a look at other news reports from the time, but there is nothing. Besides, this was 13 years ago. There is absolutely diddly-squat on the economic costs of the people we manage to kill, maim, injure and poison by using our cars.

So, what is to be done about traffic controls? The report spends some time looking at some examples of where traffic controls were taken out, a so-called "alternative approach". We are talking about "shared space". Well actually, it seems we are not. Apparently, chief proponent of "shared space", the architect turned "built environment expert" Ben Hamilton-Baillie has apparently given the concept a new name;

"This alternative approach is best known as ‘shared space’, although Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who coined the term, now prefers ‘low-speed environments’. Shared space is too often confused with shared (flat) surfaces, which are unsuitable for blind people who need to orientate themselves. Kerbs tell them where the pavement ends and the road begins."

Who needs traffic controls when people can share so nicely?

That's strange, because Hamilton-Baillie seemed less worried about kerbs in places the report holds up as shining examples of the concept such as the Ashford Ring Road and Poynton (with the film I've linked made by Martin Cassini no less) which replaced a really awful signal-controlled junction with a pretty "shared space" within which motor traffic congestion has reduced. Smoothing traffic flow is a common theme where shared space is dropped in on busy through routes. The report does cover some of the criticisms of shared space, especially for visually impaired people;

"The blind and partially sighted object to the loss of features such as kerbs that aid navigation and give them a sense of security.It should be noted that shared space does not require shared (flat) surfaces, though as mentioned, the terms are often confused. Hence Hamilton-Baillie’s preference for the term ‘low-speed environments’, and the writers’ preference for ‘sociable streets’ or ‘equality streets’."

Hang on. Are we now just reducing this to traditional street layouts with kerbed footways and carriageways, but at the same time expecting everyone to be treated equally by each other? That's surely the problem we have with stuffing traffic through our town centres and high streets, which leads to traffic controls (such as controlled crossings) but which the authors think should come out. The report is also critical of the cost and poor maintenance of some of the shared/low speed/ sociable/ equality streets;

"The cost to taxpayers of high-specification shared space projects raises issues. At 2015 prices, this element of the Ashford scheme cost approximately £13 million, while Poynton cost about £4 million. There have also been maintenance problems, in the case of Poynton owing to short-term council cost-cutting."

Yes, this is a lot of money and would make budgets highway maintenance teams could only dream about. As we know, the issue is about traffic volume and speed; pretty paving seldom sorts it out and to be fair, I think the authors know this;

"This raises the question of whether such initiatives represent good value for money compared with other transport investments such as bypasses."

I've no problem with that, so long as the places being bypassed are dealt with so that walking, cycling and public transport are put first, although I doubt the people using them have any worth in the eyes of the authors. The solution in many cases is to just do away with traffic signals because this is comparatively inexpensive compared to a more comprehensive schemes. The example the report gives is Portishead.

Portishead? Not one I know about and so I did some Googling. This goes back to September 2009 when, as reported by the Bristol Post, signals (including those for pedestrians) were switched off at the Cabstand junction (a medium-sized staggered affair). Here is the junction in 2008 and a film was made about the scheme in 2010, by Martin Cassini. The scheme was a 4-week trial which was accompanied by a 20mph speed limit and signs telling drivers to give way to pedestrians. 

The film suggests that under signal control the junction took 1,700 vehicles per hour and without signal control, it took 2,000 vehicles an hour. Pedestrian flows remained at 300 an hour before and after. If you look at the Streetview images at the time, the junction wasn't particularly blessed with much pedestrian infrastructure in the first place! I don't know if that is peak, although I suspect it is. As we see a lorry swinging through the junction as a woman tries to cross with a buggy, we hear a telling bit of commentary;

"signal switch-off is not enough on its own because most drivers still assume right of way in the time-honoured fashion dictated by traffic controls."

Oh, I thought turning off signals means that people will share nicely. The current layout has changed a bit from the trial. There are now mini-roundabouts in the junction, a couple of zebra crossings and a bit of traffic calming. The previously signalised crossing of Wyndham Way remains uncontrolled with a staggered crossing. One of the crossings is over two lanes of traffic which is simply awful for people trying to cross. The original Bristol Post article talks about the signalisation being part of a development. My conclusion is that the original design was bad and signals may not have been the right option, but then as now, the decision has been taken to largely prioritise motor traffic over people in a busy town centre. 

I have had a look at Crashmap and there have been no pedestrian injuries between 2005 and 2014. Between 2004 and 2009, there were two collisions involving vehicles, both with slight injuries. Between 2009 and 2014 there were also two collisions involving vehicles, both with slight injuries. In all cases, these occurred at the junction of High Street/ Wyndam Way/ Ferndale Road. 

Funnily enough, I think putting the signals in to start was a mistake, although I don't know what the junction was like before; it seems to have been linked to a large (parking rich) development just out of the town centre which needed traffic mitigation. All of the debate surrounding this example completely misses the point that poor Portishead remains hopelessly shackled to motor traffic.

So, where does this leave us going forward? The report looks at three areas. First is a reform of traffic management policies. Of course, our urban places don't tend to stay static and so presumably keeping policies under review is a good thing. The report seems only bothered about reviewing policies which the authors think impede drivers;

"Traffic signals could be taken out where they cause unnecessary delays, perhaps following Portishead-style trials where lights are switched off for several weeks to observe the impact. Successful schemes in Drachten in the Netherlands (in 2002) and Bohmte in Germany (in
2007) scrapped over 80 per cent of their traffic lights. Together with the Portishead experiment, this suggests a broadly similar proportion of signals could be removed in the UK. High-specification sharedspace designs, as seen at Ashford and Poynton, might be considered at complex junctions where improvements to the urban environment would be particularly beneficial. At multi-lane intersections carrying high traffic volumes, signal control might still be required but, given junction modifications, only during peaks."

Turning off traffic signals for a few weeks does not give enough data, and a failing of schemes which appear radical is that the "after" situation can be so different to the "before" that we are not comparing like with like. Traffic signals can and do cause delay to drivers, but this is also a symptom of those places being busy; many trials of signal switch offs or shared space do result in better motor traffic flow and a capacity increase, but it is often to the detriment of people walking, especially those with mobility or visual impairment. It is also the case that the needs of people cycling are not even considered. The answer in these places is to change the streets for people. I have covered switching off traffic signals before and my views haven't changed.

Bus and cycle lanes could be taken out where efficiency or safety benefits are too insubstantial to justify their consumption of road space. This is likely to be the case in many suburban and rural areas, where bus frequencies and cycle traffic are low.

See how the paint takes away motor capacity.

Bus lanes can assist in making sure bus passengers gain an advantage over a private car driver. They are traffic controls designed to prioritise the movement of more people. They can fall down where at their ends where buses have to merge into traffic (often at junctions). Where designed as part of a comprehensive network of bus priority measures, they are effective. I assume that the report's authors would prefer that capacity for cars and the time of bus passengers don't fit the economic model. As for cycle lanes, a bit of paint does nothing to affect motor capacity, so I think they actually mean proper provision where space is properly set aside for cycling.

Speed cameras could be switched off or removed where time losses exceed safety gains. For example, on ‘smart motorways’ they could operate only when active management is addressing congestion issues.

If a motorway is free-flowing, this argument is essentially that we shouldn't be nicking those blasting through well above 70mph - time is money! The geometry of motorways take into account the capability of vehicles and their drivers and although there is a debate about what an upper speed limit should be (and I am not going into that here), the authors libertarian position is that people choosing to disregard the speed limit should be allowed to carry on. The trouble is, poor behaviour isn't left on the motorways.

Traffic calming could be removed from through routes where it produces delay and damage to vehicles, especially the emergency services, and air and noise pollution for residents. A similar approach could apply to mph speed limits.

Your through-route is my rat-run, is someone else's fear of their own street. The thing is, traffic calming is not a panacea, there are countless examples of it being deployed to try and deal with speeding drivers and high volumes of traffic and not working. The answer is often that the particular route needs to be changed into a local street (access for motors only) to provide unfettered access and priority to people walking and cycling - filtered permeability. On our high streets, we continue to deploy traffic calming (often in the form of bus and emergency services friendly flat topped-humps), but we simply fail to address the amount of traffic. If the authors are so concerned about the emergency services, then they would surely welcome far less traffic on the roads so emergency vehicles could get through more quickly.

Parking regulation could be restricted to locations where there is a genuine scarcity of spaces. Councils could reverse the policy of reducing provision to contrive shortages. Wherever possible, parking outside dwellings and businesses should be restored, particularly where there is a risk of urban blight and social decay."

Do I seriously need to counter this one? 

The second part of the authors' conclusion looks at how to remove barriers to change (to a system they think should be imposed on the rest of us). We have the standard comment about local authority staff having a vested interest in their jobs, salaries and status. Well believe me, keeping one's job is quite important, but we certainly do not do it for the money and the status of an engineer isn't much above the level of a dog turd on the street! Of course, the skills of those us in local transport can be used for good and evil. They also repeat their dislike of local authorities raising funds from parking and enforcement. To be fair, they then have a pop at the private sector for balance;

"there is a ‘private sector’ industry that manufactures, installs and maintains traffic signals, speed cameras and other equipment and infrastructure. This concentrated special interest, dependent on government contracts, is likely to lobby hard to retain its source of profits."

This sector is tiny when set against the part of industry which builds new roads, depends on government contracts and certainly lobbies hard to retain the source of its profits (and the oil interests and therefore "defence" interests too). Local government, including transport is being actively defunded as I write this. Yes, there are some big concerns involved in local government work, but this is because in-house talent has been steadily outsourced since the 1980s. There are also lots of little firms and suppliers who rely on small local government orders to provide their bread and butter work. They are not about shareholders and offshoring profits, they are about keeping money in the local economy and certainly provide some level of social service. At the same time, the government is sinking billions of pounds into huge road projects which are very nice indeed for the large firms winning the work.

Then we have a pop at people trying to get change with a modal shift from the car to active travel and public transport;

"certain road-user groups would resist change. Even if a policy disadvantages users and local residents generally, it may benefit narrow interests. For example, bus companies and cycling groups often demand priority measures, even where the cost to other road-users exceeds the benefits to their chosen mode. Such costs may bolster those special interests by encouraging more motorists to travel by bus or bike, thereby swelling their numbers and political clout."

Let me get this right. If we are able to affect a shift from private cars to other modes, we swell the numbers of people using those other modes thus giving them political clout and then presumably the numbers swell more and so on; this is a bad thing? What about the decades of political clout from big business who's only interests involve keeping people wedded to their cars? This is really a go at the all powerful cycle lobby which so far has managed to keep cycling in the UK static at 2% of trips. 

Then we have the "radical environmentalists" and "egalitarians" who have global warming trumping economic analysis and private cars being socially divisive respectively. This is is the ramblings of a crank in my view, but dangerous ramblings because organisations such as the IEA seek to lobby for its supporters and funders who (by the content of the report) must have a vested interest in not only maintaining the status quo, but increasing the almost total grip of motordom in the UK.

The report ends with a look at moving from "command and control" to "voluntary cooperation". By this, the authors mean the wholesale dismantling and deregulation of the current system to a point where things are run at the local level;

"Ideally, then, decentralisation should go much further than granting councils more fiscal responsibility. This might include transferring ownership of minor roads to residents’ groups and some major roads to mutual organisations separate from local government, or indeed commercial owners."

On the face of it, the transfer of big government to the smallest local unit could in theory give people more of a say how their streets are managed at the very local level. The trouble is, this is just scraps and do they seriously think that this would work? (they don't say how it would work). It is scraps because the real prize is the control of major roads over which there is little public or elected scrutiny (and are no way local concerns). Think I am being paranoid? Well look at Highways England and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to see where funding is being shifted to. LEPs are (from;

"local business led partnerships between local authorities and businesses and play a central role in determining local economic priorities and undertaking activities to drive economic growth and the creation of local jobs." [bold my emphasis]

The last sentence of the report reveals all (if you hadn't already picked it up);

"Given its enormous impact on the wider economy, roads policy is far too important to be left to politicians and bureaucrats."

Mark my words. All of the tabloid-friendly headlines last weekend were designed to capture the car-centric public's imagination of a brave new world without traffic signals and with unlimited parking. The true nature of the report is very much about the wholesale transfer of funding from the public to the private purse (with no similar shift of risk and liability). The libertarianisation of roads in the UK has nothing to do with empowering the individual and everything to do with profit for the rich and powerful.

Finally, a word about our sponsors. The report makes an acknowledgement;

"This publication has been made possible by the support of the Nigel Vinson Charitable Trust. The directors and trustees of the IEA thank the Rt. Hon. Lord Vinson of Roddam Dene, LVO, for both his intellectual and financial input."

The Nigel Vinson Charitable Trust is there to mainly fund free-market think-tanks, but it has also given grants to the anti-wind farm Renewable Energy Foundation and interestingly the Electoral Reform Society which wants to reform the voting system in favour of the single transferable vote which would actually make politics more representative. His Lordship is a climate change sceptic, a past chairman and current vice-president of the Institute of Economic Affairs. All nice and cosy.


  1. By allowing such partisan sentiment to colour their judgement and objectivity Richard Wellings and co have nosedived in my estimation of the quality of their reports.

    You really should read up on John Adams and his analysis of risk work with UCL - he was I think the mind behind that image of the truly safe car, made of non-safety glass (which would shatter into lacerating shards) and with a big spike in the centre of the steering wheel pointing directly at the driver.

    I've had some entertaining exchanges on the way that our 'security' measures are also more show than substance, strutting around with semi-automatics, which are potentially lethal when loosed off in a busy public space lined with steel, stone and concrete, and the helpful way that security check points provide a location and system that a serious agency can plan to avoid, whilst the plebian masses are left to queue and curse about. Ironically I managed to get a 150ml orange juice on to a flight once, an emergency ration lying in my bag from an earlier trip, because the container was not bottle shaped!

    I think I've a possibly trip to Excel for an HGV safety event coming up so if you fancy breakfast at the Three Mills and a bit of traffic watching at Bow roundabout (especially the near misses with vehicles going in/out of Sugar House Lane, and pedestrians making their own way across Stratford High Street (thanks to having no proper crossing points for around 1 Km) - might also take in West Ham Lane, where (in the absence of decent records from TfL and others) the London Fire Brigade's plot shows a major cluster of bus incidents in the bus only section.

    1. Dave, I'd love to, but give me plenty of notice as my diary is always filling up!

  2. Yeah, John Adams work is very interesting. Although he is very much pro active travel, his work has somewhat libertarian implications, such that it can easily be co-opted by the passive-travel enthusiasts.

    I wrote three summaries of his work when I had an active blog.

    Risk compensation, cost benefit analysis and inactivity. (His arguments about the total results of seatbelt legislation are worryingly persuasive).

    Shared space. Yes, some of it is his fault!

    Hypermobility. I found the implications of his argument rather depressing, as I think it implies there is no easy solution.

    1. Great, I'll read with interest! Of course, ideas can be used for good and evil!

  3. Firstly, Superb rant. I wish I had time to read it all now, but alas it must wait until after work.

    Secondly, I live in Portishead and your comment "All of the debate surrounding this example completely misses the point that poor Portishead remains hopelessly shackled to motor traffic" could not be more accurate. The light switch off at the cabstand did a lot to improve congestion in the area (in effect, a staggered junction has now been replaced with two mini-roundabouts) but it is noticeable that for a town that has virtually no through traffic it is utterly dominated by motor vehicles. I actually commented on the recent introduction of the second mini roundabout on the need for improved crossings in that areas as the existing layout creates major severance between the high street and basically everything north of it.

    I would argue that the reliance on motor vehicles is because there are no viable alternatives at the moment - The demographics of the town are such that most people work in Bristol or major out of town developments and whilst I cycle the 10 odd miles into Bristol I acknowledge that a mass take up of that sort of thing is not likely. The buses have improved but still take an hour, so you can beat them on a bike, and we still don't have a train station. None of this is helped by the fact that the town, and county in general, is prime letters-to-local-papers territory where people still whine about fortnightly bin collections and the council (who, like many places, I'm sure at an officer level are working hard to improve things but, y'know, at a political level) don't give a fudge. See for e.g. the appalling lack of dropped kerbs; I've got a young child and it's enough of a pain with a pushchair; I can't imagine what it must be like trying to get around in a wheelchair.

    What IS interesting (and curious for such an old fashioned council) is the willingness for the Highways dept. to undertake trials in the town; something that lead to the changes at the cabstand.

    1. It's an interesting point that the experiment was allowed, but presumably the idea of traffic flow improving and less congestion was irresistible! Seriously, a lack of proper alternatives comes up time and again and we wonder why so many reply on the car and we forget about those who have no car access.

  4. I thought the IEA were at the "swivel eyed loons" end of the political spectrum.

    I'm not even sure that they are even being "outriders" for a shift in transport policy in this case.

    I found it interesting that yesterday's Evening Standard Editorial was calling for road pricing in London, something that the IEA would undoubtedly hate.

    1. My opinion is think-tanks (regardless of political position) are lobbying vehicles (!) to further the political ambitions of their funders and fellows. This is fine as long as people realise this, but they are often presented as authorities on a particular subject. I really think the media should mention report funders when they quote think tanks.

      I don't know the IEA's position on road pricing, but in my view it is just a way of pricing people off the roads for those who are not bothered by the costs of driving. It's all relative I know, but there are people who drive for work because of no alternatives and their costs will rise to the extent that they have to ditch car and their job.

      My view is that we need to provide genuine and high quality active and public transport alternatives and then let people fight over whatever's left!

  5. You never see the ABD and IEA at the same time do you....[scratches chin].

    1. I think they could well be figments of their imaginations!