Traffic and Transportation

Solving the Insoluble

That seemed to be the conclusion which emerged from the lively discussion after an interesting, comprehensive and wide ranging talk on "Traffic and Transportation" given by Peter Davenport, Head of Transport Policy and Strategy, Staffordshire County Council on Tuesday 19th May at the Swan Hotel. How do you deal with problems of pollution, congestion, safety and destruction of the environment in the face of the prevailing attitudes to the use of the motor car with the freedom and convenience it offers, of the practice of carrying goods in heavier and heavier lorries and the lack of financial resources to provide additional and improved alternative methods of transport? Peter Davenport did not attempt to answer these questions. What he did was to provide an essentially factual background against which they can be considered and, in doing so, looked at past and present experiences as well as reflecting on future prospects.

In the past, transport infrastructure followed demand. Where sufficient demand existed, the overriding aim was to satisfy it. It was the period in which the area around Lichfield saw the construction of the A38 By-pass at Lichfield and Sutton Coldfield, Eastern Avenue and the Western By-pass. In recent years, there has been a gradual shift away from such demand led policies in the face of concern for the environment and the lack of finance for transportation projects. Car usage has commanded the most attention and not surprisingly so when the Census 1991 reveals that 69 percent of journeys to work are undertaken by car, compared to 20 percent walking, 3 percent train and 4 percent bus. Traffic management measures have assumed an increasingly important role, noticeably to be seen in the pedestrianisation of town centres.

The future is likely to witness an increasing emphasis on policies to curb the use of the private car and to promote alternative forms of transport. Some initiatives are already in place - the expansion of Midland Metro, local rail improvements by Centro, the West Coast Main Line modernisation with the prospect of quadrupling the Trent Valley Line between Rugeley and Tamworth and the closure of level crossings, bus demonstration projects, the development of cycle and footways. Alongside these initiatives there have been increased car parking charges and traffic management schemes e.g. the new traffic islands along Rykneld Street and the installation of road humps on various roads in the City.

What we can expect in the years to come is likely to be set out in John Prescott's long awaited White Paper on an integrated transport system which Peter Davenport said was to be published this month. As he pointed out "Is it going to be merely a reiteration of laudable aims or will it provide financial substance to carry them out? " The certainty is that it will be controversial, pleasing some and horrifying others. How could it be otherwise when so many ingrained attitudes prevail in all of us? The difficulties of achieving a wide consensus are perhaps epitomised in the letter to The Post of Thursday 28th May in which the writer says "Lichfield will never become the Cultural and Economic Centre our CIVIC leaders so dearly want it to be while so little space exists for car parking". The truth is that there will always be an exhaustible demand for parking spaces but are drivers prepared to tolerate the additional highway congestion which they will generate and which of our cherished open spaces and buildings will be sacrificed to make way for them? Solving the Insoluble!

Mike Tole
May 1998