I was visiting a friend’s in Christchurch and we needed to go to the supermarket. This short trip provided the opportunity for a walk for us and for the dogs. We set off across a park, onto an informal track which took us through a gap in the fence and across a railway line. Then we ran the gauntlet across a four lane road. A few minutes past there, and we were at the supermarket. Now, walking the long way around the streets would have been WAY too far and taking the car would have meant no walk for the dogs or us, more traffic and almost the same amount of time to get to and from the supermarket. The four lane road was very efficient for getting non-local traffic through to Lyttelton but it created local transport issues for the locals – including having to risk life and limb to get across it on foot (or by bike).
Why does this happen? Based on what I read recently in the Draft Government Policy Statement on Transport, that’s because the predominant view of those planning and building our roads think that their only job is to provide unimpeded access for cars and the main measure used to assess transport is congestion and travel times by car.
For some years now, a few people in the transport sector have been talking about the idea of accessibility. This idea is based on the premise that people seldom travel for the sake of moving. Most of us want to go somewhere for some reason: work, shopping, visiting friends, recreation, and even meetings, among many other things. The story above illustrates that trips can have more than one purpose (e.g. getting exercise, saying hi to the neighbours, and doing some shopping). With this in mind, the job of the transport planners and engineers is to provide a range of options that allow people to get where they need to go. Transport is primarily about moving people, rather than moving cars.
This is important because actually the costs of providing for more and more cars (road building and maintenance, parking space, pollution, oil consumption, deteriorating mental and physical health) are enormous. In comparison, the savings made when people are able to choose to bike or walk and/or use public transport are also large, based on the experience of cities that have fostered the use of active and public transport. To add insult to injury, providing bigger and bigger roads creates more congestion rather than relieving it.
Todd Litman has just written a piece about the need for transport engineers to change the way they evaluate transport systems in cities. Todd is writing in Canada, but it seems to me that this need is as great here, although I wouldn’t limit this to transport engineers, nor would I say all transport engineers think this but clearly, many do.
What is your experience of this “bigger roads” approach to transport? Are there roads you encounter regularly that are difficult to cross?