Inner London presents an extreme case of urban intensification and traffic challenges. Its population has increased by over a half since 1981 while London as a whole by over a third.
By 2041, this is forecast to increase by another quarter, with no significant increase in road capacity. This means that Londoners in 2041 will not be able to travel in the same ways as Londoners do today - there simply isn’t the room.
Traffic removal - examples
In October we held an event at University College London to explore practical solutions to this challenge. Our first example came from the City of London, where Iain Simmons described how traffic volumes through the City had fallen by over half, while the number of pedestrians and cyclists continued to rise.
Planning policies can exacerbate local traffic problems unless they are accompanied by more radical measures to remove cars and traffic.
He attributed this to 'Bank on Safety', an experimental safety scheme which began in May 2017 that limited vehicle journeys through Bank Junction between the hours of 7am and 7pm during the week. In September 2018, they decided to make this experiment permanent, with only buses and cyclists able to travel through the road junction during these times. Proposals for further changes will be presented to councillors towards the end of 2018.
Another example, the West End project, led by David Joyce and Steffi Dance-Groom of Camden Borough Council, plans to reduce the width of Tottenham Court Road and return it to two-way traffic with segregated cycle routes on both sides. Pavements will be widened and a new pedestrian plaza will be created near to Centre Point. Work has recently begun and is scheduled to finish by 2020.
The paradox of intensification
Projects of this nature are just the start of a process which all parts of London and many other cities must embrace as populations and housing densities continue to rise. This is because planning policies can exacerbate local traffic problems unless they are accompanied by more radical measures to remove cars and traffic.
New amendments to the NPPF require planning authorities to increase housing densities in cities and towns well-served by public transport. Higher densities make more efficient use of urban land; they help to reduce travel distances and travel by car, but they also cause unintended consequences – especially by concentrating congestion and pollution within those redeveloped areas. This is ‘the paradox of intensification’.
As densities rise it becomes impossible to provide more car parking for each additional house or flat. The NPPF does address this by allowing maximum parking standards to be applied in areas where higher densities are planned. However, if we want those areas to become attractive places to live, planners and transport planners also need to address the twin challenges of traffic concentration and the need for increased access to sufficient public space. The challenges can be addressed through traffic removal.
What is traffic removal?
Pedestrianisation, road closures, reduction of road capacity or filtering of traffic using obstacles, signed restrictions or devices such as bus gates are all measures to remove traffic. This is more specific than broader concepts such as ‘liveable streets’, which may encompass some of those measures.
Following a conference held in Bristol, the Traffic Removal website was launched in 2017. It showcases comprehensive resources about successful projects in Bristol and Leicester and links to evidence of what works and new research, which is filling gaps in our knowledge.
Winning public support could be difficult
Traffic removal is a challenge for planning professionals when it comes to winning public opinion. Like any major urban change, it can be controversial when implemented. How to involve the public and overcome objections, and when it may be right to press on despite strong opposition, have been key questions in our events. There are no easy answers, but we have heard some useful pointers from authorities at different stages of traffic removal schemes.
Our second event was mainly organised by Emilia Smeds of University College London, in conjunction with the RTPI. It sold out quickly, suggesting there is a groundswell of support for this movement and that we need to organise more such events.
If you are interested in hearing more about traffic removal and our future events, please join the mailing list here.
Guest blogs may not represent the views of the RTPI.
Dr Steve Melia is Senior Lecturer in Transport and Planning at University of the West of England, Bristol.