Jordan Martin is an undergraduate planning student at Cardiff University and winner of the 2016 RTPI Trust Bursary. He explains here why sustainable transport planning is the answer to many problems facing the country.
From increasing obesity rates to climate change, from traffic congestion to social exclusion, many problems facing society today have complex causes. While many innovative solutions are being developed to tackle them, implementation in the average Local Planning Authority (LPA) is faced with many hurdles, including politics, money and fear of change.
There is, however, one tool that in my mind might have been overlooked: sustainable transport. Much higher levels of public transport usage and active travel such as cycling and walking must be promoted as we look to fix some of our past mistakes and create a better future.
Currently, a quarter of British people are classified obese and with this number increasing it is estimated it could cost the NHS £12bn a year to treat obesity related diseases. Regularising and taxing unhealthy food can only go so far.
Prioritising the bicycle
An active lifestyle is vital for a heathy lifestyle and one way of achieving this is through commuting on a bike rather than by car. However, most people are not willing to cycle purely to stay healthy. In Copenhagen, around 50% of people cycle to work and education, not to save the environment or stay healthy but because it is the easiest thing to do. Planning is our means to this end. We need to encourage large schemes to develop cycling infrastructure across our towns and cities so that people may live active lifestyles through convenience. Our highways departments are still predominantly focused on cars.
An uptake in cycling would also decrease congestion on our roads. Furthermore, it is less intrusive to city life, leaving more space for people to walk, socialise and enjoy themselves. It is versatile, cycle lines can go through parks and along canals and there is less need for the large scale destruction required for inner-city highways that Robert Moses unleashed on New York time and time again.
Buses also reduce congestion as they take up the space of four or five cars but can carry up to 70 people. Similar to bicycles, they do not require any special adaptations to use the roads. Planning must seek to encourage bicycle parking while also converting sections of our roads for specifically bus and bicycle use.
Strategic rail planning
Congestion is responsible for a lot of greenhouse gas emissions as motorists sit in queues, burning fuel and creating pollution in our cities. The same is true of long distance journeys. Many people opt to drive between cities as trains can be expensive, inconvenient and crowded. Planning co-operation on a regional and national level can help deliver major development to increase capacity, whether publicly or privately led, so that rail services can be run more efficiently and make inter-city rail travel the convenient option.
High Speed 2 (HS2) could prove to be a good example of this. It could present a unique challenge to planning as several LPAs across many regions must work together with central government in order to deliver this project and then work locally to ensure their populations receive the maximum access to sustainable transport.
Collaboration is not always easy. Nottingham and Derby City Councils disagree over the location of the East Midlands station as both look to gain from major government investment. Furthermore, the Government's uncertainty of the location has put plans on hold for a tram link between the two cities, displaying a lack of interaction between the two layers of government.
There are also huge social benefits related to sustainable transport. Not everyone is able to drive or able to afford a car. This limits the mobility of sections of society. Sustainable transport allows these people to travel, whether it be to work, to learn or to socialise. It allows them to play an active part in society without relying on other people.
Planning should seek to target developer contributions (such as Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy in England) towards areas where these groups need to travel between. Large scale schemes, where affordable housing is required, should have affordable housing closer to transport connections such as bus stops. In the development of student flats, developers should be encouraged to focus funds on facilities like secure bicycle parking rather than vanity facilities like private cinemas.
Planning is the discipline that ties many others together in order to create the places that define our lifestyles. In sustainable transport, planning’s challenge is to bring together transport planners, urban designers, developers as well as politicians to create transport that people will use, not because they want to save the planet, want to be healthy or want to save money, but because it is the convenient choice. Environmental, economic and social benefits are by-products which will benefit us all.
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Jordan Martin is an undergraduate planning student at Cardiff University and winner of the 2016 RTPI Trust Bursary. He will be starting the final year of his undergraduate degree in Autumn 2017.