Planners Block Roads And Waste Energy

Redditch stop sign (small) Img0275.JPG Over-enthusiastic urban traffic control is not just irritating; it blights communities and probably adds considerably to environmental damage. Unnecessary vehicle miles because of one-way systems and artificial no-through roads probably add considerably both to community disintegration and to local and global pollution.
Redditch car park Img0282.JPG Redditch is a ‘new town’ created by planners. Of course it existed many years before town planning had ever been invented, but in its contemporary form it is testimony to the diligence of urban planners. Rarely can there have been a more elegant design on paper which causes more motor fuel to be consumed in the name of separating vehicles and people.
I am surprised that anyone approaching Redditch in a vehicle ever reaches the town centre. The main civic and shopping area (or what remains of it; Tesco and Alders recently pulled out, which is perhaps telling) lies within a cordon of formidable highway more complex to negotiate, it sometimes feels, than the M25. Of course there are multiple car parks, concrete towers in celebration of the modernity of forty years ago, but one is left somehow to guess which stopping point is best for what – always assuming there are available parking spaces, and that the appropriate exit lane from the cordon can be negotiated in order to reach them.
A maze of dead ends
Redditch road Img0277.JPG Redditch roofs Img0288.JPG Much harder still is finding one’s way around the Redditch hinterland. This is negotiated by roads modelled on what could perhaps be described as a double figure of eight – think four leaf clover – with the main town area at its centre. The entirety of this vast expanse of roadway is blanketed by trees and bushes in abundance (no problem about this, they absorb carbon dioxide; except that every mile of the highway looks exactly the same as every other mile) interspersed by occasional glimpses of roofs and other signs of habitation.
The real challenge starts when one tries to reach any of these habitats, places where real people lead their real lives. We tried to do just that not long ago, and found ourselves tantalisingly close to the given address, but quite unable actually to get to it. We could look and see, but not touch…. Every likely-looking route (we even had the local street map) ended in a one-way system or an intentionally blocked route, negotiable only by cyclists or pedestrians.
Cul de sacs and cars
Redditch blocked road Img0286.JPG Good, you may say, making areas near a town centre people friendly, not car friendly, is just the thing. But is it? We saw not one bicyclist, and precious few pedestrians, friendly or otherwise (and this barren landscape was in what elsewhere might be called the rush hour). What we did see was row upon row of street-parked cars. And it took us five attempts, even with perfect map reading, actually to reach our already visible destination.
So how do all the urban motorists of Redditch negotiate their way as they go about their business? My guess is, by travelling many miles every week more, perhaps at speed, than they would need to were the road system not so extravagantly complex. And thus is wasted an enormous amount of vehicle fuel, at significant cost, personally and environmentally.
Not just Redditch
Princes Ave bollards Img0997.JPG Princes Avenue barricades Img0994.JPG This is not just a problem in Redditch. Princes Avenue in Liverpool, the genteelly faded dual carriageway from the South into the city centre which was the location of the 1980s riots, has almost no side streets which can be negotiated from the main thoroughfare. All smaller roads were blocked with concrete barricades at that time of strife some twenty years ago, by the authorities, the more easily to ‘control’ the situation. So every day even now there are long queues of traffic trying to negotiate the few available points of access and egress for this major road in and out of Liverpool.
And, as I suspect is the case in Redditch, large parts of the urban environment are inhabited by people who find it very difficult to move out of their ‘enclaves’ because almost all routes to the wider world are blocked. Wide, fast, urban roads might as well be rivers without bridges if you live surrounded by them.
These examples can be multiplied many times over across the nation. There may well be a special case for intervention of this sort in central London and perhaps a few other specific places with excellent public transport, but does it make sense elsewhere?
Wasting fuel, worsening the environment

A re-think is required. By all means encourage traffic calming; and please do improve the visibility and viability of public transport. But don’t unnecessarily block roads and lengthen car journeys.
The local environment suffers (and so, for instance, do asthmatic children) when car journeys are longer than needs be; and the costs in terms of global warming are as yet to be determined.
Measure it and change it
We need an urgent audit of what damage these urban vehicle blockages inflict. If the costs are anything like as enormous as I suspect, planners and other will need to reconsider their strategies pretty quickly. Removing obstructions and calming traffic, if these measures prove to be required, are not costly changes in the greater scheme of things. Public transport and sensible home to work distances are probably the best full solution, but they take longer; sensible interim measures are required.
Town planners and civic authorities today are not responsible for the (usually) benign misjudgements of their predecessors. But we are all responsible for the sustainability of communities and indeed the planet. The time for action on this is now.

Posted on October 25, 2006, in Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, Sustainability As If People Mattered. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. It is not necessarily the fault of urban planning per se but incorrect urban planning. The best places force all road users to respect each other and encourage streets to be used by different people at different times in different ways.
    Too often it is the traffic engineers believing that separation is the be all and end all, combined with the polarised views of “Security by Design” and “New Urbanism” that cause such strange places to develop. The trick is finding a happy medium between the two. It is difficult, it does take time, but it is possible!

  2. Hmm, let me put a different viewpoint. What those blocked roads are about is to prevent them being used as rat runs by drivers seeking to speed their progress from A to B, cars belching fumes the while, with little regard to the inhabitants of those same roads.
    You mention asthma – that’s precisely why towns like Redditch (and Milton Keynes and … and…) are structured like that. Let’s continue to force separation of cars from people as much as possible – through traffic should not be routed through housing areas. There’s good evidence for routing cars through shopping streets, but little good reason to subject residents to the same traffic.
    Any audit should compare the costs to motorists (and the environment) of a few extra miles against the utility of separation of fast traffic through traffic from residential areas.
    PS. I can do you a good deal on a GPS …….

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