York’s traffic management strategy, like many other cities around the globe, has been moulded over time by a car-centric culture. This mindset, prevalent since the 1960s, perceives the expansion of road networks as a panacea for congestion challenges. However, recent research and successful case studies worldwide suggest that this approach may be obsolete and counterproductive.
The German Institute of Urbanism (Difu) has recently published a comprehensive study advocating for a significant shift in how we manage urban traffic. Could the historical city of York, with its impending road dualling projects and highly debated traffic calming initiatives, glean insights from this groundbreaking research? Let’s delve deeper.
Unpacking the Difu study: the genesis of traffic calming
The Difu study focuses on traffic calming, an approach that has evolved to counteract the detrimental effects of increasing motorised traffic in urban areas. Its genesis can be traced back to initiatives aiming to create safer, quieter, and cleaner residential environments through measures that discourage high-speed or high-volume traffic.
Traffic calming’s basic premise is that roads should be shared equitably among all users – pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike. This philosophy is gaining momentum in contemporary urban planning discourse, often crystallising in concepts like superblocks and low traffic neighbourhoods.
The Difu study challenges the popular belief that traffic calming measures simply reroute car traffic into neighbouring road networks, consequently causing more congestion. It suggests the contrary, presenting compelling evidence that such measures can result in an overall reduction in traffic, a phenomenon known as ‘traffic evaporation’. In fact, traffic calming measures were found to reduce traffic by 15% to 28% across a multitude of national and international projects, with reductions being significantly higher in inner city areas and individual roads.
Additionally, the study brings into question the long-standing notion that increasing road capacity alleviates traffic. Rooted in research dating back to the 1960s, the study proposes that adding more lanes and roads paradoxically leads to an increase in car traffic. This counter-intuitive outcome is attributed to the concept of induced demand, which implies that if driving is made more convenient or faster, it becomes the preferred mode of transport for more people, thereby nullifying any temporary traffic relief.
The implications of the Difu study are far-reaching and propose a shift in how we view and tackle urban congestion. The research suggests a solution that lies in making non-motorised forms of transport more appealing through improvements in infrastructure and accessibility. By doing so, it argues, we could see a marked decrease in the overall number of cars on the road, thereby improving quality of life and effectively managing urban congestion. The study provides a data-driven argument for rethinking our approach to transport planning and infrastructure development.
Success stories: London’s Mini-Hollands and low traffic neighbourhoods
London’s recent traffic management initiatives offer practical demonstrations of the Difu study’s principles. Designated ‘Mini-Hollands’ or low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) have implemented various traffic calming measures and reaped significant benefits.
For instance, Waltham Forest, one of London’s ‘Mini-Hollands’, experienced a 50% decrease in car traffic within the area and a 5% reduction on the main roads surrounding it. This was achieved through the implementation of speed limits, modal filters, and redesigning streets and public spaces. LTNs show similar trends, with an average car traffic reduction of 47%. Importantly, these traffic decreases did not cause a corresponding spike in traffic on surrounding main roads. The introduction of these measures also led to behavioural changes, with residents covering an average of 1.3km less per day by car post-implementation.
These results challenge conventional wisdom and provide tangible models for other cities to follow.
York’s 1960s-style traffic management: time for a change?
York’s traffic management strategy, similar to many cities, is arguably stuck in a 1960s mindset. This period marked the zenith of car ownership and usage, influencing urban planning around the world. Roads were widened, and networks expanded to accommodate the increasing number of cars. However, the traffic problems in York today, coupled with growing environmental and sustainability concerns, indicate that this approach may be outdated.
York’s proposed dualling of the A64 and Ring Road is based on the belief that increasing road capacity will solve the city’s traffic issues. However, as the Difu study highlights, this approach could potentially exacerbate congestion in the long term due to induced demand.
On the other hand, the city’s traffic calming measures in areas like The Groves have faced significant criticism. The introduction of road closures and one-way systems, similar to those in London’s LTNs, has been met with resistance from some locals who feel these measures will disrupt their daily routines and increase journey times.
The Difu study, alongside London’s successful traffic calming initiatives, provide compelling arguments for York to reconsider its approach to traffic management. Rather than expanding road infrastructure, a more sustainable solution might involve investing in measures that discourage car use and promote more sustainable modes of transport.
Indeed, embracing concepts such as the ‘15-minute city’ could revolutionise urban mobility in York. By enhancing infrastructure for walking and cycling and improving accessibility to essential services within short distances, the city could reduce reliance on cars, cut emissions, and improve public health.
Reimagining York’s traffic future
The challenge for York, and indeed for other cities, is to redefine traffic management in a way that is sustainable, practical, and socially acceptable. The first step towards achieving this is a shift in mindset: from viewing traffic management as a means of facilitating car movement to seeing it as a method of creating safer, healthier, and more inclusive urban environments.
The success of traffic calming measures in London and their validation by the Difu study suggest that York should consider similar strategies. Rather than opposing these measures outright, as some residents of The Groves have done, there should be open dialogue about their potential benefits and implementation methods.
Public resistance to traffic calming measures is often based on the fear of inconvenience or disruption. Therefore, a crucial aspect of traffic management reform will be to effectively communicate the long-term benefits of these measures. Transparency about the objectives, expected outcomes, and evidence-based benefits of traffic calming measures can help to engage the public and build support for such initiatives.
Lastly, York’s traffic management strategy should increasingly integrate sustainable practices. This includes promoting active travel modes such as walking and cycling, which not only alleviate road traffic but also contribute to reducing carbon emissions and improving public health.
A compelling people-centric roadmap for York
While the path to transforming York’s traffic management is complex, the potential rewards are worth the journey. The German Institute of Urbanism’s research provides crucial insights for a new era of traffic management that prioritises sustainability, inclusivity, and quality of urban life.
As York considers its next steps, the Difu study and London’s experience provide a compelling roadmap. The challenge lies in translating these insights into a strategy that suits York’s unique characteristics and circumstances. The success of this endeavour will depend on the city’s willingness to break away from 1960s-style traffic management and embrace a greener, more people-centric future.