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Thinking differently about future roads: the £150,000 Rees Jeffreys Road Fund Competition

The Fund’s Trustees are asking entrants to consider a fundamental question: What’s your vision of the way in which our roads (motorways, highways, or streets and footways) could best work for us all as we square up to the challenges of the next 50 years?

Juliana O'Rourke
07 September 2021

 

The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund is celebrating 150 years since the birth of its benefactor William Rees Jeffreys by running a major new Competition.

There is up to £150,000 available to fund the best suggestions, and a range of great prizes for creative and innovative ideas. Winners will be announced in early December 2021 – you can find out all the details on the Competition website at https://www.rjrf.uk.

The Fund’s Trustees are asking entrants to consider a fundamental question: What’s your vision of the way in which our roads (motorways, highways, or streets and footways) could best work for us all as we square up to the challenges of the next 50 years??


The Competition will be launched at a free webinar on September 14, register here


The need for innovation

Learning from the pandemic and from the pressing need to decarbonise give this competition extra impetus. The pandemic showed that that we can change, and very quickly, if we need to. Traffic levels fell by up to 90% in spring 2020, and are only now creeping back to pre-Covid levels. 

Legally binding Government commitments policy mandates that surface transport in the UK becomes be net zero by 2050, and the recent Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP) lists a range of measures to deliver this target, supported by essential behaviour change schemes. Transport Minister Grant Shapps stresses that the TDP is “just the start – we will need continued efforts and collaboration to deliver its ambitious commitments”. 

These efforts include innovative and creative thinking.

No-one is expecting entrants to solve all future road transport challenges, but the Trustees are sure that there are plenty of really interesting and innovative ideas out there, and they want to hear about them

“Transport is not just how you get around,” said Shapps. “It is something that fundamentally shapes our towns, cities and countryside, our living standards and our health. It can shape all those things for good or for bad.”

With that in mind, the heart of this Competition goes way beyond traditional highway design (new types of kerbs, testing new kinds of surfacing), rewilding roadside verges, or replacing petrol stations with EV charging hubs. It even goes beyond improving buses as we know them and simply promoting options for ‘active’ travel – although Shapps did include a pledge in  the TDP contains a pledge to make walking and cycling the natural first choice for all who can take them, but the question there is 'how'?

Essentially, this Competition is about thinking differently. 

It’s about new ideas in social and spatial justice, as well as innovative technology, design and engineering.

Transport is perhaps one of the most emotive and complex areas of our lives and our society, and the Rees Jeffreys Trustees suspect that the public’s understanding of the change required may be sharper than that of many policy makers, engineers or planners – and that’s what they want to find out.

No-one is expecting entrants to solve all future road transport challenges, but the Trustees they are sure that there are plenty of really interesting and innovative ideas out there, and they want to hear about them.

Consider the future. Today, many of us ost people drive, even for quite short trips, and many more have Amazon parcels and Deliveroo takeaways delivered to their homes and office. 

So with vehicle movements critical to the economy – recent empty supermarket shelves testify to the impact of an HGV driver shortage – what’s to be done?How do we allocate road-space fairly? Is it morally sensible to dedicate road space for cyclists when there are currently so few of them? Or do we need to celebrate policies and infrastructure design that limits, or even reduces, the space available for motor vehicles? The road haulage sector called the TDP "a blue skies aspiration ahead of real life reality” – what are the ideas that would make those blue skies real?

As Professor Peter Cox of the University of Chester points out, speaking of new types of transport infrastructure, you can only really ask for what you know. “One of the central issues is that you can't imagine what you don’t know, and what has not, so far, been in your imaginative framework. It’s difficult to see what good feels like until you’re experienced it.”

But what we’re faced with today is changing, Cox adds. “We are now facing a climate emergency, and business as normal cannot continue. So the moral case becomes ‘how much can we agree to privilege one group of people over another’?

A Competition about roads and enjoyment 

Nick Reed of Reed Mobility has said: “The future of car travel is one element in a dynamic transport ecosystem where the genuine need to travel has been fully considered, and the true environmental and societal impact of our choices respected. Cars certainly have a role in that future. But with emergent connectivity and automation technologies, growth in cycling and micro-mobility, an increasing recognition of the importance of shared transport services and greater emphasis on decarbonisation, I would be surprised if the role of the car in the 21st century did not diverge significantly from that it enjoyed in the 20th.”

The Rees Jeffreys Trustees wonder if the public’s understanding of the change required is sharper than that of policy makers, engineers or planners; hence the Competition. And with these changes on the horizon, my colleague Mark Moran, editor of Parking Review, says: "The UK definition of roads – consistent with that of William Rees Jeffreys – includes both highways and streets. This means it is not limited to carriageways for motor vehicles, but can include scenarios that are human-scaled and so more diverse – and possibly more interesting."

Rees Jeffreys Trustee Andy Graham has asksed competition entrants to consider “how we make roads more enjoyable”. As an enthusiastic car driver, walker and sometime cyclist,he says, "I love the concept of travel for my enjoyment as well as a GDP-improving purpose. So I am really keen to see ways that support William Rees Jeffreys’s deas about how the view from roads can be improved, and how we can retain enjoyment in the concept of ‘going for a drive’ in a challenging new world."

This Competition offers a chance to rethink how groups, including (but not exclusively) drivers can derive enjoyment from roads, both in the experience they provide and in their utility  – enabling people to get from A to B. How about thinking of roads as thoroughfares for cultural and social activity, as well as conduits for the Amazon lorry? About the pleasure that roads can give to people when used for practical and socially useful purposes, such as playing, encounters, shopping, eating, drinking and growing things?

Of course drivers should be keeping their eyes on the road, but William Rees Jeffreys was keen that, like their passengers, they should also have the opportunity to appreciate the countryside around them – hence the Fund has contributed to the creation of over a hundredmore than 100 roadside rests around the country.

Says Trustee Steve Gooding: “William Rees Jeffreys was one of those rare people who could not only see into the future, but had the energy and knowledge to shape the way that future would play out. Facing today’s challenges, how would his foresight, and his imagination, have helped him see beyond the limits of today's roads and today’s technology?  

"And, more importantly, how will yours?"

Find out all the details about the Competition online

 
 
 
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