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Transport planners examine merit of DfT ‘driver-friendly’ rules

10 April 2024

Senior transport and traffic professionals have given their forthright reactions to the tranche of new traffic guidance introduced by the Government just before Easter in support of its Plan for Drivers.

The range of new notices and regulations was covered in the last issue of LTT including implementing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), setting local speed limits, bus priority measures, and restricting the use of traffic control enforcement measures to generate ‘surplus funds’ for councils.

Mark Frost, a former London borough chief officer, warns that the guidance could have a “chilling impact” on area-wide traffic management schemes and would certainly deter experimental schemes. The Government has radically moved away from its previous position on roadspace re-allocation, said Frost, Director of Fern Consulting and a Board Member of the Transport Planning Society.

“It’s obviously striking how radical the tone has shifted since the last guidance issued in 2020,” he said. “Indeed, this version feels almost an exact contradiction of that document, which extolled the need for local authorities to close roads and reallocate road space ‘as quickly as practicable... and in any case within weeks’ with limited public engagement necessary or indeed even possible if you were to comply.

“That wasn’t right, but as with all these things the pendulum always moves too far... What we have now is: ‘Via its engagement and consultations an authority should be confident that a scheme is capable of carrying the support of a majority of the community before introducing it.’

“This potentially sets up a very difficult environment for council traffic teams to navigate, and I think also sits very awkwardly with our model of representative democracy.”

Tiffany Lynch sees things less negatively. “Don’t panic!”, the freelance transport strategist said. “The Plan for Drivers isn’t the unrecoverable death throes of current-day transport policy. Yes, it was feted by folk who want to drive around however they want without consequences. Yes, the body count of the Plan for Drivers’ misused, context-challenged factoids is huge. But I think us transport planners need to see the Plan for Drivers as both a justifiable backlash and a wake-up call.

“We have got to stop assuming we know how ‘the public’ will see our project proposals. Let’s factor in the bigger picture of public perceptions and prejudices. Let’s decide what we will do about them. So, as we get baking those project proposals, let’s try to stir in more of the subjective. But do keep issuing those PCN.”

Mark Frost concedes there is much in the new guidance he agrees with, for example, the call for good engagement, “the vast majority of which practitioners will already be doing”.

“But in my opinion setting down stipulations to democratically elected councillors about proving majority support before scheme implementation will be seen as something of a poison pill to all this.”

Andrew Potter, director at Parking Perspectives, noted the three actions for ‘Easier Parking’ in the Plan for Drivers. “While all are suitably supportive of drivers, only one appears to present any real shift or substance in terms of policy direction,” said Potter.

“The digitisation of traffic regulation orders is both inevitable, long overdue and of benefit to us all for a host of reasons. The technology that it will unlock will no doubt make it far easier for drivers to confirm where they can park legally. It is perhaps the shift from reading a map to having a SatNav. But it changes neither the rules nor the policy.”

The delivery of the National Parking Platform will enable a single gateway to the different parking payment apps, Potter believes. “We should not forget that allowing multiple apps within any highway authority area has never been technically impossible; using an exclusive provider has been a commercial choice by local authorities to obtain a better deal from suppliers.”

There are also proposals to revise guidance that allows the public to challenge unfair parking rules and a requirement to review excessive parking charges. “The guidance is not new, though perhaps not well known nor implemented,” Potter points out. “It offers a not unreasonable suggestion that local authorities set a threshold number of petitioners to be achieved as part of a process of establishing that something warrants another look.

“It also suggests that a method of defining and dismissing vexatious complaints is included. And should something come through the process, it is clear that this should be brought to the attention of the local politicians to determine, rather than officers. The guidance is as much a safeguard of good governance] as it is a sensible and reasonable process by which parking regulations may be questioned.”

DfT research 'massively bolsters case' for LTNs

Transport specialist writer Carlton Reid says the Government’s own research is actually at odds with the anti-LTN rhetoric included in the Plan for Drivers

Forget the fluff from the DfT — in 11 press releases issued on 17 March — that its Plan for Drivers is in any way sensible government. Scroll down the 11 press releases for the report into LTNs commissioned by the Prime Minister and which was meant to sink them but instead massively bolsters the case for them.

Here are some of the findings from the DfT research published last month:

“LTNs do not adversely affect response times for emergency vehicles.”

“LTNs are effective in achieving outcomes of reducing traffic volumes within internal roads.”

“LTNs have succeeded in improving air quality on internal roads,” and “there has been less street crime and improved road safety within LTNs.”

“International evidence supports findings of UK LTNs. Tactical urbanism interventions in Barcelona led to a significant decrease in traffic levels on intervention streets from 2019-2021, with an average relative reduction of about 14.8% and a total relative reduction of 13.6% across all intervention streets.”

“By reducing traffic and emissions, LTNs can contribute to a cleaner, safer environment within schemes. This in turn can encourage active travel and improve quality of life.”

“International evidence indicates that low-traffic, car-free and pedestrianisation initiatives are succeeding in creating destinations that are attractive for both residents and retail. This is reflected in sales and property prices.”

The DfT’s research points out that “studies, including San Francisco, California, and Toronto, Ontario, have shown that cyclists and pedestrians generally spend more per month in commercial areas than visitors who arrive by car or public transport. For instance, in Copenhagen's Ströget, pedestrianisation led to a 30% increase in sales within a year and in New York City's Time Square, pedestrianisation resulted in a 22% increase in economic activity between 2007 and 2011.”

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