Richard Allsop: Transport professor whose influence extended beyond academia

Benjamin Heydecker pays tribute to the widely esteemed transport academic Richard Allsop

06 February 2024

 

Richard Allsop pursued a career in transport studies with deep personal commitment to the wellbeing of people.

As a university professor, he worked on a wide range of topics in transport studies. His immense influence extended beyond academia with substantial contributions on road safety through his activities with national and international organisations.

Richard is remembered with great respect and fondness by those who met him for his kind wisdom and thoughtfully expressed expertise. 

Richard Allsop studied mathematics at Queens’ College Cambridge, where he graduated (1962) with first class honours and distinction in the exacting Part III of that programme. Following graduation, he was Scientific Officer (1963-7) at the Road Research Laboratory (RRL, later to become the TRL), where he worked on road safety matters. He then joined the recently formed Research Group in Traffic Studies at UCL as Research Fellow (1967-9) to study for PhD, which he was duly awarded (1970). 

In his appointment as Lecturer in Transport Studies at UCL (1970-2), Richard followed a broader range of topics in transport than traffic alone. This led to his recruitment as Director of the Transport Operations Research Group (TORG) at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (1973-6). Richard’s final career move was to return to UCL (1976) as Professor of Transport Studies, where he was Director (1976-92) of what became the Centre for Transport Studies. 

He continued working as Emeritus Professor (2005-24), refusing steadfastly to allow any reference to retirement, until the time of his death. Amongst the many ways in which Richard was recognised for the strength and value of his academic contributions, he was awarded the higher doctorate DSc at UCL (1995) and elected to Fellowship of UCL (2000).

Richard chose the title “Transport Studies and the Quality of Life”, for his inaugural lecture as professor at UCL, in which he summarised his intentions. He explored the benefits to the community of an effective and efficient transport system in providing for personal mobility as well as the delivery of goods and services. 

Alongside this, he emphasised the importance of remedying any, possibly severe, detrimental effects for particular individuals and groups, and the potential difficulty of this.

Throughout his work, he considered how the likely responses of people could affect the balance between benefit and detriment arising from the form and use of transport systems and any changes to them. This broad perspective was reflected in Richard’s aims to make best possible use of existing facilities whilst devising policy and interventions that could achieve well-balanced improvements efficiently and effectively.

Road safety, specifically influences on it and ways in which it can be improved, was a theme that pervaded Richard’s career. In this, he considered both the safety of individuals travelling and that of others in the community. Drawing on his own rigorous research, he influenced policy and practice by presenting rigorously supported conclusions with remarkable clarity. 

Particularly notable in his early work at the RRL were thorough analyses of the increase in risk caused by drink-driving and the benefits of motorcycle crash helmets, both of which were influential in the formulation of government policy. 

He continued his analysis of drink-driving throughout his career, drawing on further evidence as it emerged. Other analyses of observed data included the effects of changes in public transport policy on road casualties. He designed and supervised monitoring of urban management experiments to improve the environment in residential areas by reducing traffic there whilst providing for it elsewhere in the network, which led to practical guidance for transport professionals. 

Richard took several appointments that had national and international influence in promoting policy on transport safety and scientific research. In the UK, he was Trustee and Director (1995-2015) of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) afterwards becoming Special Advisor. 

He was a founding member and member of the board of directors at the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), where he also led the international Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) comparing performance and progress to identify and promote best practice. 

In transport science, he was Convenor (1981-96) of the International Advisory Committee (IAC) of the International Symposium on Transportation and Traffic Theory (ISTTT) and ensured its continuation as the world-leading forum for research. Through these and other appointments, Richard influenced academic research as well as policy and practice, and encouraged many transport professionals to achieve similarly high standards in their work.

The importance and value of Richard’s public service and professional activities is recognised in his many prestigious awards and fellowships. Amongst these, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (1996), awarded the OBE for services to traffic management and road safety (1997), received the Highways and Transportation Award for Professional Distinction (1997), was given the Prince Michael Road Safety Award (2011) for his review of evidence on the effectiveness of speed cameras, and the Kometani-Sasaki Award (2018) for his contributions to the ISTTT. 

He was elected Fellow of several professional institutions in the UK: the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, the Institution of Highways and Transportation, and the Royal Statistical Society.

Richard furthered the education of students by designing courses and lecturing in undergraduate

and postgraduate programmes, notably in the joint MSc programme with Imperial College London that he co-founded. Students studying for research degrees under his supervision were especially fortunate to be nurtured through his wise guidance. 

Many students, colleagues and professionals benefitted from his discussions and advice, which he invariably framed for each person according to their experience and interests to help them develop their own strengths. 

Under Richard’s direction and in response to his worldwide academic activities, the Centre for Transport Studies attracted students, research staff and visitors from near and far. All were welcomed warmly into the academic community that he fostered. Following Richard’s example of clear and extensive insight, all were encouraged to consider ways in which the transport system could be improved in the context of wider effects on the community arising from changes and likely responses.

Richard Allsop has made immense contributions to the quality of life in the community trough his work in transport studies, improving road safety and welfare. His influence on policy has led to substantial improvements in transport, in provision for those using it and for other members of the public. His leadership in research and teaching has benefited his many colleagues, students, associates and professionals working in transport, who have themselves spread his beneficial influence further. 

Through this, very many members of the community have benefited from the improvements that Richard’s work brought about. His personal warmth, and his kind and caring professional approach touched all who met him. While his influence continues, he will be missed greatly. 

Benjamin Heydecker is Emeritus Professor of Transport Studies, UCL

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