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Cars: a simple case of arithmetic


The letter from Robin Smitherman (criticising environmental transport policy, NCE last week) filled me with dismay. It is so fundamentally wrong I felt constrained to write.

There will be times when new road construction is right and appropriate but the major problems to be addressed in our populated areas cannot be solved simply by increasing supply.

First, it is a matter of arithmetic. If we base our policy on unlimited use of the car, the numbers don't add up. If you don't believe this, research the trends, multiply the average area of a car by the projected number of cars and compare it to the road space required. In addition, given that our cars do not turn a wheel for about 96% of their lives, work out the road space required to park these vehicles during the night.

Second, this is not about 'social engineering'. It is about competitiveness, fitness-for-purpose and efficiency concepts fundamental to civil engineering. Sure, it is also about the environment, but the cost to the UK businesses of congestion, the cost to the health service of pollution and accidents and the costs to the public, both car and public transport users, are horrendous.

Third, Mr Smitherman makes the fundamental mistake of assuming transport is about moving vehicles. It is not. It is about moving people and goods. It is possible to grow traffic volumes, possibly even meet demand, if we plan on this basis. There is then plenty of road space. We must look to maximise the productivity of the scarce and expensive resource, road space. That is also a fundamental civil engineering concept which is not achieved by moving people in space inefficient vehicles which usually have three empty seats.

Finally, we must get away from the 'them and us' mentality. I am an environmentalist and a civil engineer.

Dr George Hazel (M) Director of city development, Edinburgh Council, EH1 12J

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