SCHEMES TO ban cars from city centre streets are not as unpopular and ineffective as the controversy surrounding them suggests, sustainable transport experts heard last week at the ICE.
Research by University College London (UCL) has found that widening pavements, introducing cycle or bus lanes or closing the road to vehicles altogether reduces overall traffic levels by about 11%.
'Reallocation of road space is often predicted to cause major traffic problems because of fears that displaced traffic will divert onto neighbouring streets, ' says the UCL report Disappearing traffic: the story so far. 'But such problems are rarely as bad as predicted. Overall traffic levels can reduce by significant amounts.
'People react to a change in road conditions in much more complex ways than has been traditionally assumed in traffic models.'
The research is based on 70 case studies of roadspace reallocation projects as well as evidence from over 200 transport professionals worldwide.
Schemes featured in the research include pedestrianisation in Oxford and Cambridge, the Leeds high occupancy vehicle lane, Gloucester Safer City project and redesign of London's Vauxhall Cross interchange.
Such projects would be popular with drivers who say they would leave their cars if decent alternatives were put in place, said professor of transport psychology at Napier University Steve Stradling.
'People are ready to change and will use their cars less but are yet to be convinced by the alternatives, ' he said. His report Transport user needs and marketing public transport showed that 62% of drivers still feel constrained by the lack of alternatives. Less than 10% of drivers thought they were likely to use their cars less.
One scheme that will get people out of their cars is the Urban Light Transport (ULTra) scheme under development in Cardiff, said Professor of advanced transport at Bristol University Martin Lowson.
The ULTra system uses fourman pods that travel on an extensive network of elevated monorail 6m above street level.
The key advantages of the pod - that would travel at 40km/h - are that it is available on demand, would travel non stop and afford the same privacy as a car, said Lowson in his paper Sustainable personal transport.
ULTra could take 2,300 vehicles an hour in each lane compared with 1,000-1,800 vehicles on a single lane of road while taking up one third of the ground space of a single carriageway. At a cost of around £5M per km of guideway it would be one sixth of the cost of a single lane on the motorway.
The Welsh National Assembly Government last month approved a £18M transport grant bid by Cardiff County Council which will allow the Council to support the first stage in the implementation of ULTra. The approval means funds are now allocated to make progress during 2002/03 and, providing the necessary statutory and financial requirements are met, the remainder of the funding will be forthcoming during 2003/04 and 2004/05.
The first stage will enable the system to be operated around the Cardiff Bay, incorporating Bute Street railway station and the Inner Harbour, Wales Millennium Centre, the National Assembly of Wales and County Hall. A second link between Cardiff Bay and the City Centre will be progressed in parallel, possibly as a public / private partnership project.
It is planned that vehicles could be operating in the Bay area by early 2005, with the City Centre being connected during 2005 if the partnership approach is successful.
Such schemes are crucial if traffic levels are not to take a quantum leap by 2025 said Joyce Dargay of University College London. Her paper Road vehicles: future growth in developed and developing countries showed that traffic levels will double by 2025 unless drastic action is taken. This will include a rise of 465% in Asia and 37% in Western Europe.
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