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'Traffic in towns' ethos challenged

Fifty years after engineer and town planner Sir Colin Buchanan made ground breaking recommendations to separate urban roads from pedestrian areas, his engineer grandson has challenged the advice.

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Criticised: Elevated urban roads

SKM director of transport economics Paul Buchanan has marked the 50th anniversary of his grandfather’s seminal Traffic in Towns report by critically appraising his work.

The 1963 report is accepted as the planning advice that brought the vertical separation of cars and pedestrians in many urban developments built from the mid-1960s to late 1970s.

“Segregation of traffic was one of the key policy options from Traffic in Towns and produced unintended consequences to the detriment of pedestrians and residents,” Buchanan told NCE.

Traffic in Towns focused on dealing with traffic demand without much consideration of the roles of public transport and demand management, which in part was the task set for the report,” he added.

“The interaction between transport supply and demand was far stronger than envisaged at the time. The more highway supply is provided, the higher the demand for car use.

Traffic in Towns highlighted that feedback but underestimated its strength,” he said.

Although its recommendations have been questioned, HMSO sold 18,000 copies of Traffic in Towns in four months in 1964.

It was the first planning advice to address steep forecasts of traffic growth and the first to identify the link between travel patterns and land use, becoming the transport planning manual for generations.

Traffic in Towns identified the scale of the problem of accommodating massive growth in car use and recognised that it was not a simple matter of transportation. It set out a range of options for city authorities and used those to emphasise the ability of those authorities to choose their own destiny. It set the basis for modern transport planning,” Buchanan said.

SKM is to release a modern version of Colin Buchanan’s seminal town planning advice in the summer. Titled Transport in Cities, the new report will look globally rather than nationally and across all transport modes.

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