Monday, 8 October 2012

Traffic - a serious issue in Canterbury.

Like many cities in the UK, Canterbury has a serious issue with traffic – there’s just too much of it. This leads to the following problems:

1) Poor Air Quality

In many areas of the city, air quality is below levels laid down by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Councils are obliged to monitor air quality where they fear that pollution levels might exceed DEFRA guidelines and to implement action plans to deal with the problem when levels are found to be in breach. In 2006, air quality in Broad Street/Military Road was found to fall into this category, resulting in this being declared an air quality management area (AQMA), with a plan to bring down the levels of pollution. Five years later, in 2011, monitoring stations in eight other areas of the city found levels of pollutants to be in breach, so one large AQMA was established encompassing all of them, i.e. around a major section of the ring roads plus some of the main roads leading into the city. You can see the Declaration and AQMA map in this pdf.  AQMA2_Declaration[1]

Nitrogen oxide (NO2) is the pollutant which is particularly troublesome in Canterbury (and elsewhere). According to the Clean Air Trust, “…short-term exposure [to nitrogen oxides] may cause increased respiratory illness in young children and harm lung function in people with existing respiratory illnesses. Long-term exposure may lead to increased susceptibility to respiratory infection and may cause alterations in the lung. (Nitrogen oxides also can be transformed in the atmosphere to ozone or fine particulate soot – which are both associated with serious adverse health effects.)” Other studies have shown that NO2 exposure increases allergic responses to inhaled pollens. People with asthma and children in general are considered to be more vulnerable to NO2 exposure.

2) Traffic Congestion
Recent surveys of traffic congestion in Canterbury indicate that driving times in the rush hour from one side of the city to the other average 45 minutes and even 28 minutes during the daytime. Congestion itself is a serious problem since it causes higher absenteeism from school and work, it leads to stress, cars are running in low gear thus releasing more pollutants, and additional traffic impedes cyclists and pedestrians.

3) Climate Change
Most vehicles run on diesel or petroleum, both fossil fuels. When fossil fuels are burnt, the carbon that has been stored in them for millions of years is released. This carbon dioxide adds to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Kent’s largest sources of CO2 emissions are from energy, housing and transport.

 4) Decline of the high street
UK high streets are in decline and at serious risk from out-of-town shopping and the internet. Another reason why people are put off shopping on city high streets is the fear of spending a lot of time stuck in traffic.

Evidence from Transport for London and others also shows that cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users contribute significantly more to the economic survival of our high streets than do car drivers.

5) Poor Quality of Life

i.  Noise

If you live in the city you’ll be aware of various degrees of traffic noise, from windows rattling as an HGV lorry goes past to the deafening roar of a motorbike. Even in rural areas traffic noise now constitutes a problem. According to a 2008 report by Transport for Quality of Life for the Noise Association, “...  even in lightly populated rural areas disturbance from traffic noise has become problematic, in places severe… Parts of the countryside are subject to levels of traffic noise that are a significant source of unpleasantness for people living, working or taking leisure there.”

ii.  Accidents/Injuries 
Although the number of those killed or seriously injured on the country’s roads is coming down, it is still too high. Figures published by the Department for Transport[i] (DfT) show that 2,671 children under the age of 16 were killed or seriously injured on UK roads in 2009.

iii. Concrete/Park and Ride 
For each car in Britain, approximately 170m² of land is tarmacked over as roads and car parks, yet too often the default planning solution to the problem of congestion is to build more roads. Canterbury City Council intends to build more slip roads around the city, at huge cost. It also wants to build a fourth Park and Ride.
We think that other measures would be more effective.

Sustainable transport initiatives in other UK cities have shown how it is possible to encourage people out of their cars and onto public transport, cycling, walking, or a combination of these, instead. This is why we strongly support the measures contained in the Sustainable Transport Blueprint for Canterbury (link) and have, with others, urged the Council to put the Blueprint at the ‘heart’ of transport planning for the city.

[1] Source: Child Accident Prevention Trust

(This article written by Russell Page and Geoff Meaden)