The case for change

Until recently, the received wisdom has been that more roads should be built to cope with more cars. This 'predict and provide'(1) system has failed.

Car ownership in the UK has continued to grow. The numbers of all types of vehicles licensed in the UK(2) have been increasing steadily for the last forty years by about half a million vehicles per year. The strain on our environment and climate continues to worsen, and our road network, particularly aruond cities is becoming ever more unworkable. There is too little space in cities3 and too much opposition in the country for more roadbuilding.

Car Ownership GraphIn 1960 there were 27 licensed vehicles for every kilometre of road in Great Britain(4). Today there are 80. If we were to build back to 1970 levels, we would need to double the total length of roads, paving an area of almost a thousand square miles(5) with new roads - about a third of the total area of North Yorkshire.

Congestion is an ever increasing problem as more cars trying to travel on the same roads slow each other down. In many places now, congestion is the main factor deterring people from using their cars. This effect is called Suppressed Demand and was long ignored in transport policy.

Notes and References

See, for example, the article "Formal demise of 'predict and provide'" (Sally Cairns, Town and Country Planning October 1998 pg. 281).

Numbers of vehicles licensed in the UK from Transport Statistics for Great Britain (Department for Transport, 2005) Section 9 pg. 6.

"During the twentieth century the urban population of England increased from 77% to 89%." - from A Century of Change: Trends in UK statistics since 1900 (Hicks and Allen, House of Commons Library, 1999).

Lengths of road network in Great Britain from Transport Statistics for Great Britain (DfT, 2005) Section 7 pg.10.

Area calculation using estimates for widths of road quoted by Christopher Chope, Under Secretary of State at the Department of Transport in a written answer to parliament on 16th May 1991. The area of UK road network is currently around 965 square miles - the increase needed would be approximately 990 square miles. North Yorkshire covers around 3,300 square miles according to the Wikipedia entry.