Car use down in English towns

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

According to a research by sustainable transport charity Sustrans, people in Darlington, Peterborough and Worcester have cut their car use and taken to more active, low-carbon forms of transport, and this can be but commended.

The three Department for Transport-funded Sustainable Travel Demonstration Towns ran 'smarter choices' schemes over five years between 2004 and 2008. The aim was to encourage residents, commuters and visitors to walk, cycle and take public transport more often and to reduce single-occupancy car use.

At the end of the five-year project, car use had fallen by up to 9 per cent across the three towns, detailed travel surveys conducted by Sustrans and its partner Socialdata on behalf of the Towns have revealed.

This equates to nearly 53 million miles of car travel taken off the roads across the three towns, resulting in annual savings of more than 17,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

As car travel has fallen, use of more active and sustainable forms of transport has increased across all three demonstration towns.

Levels of walking increased by more than 10 per cent in each location, while bus use grew by more than a third in Peterborough and by a fifth in Worcester.

There was a 12 per cent increase in cycling in Peterborough and a 19 per cent increase in Worcester . Darlington , which received further Government cash to improve facilities for cyclists, saw levels of cycling more than double over the same period.

Malcolm Shepherd, Sustrans' Chief Executive, said: "These results confirm what we have always suspected - that a lot of people are fed up with being stuck in their cars and that with the right support they are happy to walk, cycle or take the bus more often.

"The Sustainable Travel Towns have demonstrated how simple, value-for-money schemes can make a real difference to travel patterns, helping people to be more active and reduce their carbon footprint. We hope that other towns and cities will now feel inspired to follow their lead."

Transport Minister Paul Clark said: "These results are encouraging and show the real benefit of sustainable travel initiatives in reducing congestion, improving the local environment and encouraging healthier and safer lifestyles.

"I urge local authority leaders across the country to seriously consider how the lessons learnt from these demonstration projects can benefit their local communities."

The three local authorities, Darlington Borough Council, Peterborough City Council and Worcestershire County Council shared a £10 million fund established by the Department for Transport in 2004 to tackle car use and traffic congestion.

The travel survey results are now being fed into a broader evaluation of the Sustainable Travel Towns commissioned by the Department for Transport, which is likely to conclude later this year.

Sustrans is the UK 's leading sustainable transport charity. Its vision is a world in which people choose to travel in ways that benefit their health and the environment. It is achieving this through innovative but practical solutions to the UK 's transport challenges.

Darlington, Peterborough and Worcester were established as Sustainable Travel Towns in April 2004 by the Department for Transport, sharing £10m of revenue funding over five years until April 2009, to see what impact a sustained programme of 'smarter choices' measures can achieve. Smarter choices are techniques for influencing travel behaviour towards more sustainable options, such as walking, cycling , travelling by public transport, car clubs and car sharing. They include personalised travel planning; workplace and school travel planning; improved local information; marketing of travel options; and providing new options that reduce the need to travel at all, such as tele-working and tele-conferencing. A large scale evaluation project will report later this year, giving a more detailed analysis of the benefits.

Sustrans' TravelSmart is the most widely applied form of personal travel planning in the UK with projects covering a total of more than 200,000 households from 2005 to 2009. Large-scale personalised travel planning projects using the TravelSmart method were delivered as part of the Sustainable Travel Demonstration Town programmes in Peterborough (where 30,000 households were targeted) and Worcester (23,500 households).

While, as I have said already, the fact that car use has gone done by 9 percent in those towns is most commendable it is but a drop in the ocean. We all must make an effort, and not just for the sake of the Planet but also for the sake of each one of us and especially that of the children, to use alternative means of, ideally, human-powered transport, whether cycling, walking, scootering, rollerskating, or such.

In order to reduce car use and encourage cycling and walking the proper facilities must be created such as dedicated cycle paths all over the country which could, like in Germany, are often shared with walkers, though both respect the other – something that just does not seem to work in Britain, I know.

The bicycle is also viewed differently in many European countries to how it is viewed in the UK. In countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands, and also in Germany, it is viewed as cool to cycle and the use of the car is seen by some as uncool. We need that same attitude in Britain and also other countries.

Let's hear it for the bike...

© 2009