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To fight climate change you must keep the public onside

A personal perspective from Former Transport Minister and Strategic Advisor to Clearview Traffic Group, Dr Stephen Ladyman

May 12th

Investment decisions are always influenced by multiple factors.

The Government might have a legal duty to cut carbon emissions in order to comply with the Climate Change Act and an economic motive to reduce congestion, but it has limited funds to invest – and always has to keep one eye on public opinion.

If you want an example of what happens when politicians forget to allow fully for public opinion, consider Enrique Pealosa.

Mr Pealosa was elected Mayor of Bogata in 1998 when the people of that City were inspired to vote for someone who would not only get the traffic moving but clean up the City, cut pollution, and make the City a place where people could enjoy living and working.

A committed environmentalist, Pealosa is to this day seen as an innovative and influential transport 'visionary', he set about the task he was given with enthusiasm and was hugely successful. He did exactly what the people asked him to do when they elected him and he did it very well, and they kicked him out after three years!

To get traffic flowing, he erected bollards to stop people parking on pavements causing blockages and preventing people from walking, but the shopkeepers who earned their living from people parking outside their shops objected.

He restricted access to the City for private vehicles to improve the air and reduce congestion, but people who own cars want to use them. And he prioritised cycling over cars so that people on low incomes would have a means of travel, the middle classes may cycle for fun but they also drive cars.

In other words, Mayor Pealosa believed the public when they say things like 'If only they improved the buses we wouldn't have to use our cars, and didn't realise that they actually mean, If only they improved the buses, all these other drivers could use them and I'd be able to use my car without being held up.'

So, measures that reduce congestion, improve the smooth flow of traffic, and help you find a parking space will be popular with the public and if they also cut Carbon emissions then the public will appreciate them even more.

Measures that stop them speeding, prioritise public transport or cycling, or restrict the use of cars will be unpopular – with many drivers. And no matter how effective they are at cutting greenhouse gases this will cost politicians votes.

So how do we resolve this conundrum?

One answer is to provide a package of complementary solutions, which may include some that are less appealing to individuals than others, but which taken together can be seen to be largely beneficial.

One such strategy is the Smart City approach.

If Mayor Pealosa had balanced the 'restrictive' elements of his plans with 'permissive' solutions he might have retained more of the support of his public, of course, most of the Smart City solutions available now were not available to him in 1998, but today's planners don't have the same excuse.

It has been estimated that in just one 15 block area of Los Angeles the unnecessary miles driven while looking for a parking space each year is the equivalent of driving to the moon and back!

So a Smart City solution that will be popular and cut greenhouse gas emissions must surely include real-time car park occupancy detection and the ability to direct cars to the most convenient vacant space.

Automatic detection of road user types and the ability to detect cyclists and pedestrians and give them priority at signals would be less popular with motorists – but would improve road safety, encourage people to get out of their cars, and as part of a 'smarty city package' would be politically acceptable.

Real-time data collection and analysis that is used to optimise traffic flows and control signals may not immediately appeal to the motorist who won't know that it is happening, but as part of a smart-city solution that delivers real-time information for road users through on-street signage, sat-navs, radio and the internet its impact will be obvious to drivers and be seen to improve their daily commute.

Speed enforcement may improve road safety and cut carbon emissions, but will never be popular with some motorists.

But as part of a package that includes real-time pollution detection and the ability to create models based on traffic flows that are able to predict pollution build up and redirect traffic accordingly, the 'whole' will be popular with parents who are worried about pollution near schools and the safety of children crossing the road, and the political power of Mumsnet and the social media should not be ignored these days.

So, whilst we wait for personal road transport to become dominated by ultra-low emission vehicles and the battery powered and possibly driverless cars of the future to become the norm there is plenty we can do today to make road transport more sustainable and contribute to the fight against climate change – without causing our political leaders to suffer the same fate as Enrique Pealosa.

To find out more about how Clearview Traffic are improving traffic flow, smart city technology, and promoting best-practice in traffic management and traffic monitoring, please get in touch here.

Author: |Date Published: May 2015

Links: Cycle Safety

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