A bit like buses – you’re waiting for ages and then two come along at once. Two important documents were published in July:
Action for Roads – a Network for the 21st Century
Most comment has focussed on turning the Highways Agency in to a government-owned company and giving it long-term rather than annual funding. These bring it more into line with the rail sector and encourage better long-term investment planning. This is good news and there will also be a road user champion role to promote user interests.
Less trumpeted in the press it the immediate response is the development of a Roads Investment Strategy (RIS). Over time this: is intended to:
Articulate government’s ambition for the road network;
Include a performance specification;
Identify operations priorities as well as schemes and enhancements; and
Provide a “vision for how the road network should function. It will provide transparency and certainty to businesses, inward investors, local authorities and others, so they can build their own investment plans with certainty about road development.”
The last point is important. Recent work initially sponsored by ITS(UK) shows that lack of vision and of interoperability standards is limiting industry willingness to invest.
In the longer term, the RIS is expected to be aligned with investment decisions for rail.
This looks like the beginnings of strong coherent thinking about strategic roads. None of this thinking is fully developed and will need shaping over coming years.
There is also thinking about local roads in the document, but this is a good deal less well developed. However, the importance of coordinated land use and transport planning is recognised.
The Vision and Direction for London’s Streets and Roads
This complements the DfT document and is focussed on urban roads. It recognises that streets have different functions – as places as well as conduits – and that, as thoroughfares, streets may have strategic and local significance. It proposes a typology of roads according to place and movement function to underpin sound investment thinking.
It identifies a toolbox of measures:
Infrastructure and assets fit for the future.
More efficient/flexible use of space
Intelligent systems and management.
Changing behaviour/managing demand
TfL’s welcome for the task force report is at: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/corporate/tfl-response-to-rtf-report-chapters-1-5.pdf
There seems no reason why this thinking could not be much more widely applied in the UK and beyond.
Getting a robust long-term multi-modal approach to transport requires a clear view of the complementary roles of roads and rail. These roles are not just about capacity and operational efficiency but also about how transport in the round best enables the needs and preferences of people, businesses, towns and cities to be met. Transport’s function is to enable other activity – it is not an end in itself.
The rail world has already made strong progress through the Rail Technical Strategy – this generates stakeholder and industry confidence. To have the influence and impact that it needs on the multi-modal stage, the roads world probably needs to get its act together in a similar way. These recent reports from DfT and the Mayor for London, together with work by the Automotive Council and others, potentially provide some of the building blocks.
There’s plenty to do.