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Roads - new policy statements suggest a more joined-up future for roads

The documents

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
  • Substitute/relocated/enhanced capacity.

TfL’s welcome for the task force report is at:

There seems no reason why this thinking could not be much more widely applied in the UK and beyond.


So what?

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.



1 person has had something to say so far

Hi Mike

My immediate thoughts on DfT’s “Action for Roads – a Network for the 21st Century” was how bizarrely out of line its forecast of a 46% rise in road traffic volumes by 2040 (used to justify increased road spending), is with its own real evidence - in another document published at the same time "National Travel Survey: 2012" - showing a continued decline in traffic volumes, a steady trend since 2007.

See: "Latest figures show travel by road continues to fall but Government says congestion only going to get worse - how does that work? "
and also: - "Private Eye magazine sniffing around for DfT's motivations for seemingly over-egging its traffic growth forecasts "

My suggestion for such a turnaround was a very low (over-optimistic depending how you view it) estimation for fuel price growth. Private Eye are suggesting an unjustified use of a discredited 1989 command paper... Perhaps you could elucidate?

You may be interested to know that below your post here I've also covered the fact that despite a "trebling" of previously planned spending on roads , while promising to "embrace technology", in reference to Intelligent Mobility related issues it merely offered to "continue to watch developments in technology, to respond to emerging trends, understand their potential impacts and capture their benefits, as well as to guard against possible negative effects."
The Department, did tentatively suggest there will be "a ground-breaking trial" of autonomous vehicles on the road, expected to start later this year.

Not much of a suggestion of better use of existing infrastructure, or is there something I missed?
Posted on 14/08/13 18:06.

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