CambridgePPF responds to the City Deal’s congestion package

28th May 2016Green BeltLocal planPlanning

One-and-a-half cheers. CambridgePPF appreciates that the move away from a fixation on expanding road capacity towards a city-wide approach that includes management of the demand by drivers is a positive step by the City Deal, but it is not the major step that is needed. It is a start but not a solution.

 

CambridgePPF believes the proposed measures in their totality are unlikely to provide sufficient incentive for drivers to give up their cars, and could indeed cause serious unintended consequences. A lot more work is required to think through the effects, particularly on city neighbourhoods, so we urge the City Deal Board to undertake this further research, including social impact analyses, before rushing into a premature decision. Whilst this is being done, a number of quick wins could be introduced such as – synchronising traffic lights, pedestrian crossings that are active only when pedestrians actually want to cross, school buses for private schools and sixth-form colleges.

The elephant in the room is the congestion charge. This is dismissed on the grounds of fairness, social inequality, and up-front capital cost. This represents a misunderstanding of how a Cambridge road charging scheme might work as proposed by CambridgePPF. The same grounds of fairness, inequality and investment cost apply equally to the package proposed by the City Deal.

The City Deal accepts that the Workplace Parking Levy will have minimal effect on congestion, unless the charge can be passed on to employees, and propose it as a straight fundraising initiative. The choice between the £40-44m income projected from a congestion charge and the £7-11m from the WPL should be a no-brainer, yet the City Deal are proposing the smaller revenue on cost grounds – this is bizarre.

Other preliminary comments from CambridgePPF include:

1.       We object vigorously to the proposal not to have any meaningful consultation with the public. The use of an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order to deny the public any say over the restriction on access to a substantial part of the city seems to us to constitute an abuse of purpose and goes well beyond acceptable limits for the use of Experimental Orders. We believe the City Deal should meet public expectation for a full consultation on a range of options, including the City Deal’s package and a road charging scheme. The public should have the opportunity to assess the alternatives and have its say.

2.       The integration of this congestion package with the bus-lanes along the arterial roads proposed by the City Deal is seriously lacking. At its most basic, why have Control Points not been extended to include these roads?  What impact would a Control Point have on traffic flow down Histon, Milton, and Madingley Roads, and how would this affect the need for the disruptive bus-lanes?

3.       The pricing policy for P&R must be reviewed. If drivers are to be encouraged to switch, the cost disincentive must be minimal. The parking charge gives totally the wrong message.

4.       The package omits any mention of how its effectiveness is to be monitored. A rigorous monitoring and audit programme in addition to the Annual Traffic Monitoring Report must be put in place, including before-and-after recording as well as studies of the social impact and unintended consequences.

 

CambridgePPF has no confidence that this package will generate the long-term improvements to traffic flows that we need. Traffic in the Greater Cambridge area is predicted to grow by 30% over the next 20 years, so it is essential for the continued success of Cambridge to get it right.  In our opinion, a stronger incentive is needed to get drivers out of their cars and that this can best be delivered through some form of peak hour congestion charge. It should at least be one option for the public to consider.

 

Despite the City Deal’s intention not to consult, CambridgePPF will continue to comment on the adequacy of the City Deal’s proposals and the inexplicable decision to drop consideration of a congestion charge.

Appendix:  Comments on Specific Elements in the City Deal Package:

1.       Better bus services and Expanded Use of P&R

We welcome this component but question both the timing and the up-front capital costs. An attractive bus alternative must be available when the Control Points and WPL are introduced rather than using this income to enhance the service after the measures have been introduced.  This raises the question of front-end capital costs, which presumably will be met by the City Deal. This was a main reason for excluding the congestion charge

2.       Peak Congestion Control Points

The choice of options for their location seems incomprehensible. Why are they clustered just around the southern half of the city? Could they not be used to reduce traffic flow on main roads where bus-lanes have been proposed? We welcome the use of automatic number-plate recognition, but its use could be expanded at a modest cost as a more comprehensive network of sensors for a congestion charge.

The Control Points will lead to drivers seeking alternative routes to avoid them, including residential roads that are not designed to carry heavy traffic. The unintended consequences could be rat-runs and an impact on quality-of-life for people living nearby. Why has this not be researched in advance? These Control Points could actually increase congestion by encouraging drivers onto inappropriate side-streets

3.       Workplace Parking Levy

As the City Deal recognises, a WPL will have little effect on traffic congestion unless the charge is passed onto employees. The experience in Nottingham, on which the Cambridge scheme is to be based, shows that businesses typically absorb the charge themselves, resulting in little incentive for the employee to leave the car at home. The charge becomes in effect a tax on employment. It will be interesting to see how Cambridge University, the NHS, Marshalls, and other employers overcome this hurdle.

4.       On-street Parking Controls

Whilst the principle is sound, its implementation risks becoming unfair and socially unjust if people, who previously had free parking, now have to pay for a resident’s permit. There are 1,100 streets in Cambridge of which only 200 have resident’s parking, so closing down commuter parking is a massive undertaking. Any proposal to change car parking is inevitably contentious so change must be introduced gradually on an area-by-area basis in full consultation and agreement with the local community.

 

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