First Citizens’ Assembly for transport calls for a bold road space reallocation to walking, cycling and buses

Reallocating space to walking, cycling and public transport by closing roads to cars came out as the top measure promoted by members of the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) Citizens’ Assembly last weekend, with a flexible charging scheme the second most popular way to reduce congestion. Over 90% of attendees supported closing roads to through traffic after hearing evidence from a panel of experts on the options available. The event was the first time a citizens’ assembly has been called in the UK to discuss transport issues.

Bridge Street is part of Cambridge’s Core Traffic Scheme which restricts access to motor vehicles

The measures discussed included those presented during the GCP’s recent Choices for Better Journeys consultation: flexible and pollution charges for motor transport, parking restrictions and a workplace parking levy. Supplementary measures raised at the Citizens’ Assembly’s first meeting were also included, such as franchising buses, subsidising electric cars and cycles and altering traffic signals. A panel of transport experts presented information on the impacts of each measure and the different ways to apply them to reduce congestion and air pollution and improve public transport.

Professor David Metz from the Centre of Transport Studies at UCL said: “reducing road space for cars whether parked or moving is, in my view, the surest way of removing the volume of traffic.” Lynne Miles, the GCP’s Interim Lead for Growth and Economy, and Professor Jillian Anable from the University of Leeds’ Institute for Transport Studies both agreed that to be effective, road reallocation schemes needed to be applied comprehensively to prevent problems of congestion and air pollution being displaced to nearby areas. It should be remembered that in Cambridge areas of workplace growth are not clustered together in one place but spread in an arc around the edge of the city. Professor Anable said that evidence from around the world shows that when traffic restrictions do apply to wider areas, motor traffic reduces by an average of 20%. In fact, two Cambridge schemes were included in the global study and the Core Traffic scheme (which saw streets like Bridge Street and Emmanuel Street restricted to cars) had reduced overall traffic in the city by 10%. Dr Steve Melia, from UWE’s Centre of Transport and Society, added that research following this scheme showed that in a city of growing incomes, levels of car ownership in Cambridge were decreasing, in inverse correlation to the usual norms.

An example of ‘filtered permeability’ where a road is closed to cars but not cycles

He also said that “there is a strong weight of evidence that says that the availability of parking is one of the key determinants of the number of people that are driving through”. Free parking in particular would drive levels of through-traffic and work against the reliability and attractiveness of public transport. Lynne Miles explained that road reallocation created space to allow buses to travel more quickly and to allow a better environment for non-motorised users. She added: “Crucially, it changes the feel of a place and the experience of walking and cycling around somewhere. It’s likely to make it safer, more pleasant, with a generally nicer atmosphere and public realm and health benefits.”

As they made their presentations on Sunday, assembly members agreed that moving the city to be less reliant on the private car would expand the space available for people in the city to enjoy. They called on the GCP to be bold and brave and take decisive action. Transport schemes should be clear, fair and high-quality. Some wanted to see pilot projects, some preferred faster, more decisive change. A majority called for the Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to franchise bus services, and several groups wanted to see an integrated ‘Transport for Greater Cambridge’ organisation, similar to that seen in London. There was an acceptance that charging of some sort (a flexible charge or pollution charge) would be necessary to fund alternatives to driving and 74% of assembly members supported the implementation of a Clean Air Zone.

The question the Citizens’ Assembly had been tasked to address was: ‘How do we reduce congestion, improve air quality and provide better public transport in Greater Cambridge?’ Summing up at the end of the event, the spokesperson for one group said: “We want a public transport system that is a credible and excellent alternative to driving and we think this can be achieved through a publicly-owned bus franchise system. These improvements could be funded by a fair charge against car use and we also want to reallocate road space to pedestrians, cyclists and buses to make [Cambridge] a more pleasant and equitable place to be.”

The full report from the Citizens’ Assembly will be published at the beginning of November to be reviewed by the GCP’s Executive Board. The GCP Chair, Councillor Aidan van de Weyer, thanked the Citizens’ Assembly for their work and said: “The next steps are not going to be easy but what you’ve done over the last four days will really help us focus our decision-making.” Other discussions on road space reallocation have been going on this week as part of the City Council’s Making Space for People consultation on ways to improve central Cambridge and nearby areas including Mill Road, where Camcycle would like to see increased space for non-motorised road users. Nationally, the Transport Select Committee have also begun a discussion on road pricing as a way to tackle congestion and encourage a shift to sustainable forms of transport.