Is the end of Rural Car Dependence in sight?
Blogs are the individual views of Sudbury Vision members and do not necessarily represent the views of the group or group members.
I live in a Suffolk Village. The Village is lovely but has several issues.
There is insufficient employment in the village for those of working age that need it. This necessitates commuting to nearby towns and locations, some as far as 80 miles or two and half hours travel, away.
There is insufficient affordable social housing for everyone that needs it and currently provision of this seems like a bonus provided, reluctantly by Housing developers.
There is too much traffic coming to/from and through the village and insufficient and anti-social parking in the Village which has a very tangible negative effect on the Village.
Long Melford is not alone, it is probably typical of too many villages in the UK.
You can sum up Long Melford as a historic, beautiful, dormitory village dominated by the Motor Car.
That doesn’t sound like much of an advert for the place, but it does highlight the best and the worst of village life.
Current Planning policy
The District and County Council and the current Government (currently a minority government led by Theresa May) have a planning approach that is designed for the status quo, only natural as they are all conservatives with a large or small C. The Council considers planning applications that are encourage car dependency such as a planning application for a housing estate of 130 houses on the edge of town where there is no bus services and the plan has no cycle routes, the alternative to the car is a 1.5 mile walk, not so bad into town but 1km of it is uphill on the way back. There is no objection to this, it is noted but it is doubtful that the planners will reject it because there is no bus service or active travel provision. So yet more housing for people dependent on the car.
Sudbury, the nearest town has an Air Quality Management Area which regularly exceeds Healthy levels of Nitrous Oxides (and probably particulate matter which for some reason is not measured). The responsible Council sees the only solution being a Bypass to take some of the traffic off that street and resolve the issue. More about that bypass later.
Meanwhile the streets of Sudbury and Long Melford get busier and busier.
The future of transportation
Will anything change this situation? How do you make the area less car dependent?
The UK Government stated in 2017 that sales of Petrol and Diesel vehicles will end in 2040. This says actually bugger all. The average life of a car is between 7 and nine years, thus they are stating that we will be petrol and diesel free by 2049. So the EV (Electric Vehicle) will replace them after 2050.
Meanwhile the Manufacturers of those cars have a somewhat different timescale in mind.
“ The future of cars is electric, and today the alliance that includes Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi laid out plans of how it plans to be one of the leaders in that area as well as autonomous vehicles. Alliance 2022, as the group calls itself, said that it plans to roll out 12 electric cars, and 40 vehicles with autonomous drive technology by 2022. It also wants to become “a global leader in ride-hailing services” that are operated by autonomous “robo” technology.”- TechCrunch Sep 2017
The aims of Alliance 2022 include the following:
New six-year plan set to achieve the following objectives:
- More than 9 million vehicles to share four common platforms.
- 12 pure electric models to be launched, utilizing common EV platforms and components .
- 40 vehicles to be launched with autonomous drive (AD) technology.
- To become an operator of robo-vehicle ride-hailing services
MAAS - Mobility as a Service
Did you understand the last bit: robo-vehicle ride-hailing services.
Let me explain: Instead of owning a private vehicle you have an app on your smartphone or tablet (or watch by 2022) from which you can summon an EV autonomous vehicle which will take you where you want to go. Just you, and the vehicle will be small but comfortable, a dozen of you and it will be more like a bus. Think Uber without the driver exploitation and need to fudge the rules.
This is not some pie in the sky fantasy this is already being planned and discussed, it’s known as Mobility As A Service or MAAS see http://www.maas-market.com/.
If that becomes reality the concept of owning your own car becomes redundant as do a few other common issues:
- With no private cars there will be no parked cars, the roads will thus have much more roadspace.
- With no humans driving there will be no traffic congestion (it is usually caused by humans accellerating and decellerating in a line of traffic).
- With no humans driving there will be far fewer accidents and hold ups. With no humans driving and fewer cars on the road (parked or otherwise).
- Buses will run on time and can run more frequently and if also electric will be cheaper to run.
- Finally with less traffic on the road and no congestion or parked cars, walking or cycling will be far far safer and there will be roadspace for cycle lanes.
There will be an interim where ICE (internal Combustion engine) cars get replaced by EV vehicles that are human driven, and individuals will choose to own their own vehicles, (some trades require vans and specialist mobile equipment may never change) but of over 90% of drivers a call on demand vehicle will be all that is required.
Or is it.
If there is more room on the roads, no drivers making stupid/rash decisions or speeding, then cycling will probably become a more common method of travel than it is now. Typically 55% of trips are 5km or less, eminently walkable or cyclable. Electric bikes will fall in price with battery prices falling (as of writing they have halved in price in the last 2 years and look set to do so again). Just this month (October 2017) Jesse Norman MP Secretary of State for Transport proposed that car scrappage schemes could be used for buying Electric Bikes.
So it is easy to envisage a cycle lane busy with cyclists, electric cyclists and Mobility Scooters along every major road. Pedestrians will find it easier and more pleasant to walk on pavements (though providing green spaces to walk on would be better).
Automation and changes in society means jobs may be at a premium so the most cost-effective route between A and B will win. A MAAS EV may not fit the bill for many except for odd occasions.
So taking some data from planning applications and citing the only Transport Studies (taken in 2009) and the 2011 Census, the current modal share for trips less than 5km in Sudbury is the following:
The share is dominated by the car due to lack of safe cycling routes, public transport services serving Industrial Estates, Schools and the Town Centre. (Services from South of Sudbury such as Halstead and the Hedinghams is either 1 bus service a day or a call on demand service).
What this is likely to look like in 20 years time is possibly the following: The shares between walking, cycling, Electric bikes, Public Transport and MaaS is roughly equal.
As this blog will discuss economic changes will make transport much more cost sensitive, but the introduction of MaaS and the eventual removal of the Private Car from on street parking and traffic flows will free up road space encouraging the use of bicycles and e-bikes.
So the planners should now be considering how to get from the current situation to prepare adequately for the future.
They could do nothing, build a bypass to take 800 out of 16,000 cars off the roads of Sudbury Town Centre and hope and pray that solves the issue and wait for the above to happen.
Or they could be proactive.
The planners and more importantly the politicians could find ways of subsidising revenue for Public Transport such as new bus routes and services to encourage people to leave their cars at home. It is interesting to note that local Politicians are quick to receive and pass on complaints about Bus routes when they are cut or become more expensive but do nothing to promote bus use otherwise. Every person who switches their mode of travel from car to Bus is one less car on the road. Thus promoting bus travel and even better increasing subsidies to achieve this is a way of reducing traffic congestion and improving the lives of everyone.
They could start to do something to encourage cycling and walking. The area has one existing disused railway track which is impassable in winter due to the surface being rough and muddy. In winter only mountain bikes can use it. But it joins Long Melford to Sudbury and, with a good surface would be a completely viable alternative to riding on the road, there is 4km of route that could be easily given an all-weather surface and encourage modal shift from Car to Bicycle. This can be extended to Great Cornard the other end to provide an end to end route provide a safe cycling route of over 6km. The cost would be somewhere short of £1m but the economic benefits are huge.
There is more planners could do as well. Giving renewable energy projects such as Windfarms and Solar Farms the green light to replace an increasing part of our energy requirements. Requiring all new Houses with South facing roofs to have PV Solar panels or PV Roof Tiles and Tesla Powerwall type Battery Storage. Suffolk gets more sunlight than any other part of the UK, so the solar energy potential is very good.
This would speed up the adoption of Electric Vehicles, Solar Panels and PV roof tiles allied with now available Home Battery storage would mean the Electric Vehicle could be charged from stored solar source electricity or at a minimum Economy 7 off-peak power. But this may prove merely an interim solution. More renewable adoption and more importantly mandatory installation on new builds would have widespread economic and social benefits and would speed up the adoption of electric vehicles and electric bikes.
The use of Battery arrays to store generated electricity is also interesting. If the battery is charged during the day then at night this power can be used either domestically or to recharge vehicle batteries or it can feed back into the grid to provide extra peak power for the grid. So if a family takes a two week holiday in Summer, the solar energy created and stored can feed back into the Grid.
Of course other socio-economic changes need to be taken into account. The introduction of automation to replace many semi-skilled and unskilled work (and increasingly skilled work as well) may reduce the number of commuting trips. Sudbury’s largest employer Delphi manufacturing parts for diesel engines is due to close in 5 years with the loss of 520 jobs and a minimum of £10m to the local economy.
So maybe there will be less commuting traffic in 5 years time. One view held is that there will be lots more jobs at Stansted Airport which is only commutable by car (due to zero joined up Public Transport including rail to Stansted Airport from Sudbury) and that Sudbury will become a dormitory town for Stansted Airport. This is mere conjecture though, the onset of increased automation and the long driving commute (about an hour if the A120 is not busy) may well reduce demand for new housing and make Sudbury less appealling for any new workers at Stansted Airport. Besides the new Developments are in the East of the Town off the existing bypass which would make travelling through the Town Centre the default route for such workers, thus avoiding a Western Bypass.
So to be proactive planners will have to find some way to ensure any new workers housed in the East of Sudbury use a new Western bypass if they are commuting to Stansted Airport. Of course another solution would be a regular bus service from Sudbury to Stansted Airport which would serve, not just workers but travellers as well and provide an public transport route to London should the rail line from Sudbury-Marks Tey-London be blocked (as happens regularly). This latter idea is extremely unlikely to happen though as it involves two Councils (Suffolk and Essex) and would need heavy subsidy (though pickups in Halstead and points in between would surely improve it’s viability).
So if Sudbury is building > 1200 homes to the East of the town (including Cornard developments) how would people living there get into town. Again the by-pass would be ignored as it provides no benefit. The answer is active travel investment and Public Transport investment. Providing safe walking and cycling routes between the developments and the Town Centre and Schools would certainly be necessary though the current outline plans only have a peripheral route for cycling and walking around the developments and such investment is generally built after the building developments are built. There are no plans at all for increased Public Transport. A clear missed opportunity.