A constant theme of planning documents in the past, though it appears less obvious now, is the mantra of locating housing close to where people work, shop and play. At one level it has a simplistic and common sense appeal to it. You can imagine both planners and the commentariat saying “Ah yes, if we do that we can reduce car use as people will not need to travel, lets go for it.” At the same time policies encourage densification and urbanisation with the belief that with higher densities it will be easier to provide public transport and support local services.
But there are some serious problems with this approach which effectively render it meaningless.
For one problem is that cramming more people into an area does not necessarily mean that people will travel less. As urban areas expand the distance from one end of an urban area to another increases. And densification can have the effect of encouraging travel – if you life in a high density area with little of your own green space it is likely that you WILL want to travel to get a taste of other environments.
The other problem is that development policies allied with a belief that consumption is the main goal in life mean that people are encouraged to travel. Developments for leisure (stadium outside Truro), retail parks actively encourage people to travel. Developers are not going to say “Here is a nice new retail outlet, its accessable by the road network but please don’t travel here by car!”. Events organisers work on the premise that people will travel. At the same time people now travel not because they have to – the usual refrain in Cornwall – but because they can. Why shop locally when you could nip along the A30 and visit a retail outlet somewhere else? You might live in Hayle but why not go to Truro or Penzance or Kingsley village to shop? People living in more rural areas of Cornwall can easily access the road network and travel as often as they like. For many distance holds no bounds. Instead of visiting local pubs and restaurants people travel across Cornwall taking in all that is on offer.
As a result of this traffic levels increase, congestion rises and pollution levels (air, noise etc) go up – not a good outcome at all.
What do we do? We could sit in a traffic jam and complain, we could demand more of the same old policies which don’t work, we could tinker by altering traffic lights, lanes etc. But we need a more radical approach. A topic to which we will return.