Cut Noise

Traffic noise can be sorted

 

According to the National Noise Attitude Survey 2012, 5 million people in the UK are extremely disturbed by traffic noise. That is 8% of the population. A total of 55% are disturbed to some degree (4).

Solutions:

Lower speeds

• Cutting the urban speed limit from 30mph to 20mph could reduce traffic noise by more than 50% (5).

• Cutting the motorway speed limit from 70mph to 60 mph could cut noise by more than 25%.  

Quieter Road Surfaces

• The use of quieter road surfaces could halve the noise from traffic. Quieter road surfaces like porous asphalt cost more than traditional road surfaces but are 3-10 times more cost-effective than mitigation measures such as home insulation or the construction of noise barriers (8).

Noise Barriers

• These can be expensive but are essential at noise hot spots. At their best, they can cut noise by 75%. However, it is much more cost-effective in the longer term to concentrate reducing vehicle noise at source (9). A Dutch study found that every decibel reduced at source would save 100 million euros in national expenditure on noise barriers and sound insulation (10).

Quieter Vehicles

• Greater use of electric and hybrid vehicles will cut noise. Governments and the motor industry are placing a lot of hope in these vehicles but they come with two important caveats as far as noise is concerned. Tyre noise will of course still be present; and it remains uncertain by how much noise will be deliberately added to these vehicles so people can hear them coming. In economic terms they do have an important advantage over measures like quieter road surfaces, insulation and noise barriers, in that the cost falls on the manufacturers and the users rather than on the public purse.

Traffic Reduction

• It is not anti-business to call for traffic reduction. London First, the voice of big business in London, backs road pricing. The annual cost of congestion to the London economy was put at $8.5bn in 2013 and rising (12). Equally, traffic reduction need not be anti-car. It is about getting a better balance than exists at present. Fewer vehicles on the roads would cut traffic noise as long as lower speed limits were introduced. It would also reduce air pollution, road danger and climate change emissions.

And traffic reduction is possible. Half the journeys we make are under two miles long; 75% are less than 5 miles (13); most are possible by walking, cycling or taking public transport. A mix of investment in these non-car modes, lower fares on public transport plus some form of road pricing could both improve the quality of life in our towns and cities and make them better places in which to do business.

"Even without significant traffic reduction, it is estimated noise from traffic could be cut by 70%" (11).  

John Stewart

References

(4). National Noise Attitude Survey 2012 http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&Completed=0&ProjectID=18288

(5). Speed and Road Traffic Noise, Paige Mitchell, UK Noise Association, (2009)

(6). Killing Speed: A Good Practice Guide to Speed Management, Adrian Davis, Slower Speeds Initiative (2001)

(7). Preventing Road Traffic Injury: A Public Health Perspective for Europe, F Racioppi et al, World Health Organisation, (2004)

(8). The Danish Road Noise Strategy, Danish Environmental Protection Agency, (2003)

(9). Why Noise Matters, Chapter 6, Stewart et al, Earthscan, (2011)

(10). Dutch Noise Innovation Programme, Dutch Ministry of Transport (2002)

(11). Traffic Noise Reduction in Europe, den Boer and Schroten, CE Delft, (2007)

(12). Financial Times (13/10/14)

(13). Road User Statistics Great Britain 2016, Department for Transport

 

Time to put Beeching into reverse and revive the railways

 

It was my first protest. I think it was 1961. I was on the platform of Strathcarron Station, the stop for the beautiful village of Lochcarron in the Scottish Highlands, on the scenic Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh line. We were staying on holiday with my aunt in Lochcarron. A lot of the villagers had joined us on the small platform.

We were there because Dr Beeching was passing through that day. The chairman of British Rail was threatening to close down the line, along with countless others across the UK. We wholeheartedly booed the unmistakable portly figure as the engine in which he was travelling sped through the station.

Yesterday, Boris Johnson confirmed that as part of his plans to ‘build, build, build’ out of COVID, his Government was planning to put Beeching into reverse. It is hard for those who didn’t live through the period to image how famous Beeching was in the 1960s. He had name recognition that came close to matching the Beatles, Mary Quant and Carnaby Street. He was after all the man who took away the trains and stations from hundreds of thousands of people across the UK.

His 1963 Beeching report produced for the Government was officially called The Reshaping of British Railways but popularly known as the Beeching Axe. In it proposed the closure of ….wait for it…… 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles of line.

As a recent issue of the New Statesman - https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2020/02/ghost-dr-richard-beeching - put it like this: Beeching “concluded that many stopping services outside London cost too much in subsidies to justify. Fast intercity services on trunk routes connecting major cities and urban centres were prioritised instead. So began the isolation of towns and villages across Britain. Swathes of the country, including large industrial settlements such as Corby and Mansfield, were left without any passenger rail links at all”.

The rail map of the UK changed forever….until now. As part of its plans to invest in infrastructure, the Government is inviting bids to reopen stations and lines. At this stage it is difficult to estimate how much will happen but it certainly needs to if people are to be given real choices. What is depressing is that for over half a century key UK towns have been without a rail service.

Transport Minister Grant Shapps told the House of Commons in 2019, “I curse Richard Beeching every day in this job.” In my view, that is an excellent starting point! Without putting back together at least some of what Beeching destroyed we cannot hope to even start about having a seriously good public transport system. The fact that sixty years on his name is still remembered and quoted by Government ministers is an indication of the seismic change he brought about.

Many places worst hit were the ‘red wall’ areas that voted for Boris at the last election. There are votes in it for the Prime Minister to put Beeching into reverse.

It is a bit ironic that Beeching – and Ernest Marples, the pro-roads transport minister who appointed him – thought rail lines would become redundant because of increasing car use. Now those very same rail lines are urgently needed in order to cut car use; to reduce congestion, noise, air pollution and climate emissions.

Beeching actually recommended the closure of the Kyle of Lochalsh rail line through Strathcarron Station. But it never shut. As for me.....and my subsequent protests on a variety of issues down through the years. I blame the parents!

John Stewart

Cars

by Mike Hakata

The article, reprinted with permission, first appeared in medium.com (13/5/20)

Until a few months ago I had cars in my head, driving around, pumping out fumes, parking in my already limited head space, colliding with my good thoughts and I never questioned the idea things could be any different. Cars are meant to be here. Streets are for cars, towns and cities are full of streets, cities and towns are for cars. What would we do if we didn’t make sure they had all the available space? Life would be hell, right? And even if it wouldn’t be hell it just wouldn’t function.

It took some reading, research, discussion, educating and I began to feel the cars disappearing from my head. When the cars start disappearing your head space becomes quieter, your worldview more peaceful, less hectic, less dangerous. The cars were disappearing not simply because I was learning how to disappear them in my own head but because this is the way the world is going, this is the direction of travel.

When the cars start disappearing your head space becomes quieter, your worldview more peaceful, less hectic, less dangerous

In five to ten years the internal combustion engine will have disappeared from our streets. In that same time-frame active travel will be standard in urban design. This is the way the world is going and no amount of kicking and screaming is going to stop it.

I live in a ten-story block comprising fifty flats, fifty families in a block on a housing estate of several hundred more. Our block has a parking lot strictly for residents or their visitors. It has eight spaces. Free parking for residents.

During a normal week it is always half empty. It only fills up at the weekend when people come from out of the area to visit friends and family. Let that sink in.

Fifty families and more than enough space in a car park of eight spaces. You can always find a place to park in the streets of the wider estate too. When I had cars in my head I never noticed this, never saw it as an anomaly. Now I see it every day. Car ownership increases along with income.

Millions can’t afford to run a car but those people are also statistically more likely to experience the negative effects of cars though living in or near busy and congested roads and traffic arteries, poor air quality, noise and road accidents. Most probably those people have cars in the head too and believe they have a right to pollute their air and clog up their roads.

Let’s roll out a few stats and figures. 1/3rd of car journeys in London are for less than 2km. 4.3million daily trips by Londoners could be done by either walking or cycling. 60,000 additional years of healthy life could be enjoyed by Londoners if they walked or cycled 20 minutes a day delivering an estimated economic health benefit of almost £2bn per year. Congestion costs London’s economy an estimated £9.5bn annually. Cycling and walking infrastructure can increase retail sales by up to 30%. So London and Londoners will see life-expectancy, productivity and sales rise dramatically as this shift to active travel builds.

If we look at the darker side of national statistics then looking at government figures for 2018 there were 160, 597 casualties of all severities from road accidents on British roads (the lowest on record as it happens) with 25,511 classed as serious injuries and 1784 deaths. That reads like military casualties during a war except the reality in terms of numbers is quite different. As of July 2015 a total of 454 British forces personnel had died in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001 and a total of 7,436 hospital admissions for all types of admission were recorded in the field. It was safer to serve in Afghanistan over fourteen years than it was to use Britain’s roads in one, statistically speaking.

Here’s a positive fact: Car ownership decreases when other good options are available. In the UK the other options have historically been public transport. Also, car ownership increases as public transport becomes more scarce. And here’s a worrying prediction: as people in London return to work post-lockdown a 40% drop in public transport use is expected. If there isn’t the infrastructure to ensure walking and cycling is safe and desirable people will get in their cars. The Mayor’s walking and cycling commissioner, Will Norman, warns that if just a small percentage of the journeys in London switch to the car the capital will grind to a halt. Gridlock like never before. The prospect is a terrifying one.

The 2017 Green Lanes Area Transport Study which took a comprehensive look at traffic flows through my ward, St Ann’s, revealed that over half the traffic was through-traffic with some sections recording as much as 90% of vehicles breaking the speed limit. This is a ward with numerous primary schools and nurseries, a hospital, clinics and a park. Regardless of whether there is a collapse in public transport use do we really want the residents of Haringey who are major users of public transport to put their lives and the lives of TFL staff at risk by crowding onto buses and trains?

The stark reality is that when the lockdown eventually ends there will be thousands of Haringey residents attempting to get to work and the shops. Those with cars will opt to use the car and those without will cram into buses. Carbon emissions will literally be the least of our worries.

There is another way. It is in our power to design our way out of catastrophe and we must. Urban design which successfully prioritises walking and cycling achieves two goals simultaneously. Goal 1: build it and they will come. Goal 2: build it and they will leave. Goal 1 applies to people on foot and bike and goal 2 applies to people in cars.

We are facing an emergency. We don’t have time for long consultation periods and debate. We need to implement solutions now and assess them as they’re in use. We need to implement long-term solutions with temporary tools as we have been with pavement widening which is being rolled out across the Borough as I write. A network of protected cycling paths using weighted cones and barriers needs to follow along with further pavement widening on key routes to green spaces, clinics and schools.

Just as important is the creation of low traffic neighbourhoods with streets blocked to deter through traffic. This can be done with planters as in other boroughs and can be adapted through the assessment period as feedback and traffic flows are analysed by residents and council officers. Low traffic neighbourhoods are essential because of their effect on through-traffic. Evidence reveals that rather than push traffic onto other routes, closing off paths to rat runs leads to traffic evaporation. Having recognised that there are no short-cuts drivers are more likely to find other more sustainable means to travel. By ensuring most local traffic opts for the new pedestrian routes means that the local streets are freed up for those who must drive, public transport and emergency services.

The use of temporary materials for these interventions means that they can be changed but also that finance is no longer the biggest obstacle. It is actually critical that finance is not made an obstacle. Capital funds must be released regardless of whether the Borough receives the extra funding promised by the government and the Mayor. So what is the biggest obstacle? I think I know… The cars stuck in the gridlock of our collective mind.

 

The case for putting the car into lockdown

 

I will  get straight to the point. There ought to be fewer cars on our roads.

It would cut noise, air pollution and climate emissions very significantly. And potentially reduce death and injury dramatically. Each year 1.35 million people are killed on roads around the world. That really does put the current coronavirus pandemic into perspective.

And, whilst the virus has tended to go for older people, road traffic injuries are estimated to be the eighth leading cause of death globally for all age groups and the leading cause of death for children and young people 5–29 years of age.

Isn’t it time to put the car into lockdown, only to allowed out for essential journeys and the odd bit of exercise?

Electric cars, hybrid cars, hydrogen cars – they are all likely to be cleaner and a bit quieter – but they will still kill our people and clog our streets. Each year, according to the latest available cost estimate (1998), road traffic injuries alone cost $518 billion worldwide and $65 billion in low- and middle-income countries, which exceeds the total amount that these countries receive in development assistance. And that’s without taking into account the billions lost each year through congestion and the cost of noise, pollution and emissions.

But I can’t live without my car? I’m not so sure. Although the majority of households in England own at least one car these days, 20% of households don’t have a car which rises to 44% in the lowest income bracket. The proportion of households without a car fell dramatically from the middle of the 20th Century, but has been fairly stable for the last couple of decades.

And catering for the cars and their owners has been the focus of most national and local governments for decades. Cities have been redesigned around the car. Business parks, leisure centres and shopping malls are all about car travel and often impossible to get to any other way. The cost of public transport has risen much faster than the cost of motoring.

But I love my car. People do. Back in 1952, less than 30% of distance travelled in Britain was by car, van or taxi. 42% was by bus or coach, and 17% by train. As people got richer and cars got cheaper, the picture changed rapidly. It is not realistic to put cars into lockdown for good. But, unless we see them in lockdown for much more of the time – and develop affordable convenient alternatives and start re-organising our towns and cities around these alternatives – we lose a huge chance to cut noise, air pollution, climate emissions and road danger on our roads.

by A Walker

Lothian Road, Edinburgh 1960 - see next blog 'Lessons from the lockdown'

Lessons from the lockdown

 

It feels like 1960 all over again.

The quiet streets. The absence of cars. The virtually plane-free skies. The grainy picture above is of Lothian Road, one of Edinburgh’s main thoroughfares, in 1960. I knew it well. As a small boy I used to travel up and down it on the number 11 bus. Take away the people and it could be a street in lockdown Britain 2020.

Post-lockdown, is there any way we can return to these sorts of streets of half a century ago while retaining the prosperity of our modern age?

We have become a lot better off. In 1960 across the UK as a whole, 14% of households had no inside toilet. And about 65% of households didn’t have a car. When, in 1958, Frank Sinatra invited us to ‘Come Fly with Me’ https://youtu.be/Euci0_BBmNE, few of us could afford to do so.

Individual cars, lorries and planes were noisier than today but, because there were far fewer of them, noise was not a problem for most people. Interestingly, though, the first Noise Abatement Act was passed in 1960 and the seminal Wilson Report on noise was published in 1963. But, apart from factories and heavy industry where noise was much worse than today, it didn’t feel noisy. There was no music in shops and restaurants, no announcements on buses and trains, we had tinny transistors not stereo-systems and the Beatles used only three-hundred-amp speakers for their concerts.

Air pollution levels were high, mainly cause by smoke from coal-burning activities. Nitrogen dioxide levels peaked in the 1970s and have fallen dramatically since then. The numbers killed on the roads were a lot higher than today. In the UK in 1960 there were 6,970 deaths compared with 1,870 in 2019. The drop is partly because we have learnt what measures to put in place to cut deaths but also down to the fact that we are not out on the streets in the way we once were. We’ve retreated from the road danger.

The streets were ours. We felt the streets belonged to us. The big reason was the absence of cars. Is it possible to bring back streets into ‘people ownership’ once again? I believe it is. But it won’t be done without cutting the number of cars on our roads. (This is not the same as aiming to reduce car ownership though tougher restrictions on car use plus good alternatives to it might make ownership less attractive). It will require carrots and sticks: road pricing, maybe in the form info an eco-tax; investment in quality, affordable public transport and plentiful walking and cycling measures. Although aimed primarily at reduce carbon emissions, a coherent programme to cut car use is set out here by the consultancy Transport for Quality of Life: https://www.transportforqualityoflife.com/u/files/6%20An%20Eco%20Levy%20for%20driving%20-%20cut%20carbon,%20clean%20up%20toxic%20air,%20and%20make%20our%20towns%20and%20cities%20liveable.pdf

The way we have designed our towns and cities around the car, together with the growth of out-of-town leisure and business centres, means some of the journeys we make will not be replicable by public transport. However road pricing, especially if it was distance-based, might in time reduce the market for these sorts of developments.

Road pricing will also assist the economy. Traffic congestion is costing the world’s economy billions. In 2018 it cost the UK £7.9bn. For Edinburgh that was £1,219 for each driver. The cost of congestion in 2018 in just four Indian cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Bengalum and Kolkata - totalled $22bn.

Will the lockdown change things? Nobody really knows. I suspect that in the short-term people will take to their cars where they will feel safe. The big question is whether the memories of being able to use streets in a different way will linger. I suspect that, at the very least, people will be more supportive of measures to assist walking and cycling and maybe even that political hot potato, the reduction in speed limits. Things will get really interesting if people start to call for road closures and back measures which make the car less dominant. Will they back the continuation of post-lockdown measures such as the pop-up cycle lanes which cities like Paris are introducing? Or the city-wide plans Brussels has for a 20mph limit?

The introduction of road-pricing immediately after the lockdown is lifted is not viable but brought in in due course it would start to assist the economic recovery through a reduction in the cost of congestion and be an important step in returning the streets to the people. Of course we don’t know how the greater use of zoom and skype calls will affect travel and traffic levels after the lockdown. Nor whether home deliveries will increase or if more of them will use freight bikes. But if, as is possible, Covid-19 means we look at our streets in a different way the lockdown could lead to the break-out of street activity 1960s style.

John Stewart

Lothian Road, Edinburgh 1960