As a guide, its only 20~30% of traffic at peak times that causes 100% of congestion. So, we need to direct capital investment to provide sufficiently attractive public transport and active travel options to encourage 20~30% less car journeys – not building more roads to induce more car use. In doing so, we also need to reduce the discount on the full costs of car use that all drivers currently enjoy.
On Wednesday January 15th 2020, I joined Cardiff Council at the launch of their Transport White Paper[i]. I have provided help and input to this work, especially as regards the Metro components. This paper represents for me a step change in how local authorities in Wales approach the challenges of mobility, climate change and development in cities. In Cardiff that means more metro, more buses and bus priority, and redesigned streets and urban spaces giving priority to pedestrians and cyclists.
Whilst there are undoubtedly major challenges and obstacles, not least the need for a road user charge and/or other pricing mechanism to recover the full societal costs of car use, I want to help ensure that this is delivered over the next ten years.
A little context first. There is harsh reality to face when dealing with this issue and facing down the challenge of climate change. Across Wales, most of us commute in cars; in fact in 2017 Figure 1 over 80% of us used cars with only 4% on train and another 4% on bus. So even doubling that level of PT only scratches at the surface of car usage. In Urban areas such as Cardiff the figures are a little better – but even here 50% of people are still commuting in cars with 30% Active Travel (AT) and 20% Public Transport (PT).
Figure 1 Senedd Research, 2017 Mode Share in Wales for Commuting
Given the challenge of climate change and the long term negative impacts of car based sprawl (see later), I think a reasonable target for Wales is to get car usage down to 60% or less (from 80%); so a 25% reduction. That suggest for Wales we need to go from 8% to nearer 30% public transport (bus and rail) use; for the sake of this exercise that assumes at least a trebling of public transport capacity! In Cardiff I would argue that we should aim to get public transport to 35-40%, Active Travel to 35~45% and 25% for car mobility; again this implies a major investment in public transport.
For Wales and Cardiff the mode shift required is big, but necessary
Figure 2 From Cardiff Council Transport White Paper 2020, Mode share targets
It’s not just climate change either, our car dominated society has de-sensitised us to some obvious facts[ii]. If you look out of most windows what do you see? Tens, hundreds, of cars sitting there not being used, or if they are, stuck in traffic. Most cars spend probably 95% of “their lives” doing absolutely nothing. This clogs up streets and ties up natural resources. Having to design our cities around what cars do when they are not moving is as bad as having to do so when they are. We have also become desensitised to the nearly 5 deaths on average each day (1700 per year!) on the UK’s roads[iii]; there are also air quality and health impacts that are only now being fully appreciated[iv] leading to even more deaths. Suggestions that we should just electrify this mobility ecosystem are missing the point – we need fewer cars first.
Major changes are needed that will require an honest and informed debate leading to some tough choices. We can’t solve our air quality and congestion problems with rhetoric!
Across Wales, including Cardiff, we need to shift much more of our capex to rail, bus and active travel to provide all of us in more places, a viable alternative to the car.
I would note, even with the cancellation of the M4 Relief Road, we still have £1.5Bn of road schemes set out in WG National Infrastructure plan[v]. We have to question the priorities.
I also acknowledge that we still have a major anomaly as regard rail investment in the UK which doesn’t help. Rail infrastructure powers and enhancement funding are not devolved to Wales and are determined on an England & Wales basis by the DfT & UK Gov. As I have explored for Welsh Government[vi] and written independently[vii] (using DfT and UKs Government’s own data) the Welsh rail network has suffered serious underfunding Vs the UK network over decades.
This is relevant as some of the proposals Cardiff have put forward require further “enhancement of the rail network” to extend the next phase of the South Wales Metro. The UK Government must help address this issue.
Figure 3 Cardiff Local Authority population growth
Despite these institutional difficulties, Cardiff Council has nonetheless recognised the scale of the challenge and has brought forward some ambitious proposals. As the White Paper sets out, perhaps the biggest challenge is addressing the fact the city has a transport network designed for 200,000 people but needs one to cope with 400,000 and well over 100,000 inward commuters on a daily basis.
Figure 4 Cardiff Crossrail proposals
So, schemes like Cardiff Crossrail[viii] are vital to the city and the region (given it includes the NW corridor extension through Plas Dwr to RCT). The Cardiff Crossrail project builds upon the current investment in the South Wales metro and seeks to address some shortcomings[ix] of that scheme in the city as well as a need in my view, to double again the planned capacity of the Metro by the middle of the decade. (The latest ORR figures for growth in station usage in the Cardiff Capital Region is stark; for example PAX at Cardiff Central has grown from ~13M to over 14M in just one year ).
- Analysis of accessibility to rail services from the most densely parts of the wider region highlights some of the challenges that exists within Cardiff Figure 5. In terms of access to rail stations whilst 36% of Cardiff residents live within 800m of a railway station, only 24% live within 800m of a railway station served by four or more trains an hour (which is a WG stated aspiration for urban station as set out in “A Railway for Future Generations” [x] [xi] ) compared to 34% of Rhondda Cynon Taff.
- As a result, most of the population of Cardiff do not have the option of accessing work in neighbouring local authorities using rail – this is an issue for places like Pontypridd, Barry, Newport and Caerphilly which could support more employment if their catchment areas were increased; this to a large extent is dependent on improving rail access across Cardiff itself.
- To exemplify, the City and Coryton lines are only specified to operate at 2tph (vs HoV services at 4tph) Given demographics, the routes catchment and increasing demand across Cardiff (linked to population growth), we should be aiming for at least 4tph and more likely 6tph at peak times.
More strategically the Crossrail scheme will:
- Help address the increasing congestion in the North West of the city
- Provide a new public transport corridor all the way to Pontyclun and Talbot Green and support more “transit oriented development” opportunities along the entire route
- Connect the city east-west and better connect places like Splott/Tremorfa
- Open up further development opportunities in Cardiff Bay
- Provide an opportunity to redevelop the entire Bute Street/Lloyd George Avenue Corridor and deliver a direct link between Cardiff Bay and Cardiff Central[xiii]
I have written in more detail about this scheme in another article[xiv].
It should be noted that there is in my view, an essential and pragmatic first phase of Crossrail which can be accelerated and is an essential foundation for the entirety of rail schemes set out by the city (and others across the region). This “Cardiff Core Metro” requires a new connection between the City Line and the Bay line and the operation of at least 4tph from Radyr to the bay via the city line. This is not really a new idea and was originally presented in some form in the 2013 Metro Impact Study for Welsh Government (ES 13, P27, P65, P72).
One potential solution would see a connection from the City Line just south of Central across Callaghan Sq. and in so doing provide more platform capacity at Central. This work will also require a solution to the capacity constraints at Cardiff West; the rail experts will know what I mean and is an issue NR highlighted in their 2016 Route Study[xv] (see p87). This network bottleneck could be “easier” to address with the application of tram-train technology (more alignment and elevation flexibility for tram-train infrastructure Vs traditional Heavy Rail).
More importantly perhaps (especially given the need in my view for a quadrupling of public transport capacity), this scheme will provide more overall network capacity and reliability by allowing more services from north of Cardiff to route to the bay via the City Line and Central and so avoid the congestion via Queen St. Depending on the solution it could also enable more services to operate on the VoG to Barry and beyond.
This Cardiff core Metro work for me is perhaps the most important next phase for the South Wales Metro after the current phase is delivered in 2023/4, alongside addressing service capacity constraints on the Ebbw Valley Line to Newport, developing some x-valley connectivity[xvi] and measures to provide an alternative to the M4 Relief Road[xvii]. I have covered all of these in other articles and publications.
This foundation will also make the link between the Coryton Line and Radyr easier to justify. One option would allow tram-train services to start/end at Heath Lower and run east via Coryton to the City Line and onto the Bay freeing up capacity on the Rhymney Line for more tri-mode services to Caerphilly and enabling a new station at Roath Park. This is in effect delivers the circle line “connectivity” via an interchange at Heath Low/High Level between tri-mode and tram-train services.
In advance of the full Crossrail, this first phase, with a turn up and go service at Fairwater, Danescourt and Waungron Rd, combined with bus integration measures at those stations, will offer a much more attractive public transport option in the west of the city to help address some of the congestion associated with the new development. It is also essential to enable the future expansion of Crossrail to Plas Dwr and RCT.
As a cyclist I am also hugely supportive of the city’s active travel measures. I only wish we could accelerate and expand the plans for segregated cycle ways across the city. The bottom line is we will get more people cycling if they can be made to feel safe in doing so; a dedicated cycle way does this in a way that just paint on a road does not!
As important getting more people to walk and cycle instead of driving will have significant health benefits both to the individuals but also to hard pressed health services.
We also have a culture where some drivers do not respect the equal right of cyclist to use road space. For example, cycling a good distance away from parked cars to avoid being “car doored” takes up space in the middle of the lane, making it difficult/impossible to be overtaken, yet many drivers still try, often too close. I also note that I can generally cycle at about 20mph, that means on most of the roads in Cardiff (and more in future) no cars should be trying to pass me!
I am not recommending this (disclaimer!), but I sometimes cycle across a junction when pedestrians have a green man as it can be safer than trying to leave a junction at the same time as the revving SUV, van or lorry next to or immediately behind you. I have been hospitalised by a driver making a mistake a junction so I am much more conscious of cycling to ensure my own safety.
Remember it is cars that cause the 1700 road deaths every year…not cyclists. In fact, on average 1 cyclist is killed every day in the UK.
Having said that there are some cyclist who need to show a little more regard for other road users and pedestrians. It’s not hard to slow down to walking pace when surrounded by pedestrians….and I don’t care if the “Deliveroo” is getting cold!
What Cardiff have proposed is absolutely right…but we need more.
Buses and Bus Lanes
There are also major ambitions for bus services with the development of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – that means full segregation and priority. I think this point is worth stressing – no matter what the mode, the most efficient and attractive operations are achieved when you can segregate operations from “other stuff” – be it cars, pedestrians, other buses, trains, etc. You can run faster services, more often at lower unit cost and at the same time offer more attractive services that encourage more passengers and revenue. When combined with turn up and go” frequency services (generally assumed to be at last 4 services per hour) public transport can really provide an attractive and viable alternative to car mobility in our urban areas.
Whilst there are ambitious BRT schemes in Cardiff’s plan, I think there are plenty of short term opportunities to introduce more bus lanes and bus priority measures.
My favourite would be bus lanes on Albany Rd, Richmond Terrace and esp. West Grove down to the junction of Newport Rd (Ok I use the 28 and 5n services!). Similarly we perhaps need to look at bus lanes and associated priority measures on Cathedral rd all the way up to Penhill.
I also think we could do more to enhance the Cardiff Circle to improve current cross city accessibility with more frequent services, more bus priority measures and a much great emphasis on the ability to interchange across the city at different points to more radial services.
To do this I still think we need to see Transport for Wales build up their capacity and capability in terms of bus integration, and to lead this kind of work across all of Wales. In the short term I’d like to see Cardiff Council, WG, TfW and Cardiff Bus work together to explore what short term measures could be introduced.
Challenging Car Culture
We also have a culture of some drivers who “believe” they have priority on every road at all times. Honestly that is not the case…just read the highway code. Pedestrians have right of way on our streets that many drivers are unaware of.
For example, Rule 170 of the Highway Code, says “watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross, they have priority, so give way.
Similarly, if it is safe to cross (and this may well be defined by the speed limit and gaps in the traffic) pedestrians have a right to do so anywhere.
Unless a pedestrian steps in front of a moving vehicle that cant stop ! then pedestrians always have right of way, always. The alternative is that drivers have legal right to mow down pedestrian!
Pavement parking is also a growing issue; I notice it on my morning run in place like Celyn Avenue near Cardiff High School; and don’t get me started on City Rd!. Pavement parking is dangerous and makes it impossible for people with pushchairs or in a wheelchair chair to pass.
So, we need to begin to redesign our streets, junctions and urban spaces around people and not cars; and before I get the “you cyclists”, etc we/I have a family car (only one now) and I drive, although nowhere near as much as I used to. I have made a conscious decision to walk, cycle and use public transport far more. In Cardiff, many more of us could do that.
I used to drive to town nearly every day for years from Roath Park. But it hit me – that is just plain crazy, I was sitting in traffic and then paying for parking! Now, I never drive to the city centre (well nearly never!) I bus/walk/cycle talking 15/20 mins. This is often quicker than driving/parking and I am fitter and healthier for it.
Figure 6 Mini Holland schemes in Walthamstow Village (Orford Rd) Waltham Forest:
I am also in favour of reclaiming road space for people and active travel. Places like Wellfield Rd would be so much more attractive if the ugly and congestion causing parking could be reduced/relocated. I’d widen the pavements, make it bus only and upgrade the urban realm. I’d also consider the local bus stops and consolidate by putting one on each side of the now bus only Wellfield rd.
Analysis of the impact in East London of a number of “little Holland” schemes[xix] suggest that removing parking and traffic actually enhance footfall for local business (with more bus passengers alighting and departing on Wellfield rd. the effect could be even greater) and encourages active travel.
So whilst some of the measure in the White Paper will take years to implement and, in many cases, will need support from the region and WG, they are nonetheless the right measures. We all need to change how we move around our towns and cities.
Removing the Car Use Discount (or Road User Charge)
One of the more controversial parts of the White Paper will be I suspect, the prospect of a Road User Charge and/or Workplace Parking Levy. There is clearly much more discussion to be had…. but we do need it.
In developing and delivering the transport infrastructure to support the mode shift required we will need to both build out more bus and rail infrastructure and discourage driving. Therefore we have to look at a means to apportion more of the long term external costs of car use to the user through mechanisms like road user charging and workplace car space charging, to contribute to an overall funding portfolio. This issue generates much emotion and much ill-informed debate, but we need to get through it.
For those opposed to road user charging and still making the case for schemes like the M4 Relief Road…. Please take a look at my blog from last year on this[xx], the work of people like Todd Litman[xxi] and Jarrett Walker[xxii] and even the DfT’s own analysis of induced demand[xxiii].
The evidence is clear, building more road space generates more traffic and many of the costs of car use are external and have not been adequately appraised or recouped over decades. These “external costs” are significant and include the 1700 road deaths per year in the UK (and thousand more non fatal accident victims), air quality issues, an almost infinite road maintenance programme and more and more car dependant sprawl leading to the demand for more road space to service it.
I’ll stress this point, all of us as car users, have effectively been given a discount to drive unimpeded for 50 years. There are real external costs that have not been levied on this “freedom” which have resulted in sprawl with car based housing and employment sites that generate an even greater demand for road space, damaging our urban realm and impacting air quality. The executive summary of Transport Costs and Benefits by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute is a good guide[xxiv]. It’s an unvirtuous cycle we have to reverse.
The stark fact is that since the 1950s we have depreciated our public transport infrastructure at the same time as expanding our car based infrastructure. If we can secure the sensible and reasonable shift to public transport and active travel I suggest above, we will find that we have more than enough road space for those that still need or choose to use their cars for particular journeys. To do this the priority has to be investment in public transport capacity not more road space!
Actually, given the long term environmental and spatial impacts and external costs of car mobility as references above I would prefer to call this “the removal of the car use subsidy”. This is a long overdue debate and we need to have it….
I applaud the leadership of Cardiff Council (and all the officers who did the heavy lifting!) for taking on this work and presenting what is an ambitious Transport White Paper – I hope the region and Welsh Government will engage in discussion and lend their support.
As a postscript and relevant to all the major schemes set out in the White Paper. At this stage most of these schemes are at strategic case stage and will be subject to further detailed technical and business case development (some with WG, TfW and NR) which will influence their final form and phasing, and even alternative and/or additional measures to achieve the same outcomes.
The White Paper signals the policy intent of the city in a very powerful way (which is an essential first step) and is supported by the initial strategic development work undertaken which demonstrates that all the proposals are needed.
[i] Cardiff Council, Transport White Paper, January 2020
[xii] “Metro Impact Study”, Metro Consortium, Welsh Government, 2013
[xix] University of Westminster, 2018, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965856417314866