Chapter 3: Traffic and transport (Geoff Meaden)
SDG Target 11.2: By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.
According to the results of the recent questionnaire carried out in preparation for this Vision, traffic and transport are clearly the greatest concerns facing this city. Transport concerns cover factors such as the ever-present traffic congestion, increased air pollution, the necessity for better public transport, high parking charges plus costly bus and train fares. Indeed residents see “concerns about traffic congestion” as comprehensively the “worst thing” about living in the city. Obviously, being a medieval city, it is no easy challenge to accommodate modern transport demands into the inherited urban structures, but residents are far from convinced that suitable efforts are being made to ameliorate this situation. Present actions by transport providers in terms of the means of transport and the structures for accommodating these means are deficient and thus the deployed transport measures are unsustainable in both the shorter and longer terms. Although the Canterbury District Transport Strategy 2014 -2031 goes into considerable detail about the local transport situation, the challenges that face the authorities are significant and we suspect that the measures to be taken will not keep abreast of traffic growth. And it is of concern that both the City Council’s Corporate Plan (2014 to 2031) and the current Local Plan say barely anything on the dire situation in respect to tackling traffic congestion, air pollution or how the Council will work with KCC to alleviate these problems. In many ways it appears to the Canterbury Society that the authorities have virtually “given up” on this challenge.
The Present Situation
The city is a minor transport hub for East Kent. There are passenger rail links to three main London destinations plus links across Kent, to the major rail hub at Ashford and to Dover and Thanet. In the last five years there has been a significant increase in rail use mainly as a result of two high speed rail routes to London. Canterbury also is a hub for a network of bus routes. These transport options, plus the main road network, encourage a large amount of daily commuting both into and out of the city.
The city itself offers many attractions for visitors and residents. It is generally an attractive city having a high-quality retail offer, a range of visitor attractions, much cultural life, a rich building and conservation heritage and a relative wide range of employment opportunities including a broad service sector. It is also a World Heritage Site, there are three main universities and there is a wide range of public and private education provision. But clearly these attractions place a great strain on traffic and transport, especially as the city centre is relatively compact and thus densely utilised. Although much of the centre is already pedestrianised there is a perceived need to extend pedestrianisation, and indeed to reduce further road traffic from entering the city. This latter move is planned to be accommodated through high parking charges and the closure of some of the city centre car parks, though both of these moves are very unpopular with city centre businesses, inner city residents and many shoppers.
The sheer volume of traffic in Canterbury has led to excessive air pollution and the city is virtually ringed by an extensive Air Quality Management Area. Even with this AQMA in place there is little evidence that air quality is improving. The three Park & Ride facilities on the edge of the city do play a positive role in curbing the amount of traffic entering the city. There has been recent discussion on establishing a Canterbury Parkway station located where the two rail lines cross (about one kilometre to the SW of the city) but, due mainly to cost considerations, this is unlikely to occur and unfortunately we estimate that the city is too small to consider the implementation of any forms of mass transit. A further means of traffic alleviation for the city might be an Eastern by-pass and many people suggest this. There are signs that this option is being investigated, but the cost of this would also be prohibitive in the present financial context and transport modelling has indicated that this would not be a viable solution to Canterbury’s congestion problems, i.e. in terms of the relative low traffic volumes that would be requiring this route.
Since the first edition of the Vision, the city has been required to update its Local Plan and this Plan has now been approved by the Inspectorate. However, measures outlined in the Plan will undoubtedly do little to relieve the traffic problems and indeed local planners and developers seem content to largely ignore transport and traffic concerns. But the Plan calls for some 16,000 additional homes in the District to be built by 2031, with at least 10,000 of these being located in and around Canterbury city. The vast majority of homes will be located in the south of the city and it is clear that the two Dover Roads and Wincheap entries to Canterbury will be a major challenge to traffic management. It is also clear that much of the housing due to be built beyond the city itself, mainly to the North-East, will significantly impact on the city. To accommodate the extra traffic generated from the new homes there are only some longer-term plans for a Sturry by-pass, a new road through the Wincheap area, a new Junction on the A2 plus a number of smaller measures.
The Local Plan and the District Transport Strategy place a large reliance on the changing of transport modes, with encouragement being given to the use of sustainable modes such as walking, cycling, car sharing and the greater use of public transport. These modes of travel were first recommended some six years ago in a Sustainable Travel Plan (written by Lynn Sloman) but her report has unfortunately received very little attention to date. However, to hopefully put these measures into place a Sustainable Transport Forum has now been convened by the Council and some interested residents have together formed a group called the Campaign Alliance for Sustainable Transport (CAST), i.e. as a form of organised pressure to help ensure that Canterbury’s dire transport-based problems are expeditiously addressed.
Future transport challenges
From a perusal of the transport and traffic description above it is obvious that challenges to bringing about traffic improvements are quite considerable. However, if and when challenges are met, this will have direct benefits not only in the relief of traffic congestion but also in the reduction of air pollution, improvements in health through more exercise, an improved ambience in the city and in the reduction of stress. We suggest that the main challenges that realistically need to be addressed are:
- A release of pinch points on certain roads. An obvious one needing serious investigation is relief for the Wincheap area by provision of a rail underpass. This could be achieved, but at a high financial cost, via a opening through the rail embankment almost immediately to the west of the present rail bridge.
- Encouraging more use of public transport through bus fare reductions, bus digital service information and arrival times and better transport/travel integration via an integrated transport hub. A challenge to this however is the already crowded and cramped bus station.
- Getting more people to abandon their frequent use of private cars. There is a recognition of this fact in the District Transport Strategy, but there is currently little evidence that this is being achieved and the road traffic situation will almost certainly deteriorate once the huge house building proposals are underway. Indeed a recent Sweco Report has estimated that road traffic on the city’s ring road will increase by 16 percent over the coming decade.
- Significantly upgrading the use of alternative transport modes such as walking, cycling, using public transport, car sharing, home working, etc. Again this is now recognised by the Council but it may also prove a serious challenge to meet.
- All of the 15 year development proposals were agreed without any comprehensive traffic modelling or detailed and reliable air quality data. These deficiencies must be ameliorated – it is simply irresponsible to site large scale developments fairly haphazardly in locations for which no modelling data exists.
- Establishing joined up cycle routes that pass through the city in a range of directions. Increases in cycling are unlikely to be achieved until cyclists (and indeed pedestrians) feel that they can use the streets more safely.
- Keeping private vehicles away from the city centre, via vehicle prohibitions, public car park reduction, increased edge of town Park & Ride provision and further pedestrianisation. It should not be too difficult to achieve a better mix of cycling and walking routes (shared spaces) as indeed occur in many continental countries.
We fully realise that many of these challenges are recognised in the Council’s District Transport Strategy but there is a considerable gap between recognition and action. What is clear however is that a significant proportion of the population will have to change their transport habits if the city’s traffic situation is to improve.
- . That fully linked North to South and East to West cycle routes through the city centre are functional by 2023.
- Selected existing footpaths along main roads entering the city are designated as “shared spaces” between cyclists and pedestrians by 2023, and whole of the High Street should be pedestrianised by this same date.
- The Council, in conjunction with Stagecoach, seriously investigates bus fare reductions as a means of encouraging greater bus usage.
- Further consideration is followed up on creating a road tunnel through the rail embankment to the west of Canterbury East station (near to the Aldi store)
- A fully Integrated Transport Hub is located in the wider forecourt area at Canterbury West station. This has become particularly important following the success of the high speed rail link to Canterbury West.
- Positive and quantified targets are set for installing air quality data recorders around the city and for reducing NO2and pm2.5 air pollution.
- Rigorous efforts must be made to eliminate the need for the Air Quality Management Area around the city, with the aim to have a 50 percent reduction by 2025 and complete elimination of illegal air pollution by 2030.
- A dedicated travel planning manager is assigned to manage and encourage “transport modal shift” on all future housing developments. The manager should also be responsible for setting up car share or pooling schemes.
- The Council’s new Sustainable Transport Forum to enlist as many “transport experts” as there are councillors onto this Forum.
- In order that good location decisions can be made for future developments, immediate steps are taken to instigate high quality road traffic modelling.
- 1 Clear transport targets are put in place such as vehicle reduction rates, bus usage rates, cyclist numbers, number of electric car charging points, digital bus time displays, etc.
- Preference is given to the use of smaller and fuel-efficient buses on most routes, preferably utilising electric power.
- Extend the Park & Ride sites for use in the evenings and/or overnight.
- There is a rigorously enforced regular annual car-free day in the city.