By David Wilson

7 July 2011 – What’s the view from your window? Do you like what you see? Do you want to change it? As the percentage of the world’s population living in cities continues to grow, the view for many can be bleak: cars, congestion, buildings, smog, are a common sight.

What you see, hear and smell in urban areas has many negative effects – on health, on communities, on the environment – and cars are much to blame for this.

A new way forward is not through “big-bang” civil engineering projects, but by getting people to think about their choices, rather than reaching for their car keys.

De-motorisation works: in place of traffic, it offers neighbourly streets and vibrant city centres. Pedestrian streets in city centres can create outdoor theatre, filled with celebration and spectacle. We do not need to get rid of cars altogether.

We can change the way we think about our travel behaviour and move away from over using our cars to a more active society that uses public transport including buses, trains, cycling and walking. The challenges of over reliance on cars in the last 50 years are shown below

Solutions to reduce car use

Travel plans can be applied to modify three main types of journeys to:

  • Schools and education facilities,
  • Workplaces including major employers, business parks and government offices, and
  • Residential areas.

Changing travel choices are an important transport management tool to encourage smarter transport decisions for children and parents accessing schools, workers travelling to offices, residents and visitors travel patterns.

The principal aims of travel plans are to:

  • Change travel patterns, to schools and reduce single person commuting to and from employment areas.
  • To deliver measures to encourage more sustainable and active travel through walking, cycling and public transport.
  • Improve sustainability of servicing and deliveries to build and encourage more sustainable travel choices by visitors.

A series of carrots and sticks measures are required to encourage travel behaviour change. This will require incentives such as travel discounts, movement restraint such as restricted car parking or charging for use.

School travel plans:

  • First priority: pupils need to be involved in running the school’s walking and cycling schemes. Changing choices made by parents is tough. Transport and Education Departments need to get together to draw up council wide schools action travel plans.
  • Measures include: improved walking and cycling routes, traffic calming, safe crossing points, priority to those on foot, cycle and public transport at entrances.  Installation of secure cycle shelters and cycling training.
  • Benefits: Improved health: Children walking or cycling burned off more calories and they were more attentive. Excessive car use creates overweight children who grow into overweight adults. It reduces traffic congestion around schools and makes the streets safer.

Workplace travel plans:

  • Workplace travel plans focus primarily on commuter travel and travel to work, but can also include strategies to reduce business visitors.
  • These plans combine measures to support walking, cycling, public transport, car and taxi sharing and the management of workplace parking.
  • Workplace plans include actions to reduce the need to travel including: home working – hot-desking and video conferencing,
  • Specialist workplace travel plans are typically developed for health facilities and higher education establishments that cater for large numbers of staff patients, visitors and students.
  • The Transport for London travel plan cut car commuting by 13 per cent at work sites where travel plans were implemented and there has been a 5 per cent rise in active travel (walking and cycling) and public transport use since 2000 that reduced congestion and CO2 levels across London.
  • Behaviour change has been achieved through a mixture of soft interventions by giving staff better information about travel options, showers and lockers for cyclists and cycle parking, cutting staff car parking spaces, discount tickets for public transport and the introduction of the London Congestion that now costs $20 dollars to enter central London plus parking charges.

Residential travel plans:

  • Residential travel plans focus primarily on improving travel options for residents in housing developments.
  • Housing layout and design will have a crucial influence on car use. Low density housing areas with curving looping roads can generate double the car use of housing areas laid out on a compact grid of roads with walker friendly dense compact areas with high connectivity to public transport and local centres and services.

Residential travel plans may incorporate personalised travel planning such as customised travel advice, car clubs and improved walking and cycling links to public transport links.  Travel awareness and marketing of public transport services through timetables and route maps will reduce car use.

In the 1990s I travelled to the Netherlands with the Oxford Urban Design study group and we hired bicycles to view Woonerven or home zones where the “quality of life takes precedence over the ease of traffic movement”.

Woonerven were first set up in the early 1970s blurring the boundary between street and footpath.

Woonerven combine innovative paving, landscaping and other urban designs to allow for the integration of multiple functions in a single street, so that pedestrians, cyclists and children playing share a surface with slow-moving cars.

The pilot projects were so successful in fostering better urban environments that the ideas spread rapidly to Belgium, France, Denmark and Germany and the UK at the beginning of the 2000s and are called home zones that could be applied in Australia.

Over dependence on cars

Car dependency has become more prevalent since the 1960’s when cars became more affordable status symbols, providing personal space and fashion accessories.

The reasons why we are so car-dependent include:

  • Weak planning laws that have encouraged car oriented development
  • Edge of town residential sprawl
  • Superstores and retail sheds on the edge
  • Under investment in public transport
  • Priority given to road building and priority for cars in road design
  • Result – walking and cycling unappealing and dangerous
  • Large budgets devoted to car advertising

Social norms changing

Drink driving in the 1970s was considered not only acceptable but also necessary for normal life. Over the last 20 years it has become less socially unacceptable and incurs greater risks of fines and losing one’s driving licence.

A similar change has occurred with smoking. Today its normal to make quick trips to corner stores in the car, drive children to school, make business trips by car to claim lucrative expenses by undertaking long single car occupancy trips.

The cumulative damage caused by indiscriminate car use is just as anti social as exposing other people to cigarette smoke or risking the lives of others driving when drunk.

Attitudes to unnecessary car use may change just as anti smoking has.  Opinion leaders who use cars responsibly could help to transform public attitudes towards unnecessary car use.  Big oil prices rises may force a change in transport decisions away from cars.

Generation X, Y and possibly Z behavior change – declining car use

Car use in Australia and the US has been declining over the last five years. Research by Curtin University in Perth and by the NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics shows that people under 35 are becoming less likely to hold a drivers licence.

Two decades ago 79 per cent of NSW 20-24 year olds held a full licence. That fell to 51 per cent by 2009. In the same period the number of 15-19 year olds with a full licence dropped by 20 per cent.

Many blame the digital revolution for this (telecommuting, ease of connectivity on trains).

In NSW, there are other factors, too, including the introduction of graduated licensing, increasing urban density around transport nodes and the tendency of young adults to stay in education and live at home.

There’s also the cycling revolution as the cycle network is being extended. Car sharing is also becoming more popular with companies like GoGet increasing their fleet networks that reduces motoring costs by 85 per cent  while still allowing access to a car for essential trips.

Conclusions

Combining the “soft actions” of applying travel plans and behavioural change could deliver substantial reductions in car traffic to something like the school holidays levels based on changes in peoples travel behavior.

Active transport through walking and cycling creates healthier cities and citizens. Improved quality of life will be achieved through reduced traffic noise, minimising the impacts of travel on the natural environment, heritage and increased space to create attractive streets, public spaces and squares.

Without such an approach car dependency, traffic congestion and parking demand will continue to grow and the ability to minimise environmental, social and economic impacts will be ineffective.

David Wilson  is the manager, environment and urban planning at

Leichhardt Council

David Wilson  is the manager, environment and urban planning at

Leichhardt Council