Amid the claims about the inevitability of painful cuts, I’ve lost count of the number of times over the past couple of years that I’ve pitched to editors an article that explains the scope in traffic system reform for painless cuts of tens of billions. Do they commission it? No. An extract from a recent pitch that landed on stony ground:
Traffic control – the last bastion of institutionalised inequality, and a rich source of painless spending cuts
The claim, “There is no alternative to painful spending cuts” is a painful reminder that government and media are missing a huge opportunity. It concerns an area of public expenditure that is overlooked but in dire need of reform: roads. It might sound boring, but we’re all road-users and all affected.
Reform would lead us out of congestion and road safety problems that kill thousands, delay millions, cost billions, stump governments and plague us all. It would disadvantage no-one except the technocrats who have been ruling our lives for too long. The core reform – to replace priority (an engineering model) with equality (a social model) – would eliminate the “need” for most high-cost traffic control, and create a level playing-field on which all road-users could merge in harmony. These ideas are supported by mounting evidence, e.g. our successful lights-off trial in Portishead, and the regeneration of a Cheshire town through the biggest shared space scheme yet seen in the UK.
Scandalously, the precise cost of traffic management is unknown, but it dwarfs the £18bn in welfare cuts that are stoking strike action and striking fear into the poor. My initial analysis (checked and ticked by an accountant) shows there are annual savings of £40bn to be made. In addition, redesigning the public realm would provide sustainable jobs and revitalise the economy.
If you need a peg in addition to the cuts, despite written evidence from myself and another critic of the current system, there is nothing in the Transport Select Committee’s report about the role of traffic lights in causing danger and congestion.
There are some exposés too, but I don’t want to give it all away.