Close roads - and cars disappear

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The Independent Online
CLOSING roads to motorists can see up to a quarter of traffic "evaporate" from the nation's highways, according to the Government's top adviser on transport.

A survey of 60 cities around the world by Phil Goodwin, professor of transport studies at University College London and head of the Government's expert panel, found that the cheapest and easiest way to cut traffic jams is to close a few roads or limit the space available to cars. Remarkably traffic appears to "disappear".

The findings revealed that traffic declined on altered roads by 41 per cent with less than half of the reduction reappearing on neighbouring roads.

"That means on average 25 per cent of the traffic previously using the roads disappeared from the networks died," said Dr Sally Cairns, a researcher at UCL. She said the work showedthat "people were much more adaptable in making travel choices than previously assumed".

Civil servants said new research would be commissioned to examine how closing roads would affect people's choices of travel and the effect on the local economy. "We need to look at how this will work on the local level," said Tom Worsley of the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions. He said the department was inviting local authorities to produce transport plans to cut traffic.

The new research could refuel the debate surrounding road-building. Last month, a report by influential ministerial advisers said that more roads do not mean more jobs. Many environmentalists argue that a huge programme of pedestrianisation would help to reduce traffic and cut urban pollution.

The report showed that more than 33 per cent of traffic disappeared from the roads near Hammersmith Bridge in London after it was closed last year. In Wolverhampton, a controversial package of measures saw congestion cut by 14 per cent.

Cutting down the road space available to cars has been long practised on the Continent. The most successful scheme looked at by the researchers - a five-year programme in Nurnberg, Germany - saw traffic fall by 140 per cent in the streets around the "altered" areas.

According to Professor Goodwin a package of measures can "tip the balance" in favour of cutting congestion. "A modest amount of `disappearing traffic' can be critical when implementing bus lanes and pedestrian areas and for avoiding unacceptable levels of congestion," he added.

But motoring organisations were sceptical of the results. The Royal Automobile Club pointed out that with Hammersmith Bridge closure, neighbouring councils had complained about "extra traffic levels".

t Efforts to ease road congestion are being hindered by ignorance of public transport alternatives, says a MORI survey. Two in five people do not feel informed about local bus timetables and three in 10 feel the same about train times, the survey, conducted for Railtrack and the RAC, found.