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Transport Planning Ideology

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Road provision in the UK since the 1950s has followed the political climate, and is tied to a series of changing transport paradigms which have themselves been driven by contemporary political trends.

Buchanan and the 1960s

In the 1960s, Traffic in Towns (better known as the Buchanan Report) reacted to the fast growth in car ownership in Britain, and suggested that towns and cities ought to be reorganised in the same way as an office: with ‘corridors’ and ‘rooms’ represented by fast distributor roads and residential estates. Towns thus built would enable their residents to enjoy both fast access across and out of town, and a quiet neighbourhood in which to live – if residents owned a car. It was thought at the time that public transport was in decline and was to be provided for those who were unable to drive, with private motor vehicles assumed to be the mode of transport for the majority of journeys made by the majority of people.

Much of the fully pro-car thinking of the 1960s has since been downplayed as a product of overoptimistic predictions and sloppy scientific methodology. The book Motorways in London, produced by a committee of independent academics and transport experts, lays waste to the London Traffic Survey for precisely those reasons. The LTS, an early 1960s project to forecast demand for all types of transport across London in order to plan the necessary transport infrastructure almost to the end of the 20th century, concludes with only one possible scenario considered or evaluated: a massive expansion in road capacity leading to phenomenal growth in car use in the suburbs. Little thought was given to public transport and Motorways in London describes its findings as a foregone conclusion.

However, the heyday of this type of planning ideology gave us some of the most incredible and ambitious plans, most of which were the result of a request by central government that major metropolitan areas should be the subject of in-depth transport surveys and that far-reaching plans should be drawn up for each. Among other remarkably optimistic (and unrealistic) publications, this policy gave us the Greater Glasgow Transportation Study, the Shankland Report (which included the Liverpool Inner Motorway, among much else), the SELNEC Highway Plan and the vast ever-shifting London Ringways.

Refinement and re-evaluation of the methods by which transport planning was conducted and transport demand was quantified led to various shifts in policy for the rest of the 20th century.

(more to follow here from other eras...!)

New Towns

The UK’s new towns exemplify the Buchanan Report, with Milton Keynes best showing the corridor/room layout.

Current thinking

Fast-forward to 2007 (via other reports). The Department for Transport published the Manual for Streets, which involves rethinking much of what transport planners had done previously. Using the office metaphor again, towns built according to MfS are like an open-plan office, with little segregation between living space and moving space. The ending of this segregation – typified by the Link/Place theory – means that the focus is now on quality of life, sustainable transport choice and creating ‘streets’ rather than ‘roads’.


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