Realistic about roads? 12 Jun 2008

Road transport myths need to be quashed if the UK is to build a solid and realistic foundation for roads policy according to Stephen Glaister, Director of the Royal Automobile Club Foundation, speaking today at the Road Network Management conference in the Barbican Centre, London (12).

Road planning is a long process, which is why action and long term planning is needed today. Basing his comments on the RAC Foundation's recently published 'Roads and Reality' report Glaister will report on the future of the main road network, over the next 30 years.

Between 2005 and 2041:

  • Population will grow by at least 11%
  • Most of the growth will be in the East, South and London
  • Incomes will double
  • The number of cars will increase by 44%
  • Road traffic demand will be up by 43%

The UK faces a number of stark realities in light of future trends, which provides four choices for road planning:

  • Let congestion continue to grow unchecked
  • Build & widen roads without reforming pricing
  • Reform pricing and heavily restrain demand or
  • Reform pricing to improve efficiency AND provide additional capacity to preserve mobility as recommended in the report 'Roads and Reality'

The last of these is the only one that has a chance of gaining wide support as a fair and balanced package.

Glaister will argue that the need to face up to reform of both pricing and investment is not removed by arguments about carbon emissions, rising construction costs, fuel price rises or affordability.

"Roads and reality" argues that myths are holding back the development of roads in the UK.

  • New roads don't simply fill up with traffic

When new roads are built they may create more traffic as some users will be attracted from other busy roads and other users are provided with the opportunity for access, which was not previously present. This should not be viewed as negative.


  • Main roads don't use up much land

Trunk roads in Britain occupy only 0.16% of its surface area compared to about 1% for rail, and carry significantly more goods and passenger traffic.

  • More roads have little effect on climate change

Additional roads both reduce congestion and emissions as well as allowing more traffic; the net result is a small increase in road transport emissions.

  • Traffic pollution is not getting worse

The improvements in road vehicle and fuel technologies have greatly reduced harmful emission rates in recent years. As a result total emissions of these have reduced by between 50% and 99% in the last decade.

  • Road users pay their way

Road users pay £38bn in VED and fuel duty and only £9bn is spent on roads. This £29bn difference is eight times the £31/2bn cost of road transport's carbon emissions.

  • Both rich and poor people rely on roads

Both rich and poor rely heavily on roads, although the rich travel more. The poorest 20% of families make 72% of their travel by car and 93% by road compared with 82% and 88% for the richest 20%.

The decreasing level of trunk road construction will also be raised within the presentation. Between 1986 and 2006 average flows on trunk roads have increased by at least a half but construction rates have fallen from around 800 lane kilometres a year to about 100 lane kilometres a year.

Stephen Glaister, Director of the RAC Foundation says

'Roads are essential to the UK economy and our way of life. The myths surrounding road planning are unfounded and unhelpful. It is therefore essential that our future road requirements are understood, embraced and planned for. This is a process that must start today. Efficient pricing, which reforms costs to improve efficiency and provides additional capacity to preserve mobility, is the most sustainable and realistic strategy for roads.'