Wednesday 5 September 2007

€34bn transport plan ‘will not solve congestion’

A SENIOR civil servant has broken ranks to warn that the Government’s multi-billion-euro transport policy will not work in locations where congestion problems are worst.

Dave Fadden, of the Strategic Planning and Policy Division of the Department of Transport, said that the Government’s prized €34.3 billion Transport 21 programme focused entirely on spending money on major transport infrastructure like roads, rail and buses without examining the way transport was used.

“It seems to imply to me that if you invest in infrastructure, you will get a sustainable transport system. You will not by infrastructure alone. There is no mention in it of changes in travel behaviour which is going to be a key element of sustainable transport.”

He said the programme would not be able to keep up with growth in population and car ownership. “With all the investment in Transport 21, at the end of it all, traffic congestion is going to get worse, not because the investment is wrong necessarily, but because growth is going to outstrip it. If we see the solution as investment in supply alone, it’s not going to work.”

Mr Fadden was addressing an international environment conference in Dublin where, he said, commuting distances had doubled since 1990 and average peak time commuting speeds were predicted to fall to just 8km/h by 2016.

Poor planning and policy was not just an urban phenomenon, however, as he cited the case of the west Cork village of Kilcrohane where a new social housing scheme was served by a bus only three times a week. “Every one of the people living there is going to have to have a car,” he said.

Mr Fadden also hit out at planning decisions that allowed intensive construction around new roads. “There is no point building a motorway if you start putting a whole lot of development along it and create more congestion.”

He said political leadership was crucial to tackling the country’s traffic and transport problems. He praised his own minister, Noel Dempsey in transport, for pledging to introduce more pedestrian and cyclist friendly initiatives, but added: “You are going to have to secure extra resources beyond Transport 21 to make that happen”.

“It galls me that cycling is down to 2% of commuters here when in Copenhagen it is 33%. You can bring cycling from 2% up to 10% and beyond that here. It will take 10 years, but it can be done.”

The conference also heard from environmentalist and broadcaster, Duncan Stewart, who said advances in green technology did not reduce carbon emissions from cars in Ireland because people were buying more cars with bigger engines.

Another speaker, John Henry of the Dublin Transportation Office, admitted that major mistakes had been made in the capital, such as the Red Cow roundabout and the building of the M50 as a dual carriageway rather than a three-lane highway, but he asked people not be too harsh in their judgment.

“We knew that the Red Cow interchange would fail, but we did not know how to build anything better so we decided to build it and get 10 years use out of it rather than do nothing.”

Irish Examiner

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