For the first time in 30 years road traffic is in decline, according to the latest data from the Department for Transport. The decline began last Spring but was particularly marked (2.2% down) in the Summer in response to rocketing fuel prices. However the decline has continued through to the end of 2008 despite fuel prices dropping back, due to the recession. All this is against an expected growth in traffic of between 1% and 2% a year.
Road deaths have also fallen by more than 400 to 2,610, about 5 times the usual annual decrease, although deaths of cyclists have increased. New car sales have slumped, over 30% down. In Bristol and other cities congestion has decreased by 5% (in terms of time wasted in congestion). Traffic on urban roads has decreased by about 1% compared to the previous year. The expectation must be that traffic levels will continue to decline as the recession develops, due to declining employment and discretionary expenditure in general being cut back.
Most of which is good news as far as I'm concerned, except of course for the increased death rate for cyclists. That is likely to reflect a sudden influx of novice cyclists who haven't yet developed survival strategies (like jumping red lights) to the extent of experienced cyclists. But leaving that aside, things are looking good from an environmental perspective. Of course the recession won't last forever but it gives us a breathing space to explore the potential for reducing our car dependence.
Yet Bristol City Council are still wedded to transport priorities based on the assumption that traffic growth will continue relentlessly into the future. Strategies for accommodating traffic growth like Bus Rapid Transit and Congestion Charging must be called into question. Much of the financial "justification" for public transport subsidy, such as the proposed expenditure on BRT infrastructure, is based on the time savings accruing to motorists as a result of reduced congestion. But if congestion is reducing anyway......