Monday, 17 November 1997

Transport Campaigns: Aug - Nov 1997

Road Traffic Reduction Bill

Following frantic behind-the-scenes lobbying in Westminster in the final days before Parliament packed up for the General Election, the Road Traffic Reduction Bill has passed all its stages and is now law. This is a tremendous success and marks an end to decades of transport policy driven solely by the need to cater for more and more cars. Thanks are due to all those MPs and local councils who supported it, but also to all local group members who have helped with this campaign.

As you will probably be aware, in order to get the support of the Government and thus give us the best chance of the Bill becoming law before the election, it was agreed to drop the demand for national targets. So the Act focuses on local councils. All Highway Authorities will have to prepare a report that firstly must assess current local traffic levels, and secondly should set targets for future local traffic levels. The only way a council will be able to avoid setting targets is by convincing the Department of Transport that it is inappropriate. The DoT have said that they intend to take a firm line on councils not setting targets.

Despite the lack of national targets, the Road Traffic Reduction Act is still a very powerful tool. What will it mean for local campaigners? In the words of Don Foster at the Westminster rally in January, “Your  council will have to consult with you and indeed your whole community on measures to cut back on traffic in your area - and then those measures will be funded in future spending rounds. This will give all of  you leverage - no longer will any local council be able to sideline your demands for road traffic reduction. Your agenda will have a legal force. Your demands will be central to local policy setting in the next few years. You, not the traffic increase lobby, will be driving policy”.

After the general election FoE will be pushing the Labour Government to introduce Road Traffic Reduction Bill II which will push for national targets.

Road Traffic Reduction Bill 2
Due to the watering down of the Road Traffic Reduction Act, a second bill has been launched with national targets for traffic reduction. The bill has now had its first reading in the House of Commons which is just a formality. The second reading is not until 30 January 1998 so gives us time to generate more support than ever before. 

The activities planned so far include a rally at Trafalgar Square,  Saturday 27 September, 2pm, and a national day of action on Saturday 30 August.

The day of action will be discussed at the transport group meeting, so if you want to know what we are going to do or want to take part in the day of action come to a transport  meeting or phone either Shaun or Rebecca.

As for the rally in London, it would be very useful if people could tell us as soon as possible if they are interested in taking part so that we can arrange a mini bus or cheap train tickets. Phone Shaun if you are interested or want more information.

Local Transport Day
At last! The long awaited  Local Transport Day finally took place on Saturday 10 May. It was attended by representatives from the Council’s transport unit, the Passenger Transport Executive, health professionals, disability groups, pensioners, bus and tram operators, and groups like Friends of the Earth. 

The chief concerns of the pensioners were the £5 travel pass and poor access to most buses due to steps, the lack of rails and having to walk in the road because of cars parking in bus stops. The access issues were also important to the disability group and most other people. The good news is that mainline are currently re-designing a 51 bus to make it more accessible and the transport professionals took the issue of getting from the bus stop to the bus seriously. Mainline informed us that the cost of easy access buses are coming down in price and all future buses should be of this type.

Although the Supertram system is a paragon for easy access, their representative outlined some of the company’s future plans for improvements. Firstly, they would like to see further stops added, especially on City Road and Crystal Peaks, but they recognise that this may slow down journeys. They are aiming to put CCTV on all stops with a public address system so passengers can be kept informed. To further improve security, they are thinking about installing alarm buttons on tram stops so people in distress can talk to staff in the control centre. Supertram’s biggest priority is to increase integration of the service with buses and to provide through ticketing.

Some ideas and plans for future transport projects include more bus lanes and public transport priority, trying to open Millhouses station, rebuilding the bridge links around the rail station and spending money on pedestrianisation. 

Although it was interesting listening to the various speeches, I thought the most important and enjoyable part of the day was attending  two workshops to look at how we can improve integration, information and ticketing, and the quality of services and routes.

If anyone is interested in reading a more comprehensive set of minutes then please contact Shaun from the transport group.

Reclaim the Streets
It was a dull, not quite raining day when a group of us huddled rather than assembled under our FoE banners on Devonshire Green.  At first there were more police than protesters. (Earlier, as I walked to the gathering, I had seen a number of not so discrete squad cars and officers on horseback waiting down side roads.)   Several Saturday morning shoppers stopped to make remarks to the effect that our boys in blue would be better employed catching real criminals rather than trying to herd a bunch of harmless environmentalists.

Gradually the Green began to fill: Peddle Pushers and other assorted cyclists adjusting their bikes, musicians, families, official observers in tabards, organisers handing out what-to-do-if-arrested leaflets and passers-by pausing then getting drawn into the event.  Eventually the milling around formed into a parade headed by a lorry with a PA system broadcasting bright, sunny music in defiance of the weather. Initially we were diverted down back streets that hardly ever seem to see traffic anyway, but then everything came to a halt on Charter Row.  Another PA system brought up the rear,  stallholders started setting up and selling food, and people drew in chalks on the road surface, sat down in groups for picnics, drummed on the crash barriers, danced, hung ropes from the overhead walkways to make swings, unfurled banners along the multistorey car park, played frisbee with their kids, wandered about talking. The cyclists turned the traffic islands at Charter Square and Furnival Square into merry-go-rounds, circling with an hypnotic elegance, slowing the cars.  I kept bumping into people I knew, people I never thought I’d see at something like this.

Deciding to get a little more into the party mood, I left the demo in search of an off-licence.  Two things struck me as I entered the main part of the city.  The first was how much more polluted the air here seemed in comparison to that in Charter Row, even though traffic had only been out of the area for a few hours.  The second was the Saturday afternoon crowds; not the numbers, but the fact that everyone was dashing in straight lines from one shop to the next.  Try standing still to talk with a friend and you risked causing a major pedestrian pile-up.  It felt as if the only legitimate reason for being out was to consume.  For me it was a graphic reminder that reducing car use isn't just about combating pollution, or saving the countryside, or even preventing road deaths, it’s also about giving people the space to be human.

BY GANDOLF PERKINS
Sheffield FoE Campaigner