Concerns over the environmental effects of uncontrolled traffic growth were first registered in the 1960s with the Buchanan Report (1963). From the date this report was released the predictions contained within it have by and large come true. The amount of licensed vehicles on the road in the UK has increased from approximately 14,000 in 1970 to an estimated 25,000 in 1996.
The latest increase in traffic is causing widespread congestion in all of the UK major cities with corresponding impacts on the economy and the environment. One of the key adverse environmental effects of congestion is polluted air and from the beginning of the 1980s air pollution levels began to rise in urban areas, abet not on the same scale as the 1950s. The levels peaked in 1991 with a serious with a serious nitrogen dioxide episode in London caused by a combination of meteorological factors and heavy traffic flows. Since then, with the introduction of unleaded petrol and methods adopted in the Air Quality Strategy such as improvements in vehicle technology and reductions in fuel emissions, pollution levels in urban areas have now started to slowly decline.
Local authorities who are engaged in the first review and assessment stage of Local Air Quality Management are finding out that vehicle pollution can still cause pollution hotspots, particularly in restrictive urban configurations such as street canyons. In the longer term the growth of road traffic is expected to offset the technical improvements to vehicles after 2008 (DETR, 1999).
There was therefore a need to promote a modal shift away from the private car so as to reduce congestion and protect human health and the natural environment. The Transport White Paper and the Air Quality Strategy have laid out the Governments strategies. At present little is known about the effectiveness of ‘soft’ options such as restrictions on workplace parking, traffic calming or promoting public transport and a lot of work still needs to be carried out in order to change public attitudes towards the private car.
After conducting this initial research, the group research theme was
formulated with the working title of ‘Promoting modal change in transport’.
The proposal focussed on analysing the effects of congestion on a specific
environmental indicator, local air quality and then examining the methods
of reducing this congestion by changing the public’s mode of transport
away from the private car.