Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Congestion Charge for Aberdeen

It seems that, pushed to the brink by financial mismanagement and the austerity it has caused, Aberdeen City Council (ACC) is proposing the introduction of a London-style town centre congestion charge to help balance the budget.

Firstly, let us point out that those who believe that Aberdeen has a serious problem with traffic congestion are displaying a hopelessly parochial attitude and don't get out too much - they clearly haven't been to other UK cities recently. This video shows Glasgow commuter traffic:

Aberdeen traffic is light by comparison.

Anyhow, if you've read this blog, by now we're quite sure that you'll reckon that we'd be in favour of a congestion charge for Aberdeen. And you'd be right. However, ACC have made a dreadful political mis-step by openly declaring that their intention in introducing the charge would be primarily for revenue generation - such a policy clearly victimises motorists and will provoke a backlash. Because of this poorly handled political aspect, we think that the chance that a congestion charge will be introduced has actually been reduced.

It is all the more surprising that ACC should make such a political mis-step when we have the world-renowned University of Aberdeen Centre for Transport Research based here. Travel Demand Management is one of the specialities of the Centre, which recently completed a study demonstrating that, as in Stockholm, congestion charging can be introduced with the benefit of a fair political wind behind it if the public are allowed to experience a trial period; allowing the benefits to become clear.

The study’s findings show that support increases significantly if people become more convinced of the positive benefits for themselves or for society, as they are more prepared to adapt, on the condition that it is to their advantage.

So, while a congestion charge shouldn't really be looked upon as primarily a revenue-raising measure, we should welcome it and any steps which will limit the extent to which private cars erode the pleasant liveability of Aberdeen. For too long has too much space been donated to the unilateral demands of the motoring lobby - and still they demand more! Will they ever be satisfied? To ask the question is to answer it.

Too often we hear from friends and relatives and correspondants and the local press that there's "no alternative" to the car for getting around Aberdeen. We have to ask ourselves - what's wrong with these people? Can't they walk? Are they really that dependent upon their cars? Are they truly so debilitated by this dependancy that walking even just a mile is out of the question? Aberdeen is no metropolis; it is a charmingly compact and pleasantly walkable medium sized town. Haven't they noticed? Why not leave the car outside the town centre and walk the rest of the way? It costs nothing and it has great personal and civic benefits. Aberdeen would be more pleasant yet were the air quality improved and more road space available in the city centre for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. And even equestrians - why not? That'd be great!

Urban dual-carriageway: congestion, noise, visible and smelly pollution. And some roses.
The roses, unfortunately, cannot mask the smell.
Yes, we do appreciate that this advocacy of actually walking a little bit is a revolutionary and radical idea, and that it will involve a transformative step-change in attitudes - but have you ever been to continental Europe? Aberdeen has a great deal in common with many similar-sized regional-centre towns across central and northern Europe. Culturally, historically, geographically and civically, these places resemble Aberdeen. Transport-wise, however, they are a different world. Forty years ago, while we plonked inner-city dual carriageways and multi-story carparks in the town centre, they (generally) decided to preserve the central urban realm at the human (rather than the motorcar) scale.

The result is that, today - when compared to Aberdeen - many towns in continental Europe have much more pleasant town centres where people live, visit, work, do business and are entertained - all untroubled by the danger, noise, smell and inconvenience of heavy traffic. Sustrans is like a weird voice in the wilderness in the UK in its call for "Quality Streets". On the continent, there is no need for pressure groups to lobby for policies like these - it's just the way things are already.

So we should look at our European competitors (for that is what they are) and realise that we share their heritage. Rather than try to turn Aberdeen into Houston, we should let Aberdeen be what it is - a north European merchant city. For a modern attitude to transport, we need only to look back to the time when cars didn't dominate the centre and try to recapture the feel of that human-scale city. This is not America.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not to mention the great cost savings by simply abandoning unnecessary schemes such as the 3rd Don Crossing and associated roadworks.

WE could then release at least half of the roadway from the Denburn dual carriageway (has anyone every seen this busy?) Perhaps we could even make developing the back of Belmont St financially able to provide light bridging to UTG.