Orders of the Day — Traffic Congestion (Large Cities)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1959.

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Photo of Mr Christopher Boyd Mr Christopher Boyd , Bristol North West 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

One thing about which there is general agreement is the necessity for taking rather drastic action to clear the way through our cities. We want to divert traffic that has no reason to go through the centre of a big city to go round it and avoid it. Another point that has emerged during the debate is that parking is perhaps the biggest cause of congestion and the most urgent problem requiring still more drastic action.

Quite a lot has been done about developing and improving the roads, making motorways and improving inner circle roads, but we still seem to be rather timid about the parking problem. I think that is why so many hon. Members have tended to concentrate their attention on it.

I did not hear the Minister say anything about stopping double parking. If I am wrong, I hope to be corrected. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with it when he winds up the debate. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said, double parking seems unfair. I hope that every motorist has a social conscience about these things and enough common sense not to park in a place which would be unfair to other traffic. At any rate, that is what most motorists do most of the time, but they get extremely frustrated in their search for a space to park and eventually resort to double parking.

The rules for which we ask are not rules which would be resented, and the majority of motorists are the very people who want stricter rules, so that their cars can get through and so that they can have freer movement. If the rules are carefully worked out, everyone will benefit so much from the clearing of the way that they will be quite willing to accept the limitations. That will also result in many motorists deciding not to bring their cars into the middle of the city and preferring to come in by bus or train and to walk from the station or bus stop, which may be nearer to their destination than the nearest car park.

That would cut down the number of car journeys and would make it easier to keep city bus services running adequately. It would also encourage the shift back to the railways. It is very curious that the railways seem unable to pay their way at the very time that the roads are heavily over-congested. The volume of heavy traffic going by road through the cities and across country—incidentally belching out smoke which must be reaching a quantity were it adds seriously to the health danger in the atmosphere—cannot be economic if everything is taken into account.

I still cannot accept the assurance, which one hears from time to time, that heavy lorries are a more economic way of transporting heavy goods than are the railways. I should have thought that that traffic should go back to the railways. No doubt when we re-nationalise road haulage the railways will have a larger say and will probably take that traffic. That is probably a better way than trying to price the lorries off the road by heavy taxation, which may in practice be more unfair.

Considering the degree of congestion associated with a few extra inches of width of a vehicle, or the danger when a vehicle is so large that it obscures a large amount of road, I wonder whether the tax paid by owners of some of the larger vehicles corresponds to the degree of their nuisance value and congestion-causing capacity on the roads.

One can travel anywhere on the roads today and find that it is a matter of passing not individual vehicles but whole trains of vehicles headed by a heavy, slow-moving vehicle which it is difficult to overtake. Such things cause tremendous delay and the whole train is held up for miles, through cities and across the countryside, by relatively few vehicles. I wonder what the cost is of the resulting hold-ups. It cannot be met by the owners of the vehicles and it may not be feasible to deal with this problem by market mechanism. It may be better to have a co-ordinated transport system and to put the heavy stuff on the railways, because it is common sense to put it on the railways even if under present arrangements it is better to send it by road.

We must be prepared to be rather drastic about no parking on main roads if we are to have clear passage on the motorways. In any case, most motorists do not want to park on main roads because it is obvious that to do so holds up traffic. I cannot help thinking that a large proportion of accidents results from the presence of stationary vehicles on heavily congested roads. The safety factor is only one of many reasons for keeping a clear way along main roads, both in towns and outside.

I hope that we shall push ahead with getting considerable sections of otherwise congested highways totally banned to stationary and slow moving vehicles. The expression "motorway" is presumably intended to imply that unmotorised traffic cannot use the roads. Perhaps we shall have a minimum speed limit somewhat higher than has yet been seen in other countries which have had these motorways for longer than we have had them. Now is the time for us to get ahead of those countries and to provide for a substantial minimum speed limit. It is the slow-moving vehicles which cause congestion, and such a minimum speed limit would be one way of getting some of the lorries off the road and making it not worth while to send so much traffic by lorry.

We are all familiar with particular roads and places, and many hon. Members have pressed the need for spending more money on certain projects. To judge from the Budget, this is a year for spending more money on re-expanding employment, and I should have thought that more might be done on clearing the way around some of the big cities. An instance is provided in Bristol where the remaining section of an inner circle road is held up for want of Government permission to go ahead—I understand on financial grounds. In practice, there is a heavy financial loss resulting from the hold up of his final link in the inner circle road, because developers of the shop sites in the neighbourhood are refusing to go ahead with their plans, so that land lies vacant and unused.

The city council is some way ahead of the Government and has cleared the land and is ready to go ahead with the completion of the circle road. Meanwhile, the land lies vacant and the city council is not getting the rents and rates which it should be drawing for that land. Thus there is a substantial economic loss in the failure of the attempts to be economical. It would be more economical to go ahead more rapidly with developments of this kind. In many cases there might be a danger of other building developments making it more expensive to go ahead later on. I ask the Minister to be willing to put more money into this sort of work. I think that he is looking for the support of the House in his applications to his colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for more money to spend on roads. I am sure that he will have that support, and we look forward to a more rapid rate of permissions for these schemes to go ahead.

I want now to refer to safety. I agree with what has been said about the ineffectiveness of some safety propaganda. Much the most effective of the various forms of road safety propaganda has been the sign boards saying "Accident black spot", or "So many people were killed on this section of road last year". I think that those posters shake people sufficiently, and if that sort of thing were done more widely at places where there have been accidents—and, of course, the facts must be correct—the posters would make people think.

It may be said that following one particular method of propaganda too far will make it lose some of its effectiveness, but as that example applies to particular places and as people do not know why there have been accidents on that stretch of road, they are liable to drive more carefully along that section and perhaps some of their careful driving will overlap along their subsequent route. There may be other and equally effective ways of making people realise the seriousness and the danger of careless or inefficient driving. I commend the further use of that method.