What strategies have led to the new policy?
The Welsh Government’s Wales Transport Strategy of March 2021 has three priorities:
- to bring services to people in order to reduce the need to travel;
- to allow people and goods to move easily from to door by accessible, sustainable and efficient transport services and infrastructure; and
- to encourage people to make the change to more sustainable transport.
The ambitions of the transport strategy are to create conditions which are good for people and communities, the environment, the economy and places, and culture and the Welsh language. These ambitions align with the legal framework of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act which is concerned with improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales.
The transport strategy is fully aligned with the Net Zero Wales Carbon Budget 2, which has the ambition of reducing emissions from passenger transport by 22% in 2025 and 98% in 2050, reducing the number of car miles travelled per person by 10% by 2030, and increasing the proportion of trips by public transport and active travel to 35% by 2025 and 39% by 2030.
Further policy support is provided by the Future Wales – the National Plan 2040 which sets an aim for people to live in places where travel has low environmental impact and low emissions, with reduced reliance on private vehicles.
The transport strategy adopts a Sustainable Transport Hierarchy to guide decisions on investment in infrastructure, which prioritises walking and cycling (active travel), then public transport, then ultra-low emission vehicles, and finally other private motor vehicles.
The Welsh Government is demonstrating that strong transport strategy needs to align with planning, environmental and well-being strategies.
What is the new roads policy?
The Welsh Government established a Roads Review Panel to report on road investment so that it is aligned to the delivery of the Wales Transport Strategy ambitions and priorities. The Welsh Government’s roads policy is now that ‘all new roads need to contribute towards achieving modal shift – both to tackle climate change and to reduce congestion on the road network for freight’. The Welsh Government will continue to consider investment in roads in the following circumstances:
- To support modal shift and reduce carbon emissions.
- To improve safety through small-scale changes.
- To adapt to the impacts of climate change.
- To provide access and connectivity to jobs and centres of economic activity in a way that supports modal shift.
In more detail, the Roads Review Panel report defines four conditions that investment schemes should meet as follows:
- Minimise carbon emissions in construction;
- Not increase road capacity for cars;
- Not lead to higher vehicle speeds that increase emissions; and
- Not adversely affect ecologically valuable sites.
What are the implications?
The Panel report presents many wide-ranging recommendations relating to the delivery and design of schemes. These have included recommendations concerned with design speed, speed limit reviews, road safety and highway maintenance.
With walking and cycling being at the top of the Sustainable Transport Hierarchy, all road schemes should support active travel network development as a primary objective. The Panel report states that all new roads ‘must have appropriate provision for active travel’. This requires comprehensive networks of comfortable and attractive routes to cater for people of all abilities. To create comprehensive active travel networks, the Panel report recommends that rural investment schemes have their boundaries extended so that active travel routes reach the nearest adjacent settlements to the scheme.
Further, the Panel report emphasises guidance provided to designers that states that they ‘should be realistic about cyclists wanting to make adequate progress’ (para 11.16.6 of the Active Travel Act Guidance). This is a direct call to designers, pointing out the need for them to take the guidance seriously. The Panel also states that ‘cycle traffic should preferably be separated from pedestrian traffic to avoid conflict and allow cyclists to travel at a comfortable speed’ (para 9.13.1).
As the Panel’s report suggests, transport planners, highway engineers and traffic engineers need to improve conditions for active travel users in the same way that in the past these improvements have been directed to private car users. The Panel has also pointed to the need for further design development in relation to active travel, particularly highlighting the absence in the design guidance of roundabout designs for rural situations.
Should the Active Travel Act be updated?
The Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 requires local authorities to ‘have regard to the integrated network map for its area’ (Section 6), and then they ‘must in every year secure that there are (a) new active travel routes and related facilities, and (b) improvements of existing active travel routes and related facilities’ (Section 7). Hence the act only creates a legal requirement to ‘plan’, and following that, there is no minimum specified for the quantum of new routes and facilities that need to be secured.
Beyond giving grants, it may be time for the Welsh Government to secure collaborative agreements with local authorities for the delivery of schemes that will then more significantly change the quantum of active travel infrastructure, and hence active travelling by larger proportions of the population.
As well as further development of delivery mechanisms for active travel schemes, the professions need to apply their skills and knowledge to deliver a sustainable transport system for Wales.
The climate emergency has completely changed the task at hand for transport professionals.
This blog was written by John Parkin, Professor of Transport Engineering, Deputy Director, Centre for Transport and Society, University of the West of England, Bristol.