A “greenprint” for sustainable transport in Brighton and Hove

In February this year I joined the campaign to save cycle lanes in Brighton and Hove. I discovered I had touched on a complex, hidden issue that affects our lives profoundly – transport planning. This article is an overview of what might be done to promote sustainable transport in Brighton and Hove – a city that went on to elect the UK’s first Green-led council in May. In a time of financial cutbacks what is achievable in the short term, and what we can aim for in the longer term? Some ideas in this article appear in the Green Party manifesto, and some in Brighton and Hove's Local Transport Plan – but this article is entirely my own opinion. By Russell Honeyman, 31 August 2011

1. Sustainable Transport – the best choice for health and environment

Given the choice, most people would choose clean, comfortable transport that gets them where they want to go quickly.

The reality in most UK cities is that private cars choke the streets, slowing journey times, creating air pollution and making it dangerous for other road users.

The private car has become a safe and convenient choice because our city planners have made it so.

Many European cities have a different approach, offering a choice of:
• fast, efficient public transport (train, bus or tram),
• safe attractive walking and cycling, or
• cars with reduced priority (or electric cars).

Most people welcome this choice, and all the UK’s major political parties are now committed to sustainable transport – at least in principle.

But a fundamental change in city planning is required to undo decades of planning that prioritised car use. Such a fundamental redesign of our cities would need substantial funding, as the problematic Edinburgh Tram scheme shows.

There are options that don't cost much but will make a big difference. Some short-term options that don’t require major capital funding:
• 20mph speed limits - (without humps and bumps) in the city centre and residential areas to improve safety and reduce congestion by improving traffic flow. A 20mph limit will save lives, reduce traffic and encourage walking, cycling and use of public transport.
• Working with communities - to promote safer streets, expansion of car clubs, on-street cycle parking, and a ring-fenced fund for communities to make local environmental improvements.
• A better choice of transport - make it easier and safer to get around the city using public transport, cycling, walking or car. When more people choose sustainable transport, congestion will reduce. Options include 'non-stop' rapid transit buses on key routes, safe cycling and walking routes, and improving public spaces.

Even in this financial climate investment for capital projects can be raised from financial markets. Edinburgh raised £550m for its troubled tram scheme. Yes, these schemes are problematic - always seeming to need more funds than expected – but challenges can be overcome with focus. They may become crippling if we try to prioritise cars at the same time as promoting sustainable transport.

In the longer term planners would redesign the city, taking the heart of the city to take back the public realm from vehicles, and evaluate options to provide a low emission, fast and affordable public transport system. Make sustainable transport the option of choice – and people will happily choose that option.

2. Means and Ends: Policy thinking

Elected councillors need to empower the council planners to research, propose and deliver real choice in sustainable transport. The end result is not yet known, but we need to start with clear policy guidelines.

2.1. The Ends: Long term goals

A city planned around sustainable transport:
• Gives people the choice: walk, cycle, use decent public transport, or a car
• Improves the experience of remaining trips made by car, by reducing traffic and freeing space for travel and parking
• Eventually makes sustainable transport the best choice
• Improves peoples health by making clean air and exercise easy to access
• Gives people space for parks and recreation by reclaiming space from cars
• Has mixed developments of homes and services so people need to travel less
• Consumes less energy and raw materials and produces less waste including CO2, ultimately becoming self-sustaining.

2.2. The Means: how we’ll get there

Policies and priorities that might guide change in the city and achieve sustainable transport for all.

Policy Guidelines for the City Council
• Consider a public transport options, including a network powered by electricity. Many people see a citywide network of electric trams or buses as providing the ultimate solution to all our problems of sustainability, air pollution and public transport. Several UK cities are considering this option and it was on the agenda of Brighton’s planners in the Local Transport Plan LTP2.
• Consider re-regulation of bus services to provide service and cost benefits.
• Improve Air Quality to match European and domestic targets.
• Make streets safer to encourage recreation, walking and cycling and reduce casualties.
• Improve the “public realm” (public spaces) by diverting heavy traffic and converting space to parks and other shared spaces.
• Increase the proportion of trips made by walking and cycling.

Priorities: projects we could aim to achieve in 2011-2015
• First priorities for Brighton and Hove
- 20mph limit across the city
- Public bike hire scheme
-  Improve accessibility: a core network of safe cycle and walking routes, eg. to University and SNDP.

• Public realm improvements:
- Reducing car dominance, improving environment: Brighton Station Gateway, Brighton Old Town, Valley Gardens, Preston Circus.
- Improvement of streets: reduce clutter, increase places to sit,
- Implement Home Zones in residential areas,
- Extend residents parking, both for cars and street cycle parking.

• Sustainable and Public transport
- Examine and recommend options for public transport network
- Trialling hybrid buses
- Introduction of a version of the Oyster Card (the “Key Card” is now in planning for our city)
- Promotion of ‘smarter’ choices: car clubs and electric vehicles
- Rapid Transit on key routes linking places across the city and Sussex, including the Coastal Transport Scheme.
- Focus on schools biking and walking projects.

• Funding ideas:
- Allocate 20% of transport budget to walking and cycling
- Ring-fence some parking revenue for transport, community projects
- Workplace parking charges.