Investing in public transport: low car use can save the countryside

13th December 2020

Climate Emergencies are now being declared at a pace, including by most local authorities in Hertfordshire. But what does it mean in practice and how willing or able are we to make changes to the way we live and move around? It’s important to join up the dots and think holistically.

We know that greenhouse gas emissions from transport account for the largest portion of UK emissions – up to 33% if sea and air travel are included. A recent study by JLL consultants quantified the amount of urban land dedicated to car use in 10 European cities. It estimated that 30-50% of urban land is taken up by roads, junctions, car parks and hard surfaces: land solely used for vehicles when the average car is parked for 95% of the time.

In London, private car use and ownership is in long term decline. This is leading to a rethink on road space for cycling and underused car parks as sites for potential redevelopment. It shows how a modal shift from high car use to lower car use means a huge opportunity to transition redundant roads and parking to new public parks, housing, and commercial space. This reduces the need for housing sprawl in the countryside which is most likely to create car dependent places.

CPRE has long campaigned for the re-use of brownfield land ahead of greenfield land as well as challenging damaging road building programmes. A switch to low car use is needed to address to address the climate emergency with investment in electric transport, bikes, light rail, trams and trains. These will help achieve far better densities without compromising the quality of the environment.

CPRE Hertfordshire has written to the County Council to support feasibility studies into an east-west tram linking Watford in the west to Broxbourne in the east of the County. The County advanced the possibility of a Mass Rapid Transit system as part of its A414 Corridor Study in 2019. Providing high quality public transport links across the County could support town centres and reduce car dependency. Existing railway lines in the county run north to south. The east west linkage would be part of a strategic approach for high quality clean public transport which makes best use of urban land, safeguards the countryside, reduces congestion, improves air quality and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.