Uncharted Territory

May 27, 2011

The UK’s RTFO – Electricity Should Count

Filed under: Biofuels, Electricity, Energy, Global warming, Rail, Road, RTFO, Transport — Tim Joslin @ 4:14 pm

The UK’s RTFO (Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation) is the policy dating back to 2007 that enacts an EU Directive requiring member states to ensure that an increasing proportion of transport fuel is renewable. This meant biofuels. I’ve written previously at length about this folly, most recently here. RTFO, folly, policy, maybe we should talk about the “follicy”, the “RTFOlly” or even the “RTFOllicy”!

Anyway, the EU seems to have listened to at least some of the many organisations objecting to their biofuel policy. They’ve come up with not one, but two new Directives which affect national policies on the issue:

  • The Renewable Energy Directive (“the RED”), 2009/28/EC (pdf), is broader in scope than transport. It details the requirements on EU member states to meet the 2020 goal of 20% renewable energy in the EU as a whole. Whilst this is broken down into different targets for different countries (for example the UK has to get to 15%), the Directive reaffirms a uniform 10% renewable target for transport fuels. It includes a lot more detail on how this can be done, though, including sustainability requirements of various kinds.
  • A new Fuel Quality Directive (“the FQD”), 2009/30/EC (pdf) which amends an earlier FQD by introducing an Article 7 (actually I now see there’s a bit more complexity than that – you can’t take anything on trust, can you?), which introduces two extra requirements:
    • to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in transport fuel by 6% by 2020;
    • for transport biofuels to meet certain sustainability criteria.  Apparently these are to all intents and purposes the same as those included in the RED, so perhaps the FQD is a Directive too far and the RED should have just covered everything.

Accordingly the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) has initiated not one, but two reviews (hey, we can create a legislative mess just as well as they can in Brussels!), with consultations on both open until next Thursday (2nd June):

  • The RED Public Consultation, which considers amendments to the RTFO, to meet the new Directive including biofuel sustainability criteria.
  • The FQD Public Consultation, which only covers the requirement to reduce by 6% by 2020 the greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of transport fuel or energy.

One of the problems with biofuel policy in the EU – apart the very existence of quotas and subsidies in the first place – is that it has become hideously complex.  There are no doubt many little devils in the detail.  But all I’m going to cover in this post is one aspect of the RED.

It seems that the EU has actually done something sensible.  They’ve introduced a clause to ensure that the 10% renewable energy in transport target is technologically neutral.  That is, they’ve back-tracked on trying to second-guess what kind of non fossil-fuel powered cars many of us will be driving by 2030 or so.  Yeap, they’ve only gone and allowed renewable electricity (and hydrogen for that matter) to count towards the 10% target.

Here’s what they say in paragraph 4 of article 3 of the RED:

“4. Each Member State shall ensure that the share of energy from renewable sources in all forms of transport in 2020 is at least 10% of the final consumption of energy in transport in that Member State. For the purposes of this paragraph, the following provisions shall apply:

(a) for the calculation of the denominator, that is the total amount of energy consumed in transport for the purposes of the first subparagraph, only petrol, diesel, biofuels consumed in road and rail transport, and electricity shall be taken into account;

(b) for the calculation of the numerator, that is the amount of energy from renewable sources consumed in transport for the purposes of the first subparagraph, all types of energy from renewable sources consumed in all forms of transport shall be taken into account;

(c) for the calculation of the contribution from electricity produced from renewable sources and consumed in all types of electric vehicles for the purpose of points (a) and (b), Member States may choose to use either the average share of electricity from renewable energy sources in the Community or the share of electricity from renewable energy sources in their own country as measured two years before the year in question. Furthermore, for the calculation of the electricity from renewable energy sources consumed by electric road vehicles, that consumption shall be considered to be 2,5 times the energy content of the input of electricity from renewable energy sources.

By 31 December 2011, the Commission shall present, if appropriate, a proposal permitting, subject to certain conditions, the whole amount of the electricity originating from renewable sources used to power all types of electric vehicles to be considered.

By 31 December 2011, the Commission shall also present, if appropriate, a proposal for a methodology for calculating the contribution of hydrogen originating from renewable sources in the total fuel mix.”

I’m afraid I can’t be held liable for any migraines induced by clauses a) and b). I suggest we come back to those when we’re feeling at our best.

It’s clause c) that’s interesting. But when we look at the DfT’s RED Consultation document (pdf) this is what they say (on p.39-40):

“11.6.1. Allowing all renewable fuels to receive RTFCs

We propose to remove the specific list of renewable fuels which may count towards a supplier’s obligation to supply renewable transport fuel in article 5(3) of the RTFO Order. Instead the Order will allow the renewable part of any transport fuel to be eligible for an appropriate number of RTFCs.

We believe our proposal will reduce the burden on industry by enabling any newly developed fuels to automatically count towards the RTFO.

The RED permits all forms of renewable energy to be used to count towards the 10% transport target. While the Directive does allow for the use of renewable hydrogen to meet this target, there is not currently a methodology in place for calculating the contribution of hydrogen from renewable sources. However, the Directive does require the European Commission to come forward with a proposal for such a method by 31st December 2011. We do not propose any amendment to the RTFO to allow renewable hydrogen to be eligible for RTFCs at this time but we will keep this issue under review.

Similarly, we do not propose to allow renewably generated electricity for transport to be eligible for RTFCs at this time. Again, we will keep this issue under review.” [my stress]

This is a bit odd, since the EU clearly said in article 3, paragraph 4, clause a) that in calculating the total energy used in transport:

“…only petrol, diesel, biofuels consumed in road and rail transport, and electricity shall be taken into account.”

which is a tad imprecise (presumably the “only” is present because they assume member states will want to minimise this figure), but I think can be taken to mean:

“…all petrol, diesel, biofuels and electricity consumed in road and rail transport, and no other fuel, shall be taken into account.”

and in clause b) more clearly that:

“…all types of energy from renewable sources consumed in all forms of transport shall be taken into account.”

The DfT’s RED Consultation document, then, provides no evidence that we know what the RTFO target should actually be, because electricity used to power transport has not been taken into account.

Furthermore, the argument for electricity is not “similar” to that for hydrogen, as the RED Consultation dismissively states in section 11.6.1 (above).  Unlike for hydrogen, the RED does supply a “methodology… for calculating the contribution [of electricity] from renewable sources”. In fact, it supplies two methodologies!  Pending a proposal for more accurate calculation (due by the end of 2011), the UK could elect to use either the proportion of renewable energy in the EU as a whole or in the UK (RED Article 3, paragraph 4, already quoted above).

Not including electricity makes the 2020 target more difficult to meet, because, both in the EU as a whole and in the UK, the proportion of renewable energy in electricity will be much greater than the 10% RED transport fuel target. Indeed the target under the UK’s Renewables Obligation scheme for the proportion of electricity from renewable sources by 2015 is 15% (keep on these numeric alliterations – must be a word for that – aren’t they?).

And it’s not as if the proportion of transport powered by electricity is trivial, since it already includes the majority of rail, including the London Underground a few trams and the odd remaining milk float!  That’s before we take account of the Climate Change Committee’s targets for electric vehicle uptake!

Why the omission? One possibility is that we don’t care, because we’re quite happy to promote biofuels to an even greater extent more than mandated by the EU.

But this hardly seems likely. Remember I said we’d have to come back to the EU’s clauses a) and b)? Well, I’ve steeled myself with a strong cup of coffee and am ready to tackle it. What these clauses say is that you can count renewable fuel used off-road (in farm vehicles and pleasure-boats etc – the DfT even have an abbreviation, NRMM, “non-road mobile machinery” for this set of vehicle categories) towards the target proportion of renewable road and rail fuel! Completely bonkers, of course. No doubt there’s a reason, some fix they got themselves into trying to implement the policy. Let’s not dwell on that.

The point is that the DfT proposes to scale back its RTFO targets to take account of the inconsistency between clauses a) and b). They lay out policy options (section 11.5, p.28ff) and note (on p.31) that:

Given our concerns regarding the sustainability of biofuel, at this stage we do not wish to see any additional increases in the volume of biofuel supplied in the UK above those already set out in the current RTFO [which did not take NRMM fuel into account]. We therefore propose to pursue Option B [to scale back the annual RTFO targets – which is actually done retrospectively (scaling back targets retrospectively? – we’re definitely not in Kansas any more!) in Table 3 on p.32].” (my stress as usual, as well as comments in square brackets)

A second possibility is that maybe the DfT hasn’t realised the significance of the inclusion of electricity. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. Because there’s another curious passage in the RED Consultation document. On p.50 we find:

“11.7.2. Preventing the use under the RTFO of renewable fuel that has already been used under another obligation

As discussed earlier, the RED has two targets for the supply of renewable fuel. In order to ensure that renewable fuel is not counted twice towards the different targets, we propose to require that suppliers submit a declaration stating that the renewable transport fuel for which they are claiming an RTFC has not been used to discharge any other renewable energy obligation (for example the Renewables Obligation).” (my stress)

But the Renewables Obligation relates specifically to electricity generation!

The DfT’s FQD Consultation document (pdf) adds even more confusion:

  • On p.6, in section 6, “Who should read this consultation?” it includes “a provider of electricity for use in transport”, a category not included in the corresponding section of the RED Consultation document.
  • On p.10 in section 7, “Overview of the FQD” they note very clearly that:

“Furthermore, Article 7a(1) requires Member States to ensure that providers of electricity for use in road vehicles can choose to contribute to the GHG reduction obligation if they can demonstrate that the electricity they provided was used in electric vehicles.” (my stress)

  • On p.14, in section 10, they note that they will:

Establish rules for grouping and the participation of electricity providers for electric vehicles;

  • And they discuss the issue on p.34, in section 11.12, “Electricity for use in road vehicles”:
  • “The FQD requires Member States to ensure that providers of electricity for use in road vehicles can choose to contribute to the GHG emission reduction obligation if they can demonstrate that the electricity they provided was used in road vehicles.We propose to designate electricity providers as being those entities that sell electricity for public consumption. In order for an electricity provider to contribute to the GHG reduction obligation we would require them to supply adequate proof that the electricity they provided was used in road vehicles.

    The European Commission is in the process of considering how to account for the GHG emissions associated with electricity. Initial proposals from the Commission have suggested that Member States would be able to choose between assigning the GHG intensity of electricity used in electric vehicles as being equal to either the Member State average, or the EU-wide average for electricity generally.”

    A strange reading of the RED, which to me is not an “initial proposal”, but an “interim measure”, allowing progress towards the 2020 target to be tracked – more thorough accounting would make the target easier to achieve.

Why, then, has the DfT (or at least the RED Consultation team) ignored the opportunity to meet the RED transport fuel obligation by – at least in part – using renewable electricity? My guess is that there are two main reasons:

  • They’ve baulked at the sheer complexity.  For example, different numbers of Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) are awarded for a unit of energy depending on the technology used to generate the electricity.  Converting them into Renewable Transport Fuel Certificates (RTFCs) would require either knowledge of the energy source or assuming that they are representative of the mix.
  • Vested interests now exist in the biofuel supply market.  Perhaps, although the DfT is now concerned about the sustainability of biofuels, they feel politically unable to reduce the total amount of biofuel in the UK’s quota below that previously assumed (even though, to meet the original quotas more biofuel would have had to be supplied because some would “leak” into the NRMM market and be unable to receive RTFCs).

It seems to me that these problems – assuming my guesses are correct – can be overcome.  A rule (such as an average weighting for all renewable sources on the network) for converting ROCs to RTFCs is perfectly feasible.  And even this is not absolutely necessary, since – to point out once again something the DfT seems to have misunderstood – the EU has allowed assumptions about the proportion of renewable electricity supplied to the transport sector to be made.

If renewable electricity suppliers are denied the opportunity to benefit from the RTFO they have a clear case for complaint. The whole point of the latest EU Directives is surely to ensure that the latest EU thinking – including technological neutrality and effectively a lower biofuel target for 2020, as well as measures to ensure biofuel sustainability – is included in the rules for schemes operated by the member states.

It does not appear that the UK’s RTFO scheme will be compliant with the EU’s RED following the current review.

January 20, 2010

Parking Paralysis (and Housing Horror)

As we head towards what promises to be a fascinating General Election, the absurd first past the post system has ensured the parties are united in their zeal to pander to Middle England. And Middle England, it seems, is consumed with localist fervour.

What is localism, anyway?

The politicians would have you believe that the first stop on the road to true democracy is to “empower communities”. That is, they assert the moral right of the current residents of a given area to make a broad range of decisions without reference to the general interest.

The idea that the primary unit of a complex modern society is a “community” of people living near one another is, of course, absurd. In fact, our personal networks – including families – are, in general, becoming more and more geographically dispersed. We have little in common with most of our neighbours, other than the area where we live.

Harking back to an outmoded idea of the community masks what is really going on. What’s really happening is that the political process is becoming more and more skewed towards vested interests and against the general interest.

Take housing, for example. This morning I heard the Housing Minister, John Healey, on the Today programme, promising to clamp down on “garden-grabbing”.

Let’s put to one side the fact that John Prescott was right: we need to increase housing density. Labour has caved in on this principle as the Tories have gradually captured local government. But below a certain threshold of population density local shops are not economically viable; nor is public transport. Pretty soon everyone’s driving to Tesco’s. And the same nauseating nimbys who prevented “overdevelopment” are complaining about the loss of local shops and whinging about “Tesco towns”.

I consider it absolutely ridiculous that I’m in London Transport Zone 3, but 10 minutes walk from a pint of milk and a newspaper. If there were a few more flats nearby and perhaps fewer large private gardens, maybe there’d be enough people in walking distance to sustain a local corner-shop. If it could get planning permission.

Let’s ignore the “community” narrative and instead consider what’s really happening with the “clamp-down” on “garden-grabbing”. What John Healey is really doing is strengthening the rights of neighbours over the owners or prospective owners of property – despite the fact that the size of gardens has marginal impact on neighbouring properties, or, for that matter, their value. If they reduce the size of a garden, those bogey-men, the developers, are not simply being bloody-minded. The market is telling them that the land has less value as a garden than as building. If the opposite was the case they’d increase the size of gardens.

Obviously, the reason why “building” is more highly valued than “garden” could have something to do with the lack of available housing in many parts of the UK. But clearly our leaders don’t see this isn’t a good enough basis for a decision. The visceral feelings of neighbours are obviously far more important.

A few weeks ago Secretary of State John Denham rejected plans for a development near Ealing Broadway station. He acknowledged that the proposed “scheme would comply with some specific development plan policies relating to the regeneration of Ealing Town Centre and would bring many benefits to the area”, including 567 homes, but judged that all this value was outweighed by his subjective judgement (in response to local concerns) that “the bulk, massing and certain aspects of the design of the scheme would be inappropriate in its surroundings. It would fail to preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the Town Centre conservation area and the setting of the Haven Green conservation area, as well as harming the setting of the Grade II* listed Church of Christ the Saviour.” One person’s fears about their “visual amenity” (an irritating phrase repeated ad nauseam in planning documents) trumps another’s need for somewhere to live.

Look, Haven Green is a mess. It’s simply not that pleasant a place. It could conceivably be improved by removing the buses which stop and indeed park (for driver breaks, I gather) on the diagonal road across the Green. A recent Ealing Council document (pdf) noted that: “A major consideration, as part of both the Crossrail and Arcadia redevelopment proposals, is the provision of better interchange with local bus services.” But Arcadia is not going ahead, and, if I understand the document correctly, Crossrail has no budget to pay for a proper bus station.

The planning process is bad enough, but nowhere is localism more evident than in the battle for control of scarce road space.

Ealing Council, to my horror, is also consulting on a dreaded CPZ (controlled parking zone), which would affect me.

OK, the proliferation of CPZs can be largely explained in terms of local government bureaucrat empire-building, but there is clearly at least enough tacit public approval to allow them to get away with it. Let’s therefore consider the CPZ in my novel terms of the “local” (or “vested”) interest and the “general” interest.

Before a CPZ is implemented in a given street, everyone has an equal right to park there. After its implementation, car-owning residents generally have absolute priority. In fact, often the schemes are implemented with the shocking inefficiency that non-residents can’t even use the space when it is unoccupied! (Schemes variously allocate a few metered bays or, better, allow metered parking albeit for limited periods and at limited times in residents’ bays).

So, in approving a CPZ, residents in effect extend their property a couple of metres into the road in one fell swoop!

Do they pay a fair price for this asset, though?

Of course they don’t.

Permits for residents’ parking on public roads are often less than £100 per year, and rarely more than a few £100s. The market value of such parking – determined by the rates in the few metered bays typically provided or in nearby car-parks – is usually at least several pounds a day – £1000s, not £100s a year.

It’s not just outsiders who, in effect, subsidise permit-holders. Residents who don’t run cars are massively inconvenienced, as is everyone when they have visitors, or use local services. Estate agents, for example, have problems parking when they quite legitimately want to show properties to prospective purchasers or tenants.

What CPZ schemes fail to take account of is that residents’ cars are part of the problem, and not the only injured party. Personally, it seems to me that there would be more social utility in reserving parking places for estate agents than for residents who just want to leave half a tonne of steel and moulded plastic outside their house for 6 1/2 days a week.

If we’re going to have CPZ schemes, then, let’s charge a market rate for the parking space – upwards of £1000 a year (and allow the option of paying a daily rate for those residents who park their car elsewhere most of the time). Then we’d reduce car ownership, spaces could be allocated to car clubs and for visitors and our parking problems would be much reduced.

What Ealing really wants, though, is not an ever-growing CPZ area. What’s happened is they’ve tried to solve the problem of commuters parking near Ealing Broadway and West Ealing stations. Entirely predictably, the small CPZs implemented have just moved the problem. Now they’re consulting on more CPZs. Nice work, if you’re in the CPZ implementation business.

Is there another policy that might make more sense than the inefficiency of selling the public parking space asset at a discounted rate to residents who think they own “their” road? It is entirely legitimate to discourage car rather than bus or shoe-leather use by commuters. Why not, therefore, consider a congestion-charge scheme for non-residents coming into the centre of Ealing? One might hope that some of the London congestion-charge infrastructure could be fairly cheaply deployed just in the centre of Ealing. I’d suggest vehicles entering and leaving are monitored and the software programmed to charge only for those non-residents who stay in the area more than, say, an hour, since the objective in this case is not to penalise through-traffic but relieve pressure on on-street parking.

Perhaps it will take PR to slow the tide of localism. Certainly though, until the political process weighs the general interest more carefully against vested interests, our society will continue to be held back by dysfunctional and misguided decisions.

March 13, 2009

The Park Terrace Rat-Run (and Other Stories)

Filed under: Cambridge, Cycling, Road, Transport, Walking — Tim Joslin @ 11:57 pm

Transport is a big topic in Cambridge these days. The County Council (don’t ask why transport in the City is not the responsibility of the City Council) is pondering whether or not to agree to introduce a congestion charge in return for £500m from central government for transport improvements. A no-brainer if you ask me.

Even with half a billion, though, the problems aren’t easy to solve, as rather too many people think they have a right to drive on the cramped medieval streets in the centre of Cambridge. Weird and wacky ideas are therefore being floated.

I don’t think the principal problem is a lack of money, nor that cutting-edge technology is the whole solution. What’s lacking is a clear strategy. Joined-up thinking has clearly been continually thwarted over the years by a political system (first past the post in small council wards) that favours those who pander most effectively to local interest groups; by bizarre and unclear divisions of responsibility between different levels of government; perhaps by a lack of political courage; but above all by an electorate with an astonishing belief in its own entitlement to do exactly what it wants whenever it feels like it, regardless of the effect on everyone else.

Before spending £500m, what is needed is simply determination to minimise traffic in the centre of Cambridge. Without this, the money will make no difference.

Consider the area which I use as a pedestrian on a daily basis, as shown in the map below:

1. Close the Lion Yard car-park

Top left is Lion Yard, a covered shopping mall, recently extended in a project known as the Grand Arcade. There are a lot of shops in the centre of Cambridge now, a few hundred yards from one of the nation’s most historic buildings, King’s College Chapel. It is no longer practical for all shoppers to drive right into the centre, so Cambridge is ringed by Park’n’Ride carparks, subsidised by those of us who never use them, incidentally. So why, oh why, are some shoppers allowed to park in the new multi-story Lion Yard carpark?

I was showing someone around Cambridge last weekend, as I often do. We walked along Downing Street and Pembroke Street (not labelled on the map, but below Lion Yard, where the legend “University of Cambridge” appears), towards the Fitzwilliam Museum on Trumpington Street, looking around the area where DNA was discovered, not to mention the electron. But, spoiling the ambience and spewing fumes in this historic part of Cambridge was a slow-moving line of traffic heading north along Trumpington Street, turning right to head west along Pembroke Street, into and later out of the Lion Yard car-park, emerging to continue west along Downing Street, before causing a nuisance turning right at the newly installed traffic lights into St Andrew’s Street.

In our new mood of determination, the Lion Yard carpark should simply be closed. Build some flats instead. The shoppers and others using the Lion Yard car-park would then have to use the Park’n’Ride car-parks instead, improving the economics of the Park’n’Ride service.

But let’s see how much further we can get with our new mood of determination.

2. Close Park Terrace

Look again at the map. Just right of centre 4 roads form a tilted square: Gonville Place, Regent Street, Park Terrace and Parkside. Inside this square is Parker’s Piece, which I walk across or around (depending on the weather) nearly every day, from the end of Gresham Road (where there’s an infamous pedestrian and cycle crossing – more about that another time).

One reason for writing this post was to play around a bit with Google Maps! (Anyone know how to get rid of the annoying drawing-pin symbol, by the way?). What I’ve learnt is that there’s resistance somewhere to embedding two maps in one post. I therefore urge readers to switch between satellite mode and map mode to follow my description – the map simplifies matters a little too much.

The mess is in the north-west corner (top left) of Parker’s Piece. Heading north into town, you first encounter cyclists heading in all directions: crossing Parker’s Piece diagonally; turning left and right from Regent Street where there is a cramped dual-use crossing – that is, one for both cyclists and pedestrians, who trip over each other trying to reach the other side of the road before the lights change; heading both ways down the road on the left (Regent Terrace) behind the row of shops, restaurants and pubs fronting onto Regent Street; and – remember this point – heading east-north-east along the side of Parker’s Piece. These cyclists are not, as may be clearer in the satellite photo than the map, cycling along Park Terrace, which is actually the other side of the University Arms hotel.

At this point too, the pedestrian flow crossing Parker’s piece becomes a mere tributary. On Regent Street, you join a mass of often large groups, many from overseas, for you are now on the main route from Cambridge Railway Station into town.

After negotiating the melee at the corner of Parker’s Piece, the intrepid pedestrian has to keep their wits about them. The next hazard is the University Arms hotel car-park, which for reasons lost in the mists of time spews Sunday drivers up [23/3 CORRECTION: down, doesn’t memory play tricks on you?] a steep ramp across the busy Regent Street pavement. A lack of clutch control, or any other sign of the driver being fully in control of their vehicle, is often evident, so the wise pedestrian stays alert.

Barring major engineering works, the exit to the University Arms hotel is likely to remain in Regent Street. But this is a minor inconvenience compared to the next hazard – the dreaded Park Terrace.

As you cross Park Terrace, both cars and buses swing into the road, from both directions along Regent Street (Park Terrace itself is one-way). None appear to realise that they should be giving way to pedestrians.

Today I had the temerity to glare at a driver who swung round the corner as I was already crossing the road. What drivers fail to realise is that pedestrians do not share their knowledge of the precise trajectory their car will follow as it turns, nor indeed the same faith in the grip of their tyres, nor knowledge of the state of their brakes, nor, it has to be said, the same confidence in the skill and concentration of the person at the wheel. What the pedestrian experiences is a threat of serious harm if they should slow – or speed up, depending on where the car passes – their pace crossing the road, or, in the worst cases, if they fail to slow or speed up their pace. In short, the driver may know he’s not going to hit the pedestrian, but the pedestrian doesn’t know this. The pedestrian’s experience is simply of being on the receiving end of a form of intimidation. Hence the glare.

Believe it or not, today the driver actually stopped to discuss the issue! I should have studied sociology – hey, what am I saying?, I did study sociology! – because I felt this was a great opportunity to find something out. So when he pulled up I went and had a chat. And, sure enough, the driver, if I interpret his words correctly, felt he could not possibly be in the wrong, as he was on a road, and I was not another vehicle!

Now, later this afternoon, I pondered the Park Terrace phenomenon. I don’t drive with such aggression – well, only to other drivers, who of course deserve it, not to pedestrians – and am treated on average far more politely at other junctions. In fact, the buses using Park Terrace are noticeably more considerate than the cars, even allowing for the fact that sudden stops are not quite so easy for them. Heck, some of the buses even signal! Of course, I’m more considerate to the buses too – more prepared to step back onto the pavement to allow them to turn – not just because they are even more intimidating than cars, but also because I feel a few seconds of my time is outweighed by that of 20 passengers and a driver.

Pondering away, I developed a hypothesis – it’s Cambridge, after all. My hypothesis is this: the users of Park Terrace are mostly taking a short-cut.

The driver who didn’t care enough, for my liking, whether or not he took me out while I was crossing Park Terrace, was turning left. At the other end of Park Terrace (see map), most cars, I’ve noticed, turn right onto Parkside, and then likely left into East Road or straight on into Mill Road. One point is that there are few other places to go: straight on leads to a residential area with no exit (theoretically – it seems some anti-social drivers ignore various no thru road signs, weave through back-streets and emerge on East Road at Dover Street, no doubt very pleased at saving themselves time at the expense of other drivers and local residents). So drivers turning left into Park Terrace are mostly avoiding the traffic jam (and two pedestrian crossings) along Gonville Place. They are in the rush, rush, rush state of mind. They are not those who, I’ve read, treat car journeys, such as the daily commute, as quality time, an opportunity to relax between the stresses of work and the pressures of family life.

[23/3 NOTE: It turns out to my surprise that drivers can also turn left at the end of Park Terrace, drive round into Emmanuel Street, right into the pedestrian zone of St Andrew’s Street and then to King Street and Jesus Lane via Hobson Street. [26/3 CORRECTION: Sorry, this traffic doesn’t enter the formal pedestrian zone, rather it bears right into Hobson Street just before where a gate blocks St Andrew’s Street at some times of day, but it does add to the buses and taxis congesting an area where there are a lot of pedestrians, many crossing St Andrews Street where there is a passage leading to the bus station and the Grafton Centre.] I suspect traffic is entering Regent Street at the Lensfield Road/Gonville Place junction in order to take this route, avoiding having to use East Road and Maid’s Causeway. The same argument applies: if we want a pleasant city centre for the benefit of a large number of people, we should simply stop being so kind to a small number of motorists!].

No, the reason Park Terrace is such a pain to cross is that its being used selectively by those who are trying to save their own precious minutes. Close it, I say. We have designated which are the main roads. Why should a few avoid the queues on them, in the process slowing people down when they slot back in to the traffic procession in advance of where they left it?

If Park Terrace were closed to traffic at the Regent Street end it could be used as a two-way cycle route, though minimal residents’ traffic would still have to be permitted, thereby relieving the Parker’s Piece melee 20 metres south along Regent Street.

Potentially, too, a new exit from the University Arms underground car-park could be constructed into Park Terrace (to exit to the east). This would add little to the residents’ traffic along Park Terrace.

3. Close Regent Terrace

If you think Park Terrace is a joke, you won’t believe Regent Terrace. Regent Terrace is on the west side of Parker’s Piece, a cul de sac behind the buildings on that side of the park. Like Park Terrace, Regent Terrace is an access road that just happens to be there. It wasn’t created for the purpose to which it is being put.

And Regent Terrace – no more than 150 yards from the Queen Anne multi-story on Gonville Place – is being used for parking. Completely unsegregated cyclists and pedestrians (especially when Parker’s Piece is muddy) compete for road space with cars cruising the narrow street looking for a parking space. Ludicrously, cars have to turn round at Melee Corner. And, for much of Regent Terrace’s length, there is no room for two cars to pass. I’ve seen arguments break out over who should reverse – once with a woman (sorry, I’m afraid it simply was a woman, saying “person” would seem a little odd) nearly in tears, refusing to reverse, despite several cars in front of her coming the other way, for fear of scraping her car.

Regent Terrace should simply be closed to all except residents. The parking places are more trouble than they’re worth and should all be removed, allowing a pedestrian path and cycle lanes to be marked.

4. On the buses

Where are the buses going to go, I hear you ask, now that I’ve closed Park Terrace?

Why are the buses using Park Terrace in the first place? I retort.

At this point it might be worth listing some of the interacting traffic problems in the centre of Cambridge:
– too many private cars;
– too many buses;
– too many taxis;
– lack of cycle lanes;
– cyclists using the pavement endangering pedestrians and themselves;
– dangers to pedestrians who risk being hit by traffic when spilling off narrow, overcrowded pavements and from bus wing mirrors even whilst on the pavements.

So far we’ve addressed the private cars and provided new quiet routes for cyclists along the north (Park Terrace) and west (Regent Terrace) sides of Parker’s Piece.

What we really need to do with the buses is keep most of them out of centre of Cambridge, which is too cramped for London-style double-deckers. We could do this simply by creating a decent bus terminus at the railway station (not just a few more stops), in place of some of the acres of car-parking there, and building a high-capacity transport link from the station to the centre of town – a monorail, an underground rail link, or even the Heathrow-style pods that have been proposed.

But, even without such major improvements we can make a big difference in one fell swoop. Why don’t we simply create a one-way route for buses (and all other motorised vehicles)? The bus station, such as it is, is in Drummer Street (at the east end of Emmanuel Street, see map), and, controversially, National Express coaches wait on Parkside (space should be made for them at the central railway station, which would then operate as a more effective transport interchange). A one-way loop, (either way) could be created from Emmanuel Street, along St Andrew’s Street, Regent Street, Gonville Place, Parkside and Drummer Street, back to Emmanuel Street. Simple.

The advantage of creating a one-way loop for buses and all other vehicles would be to create space for cycle lanes in both directions, and wider pavements, on all these roads – but especially Regent Street.

People will object to making Gonville Place one-way, because it is part of a major east-west route, but I say: bite the bullet! Traffic is stationary in Gonville Place much of the time, simply waiting for the lights at either end (often blocking the pedestrian crossing at the end of Gresham Road – but it’s hardly news that so few these days know how to drive with the courtesies laid down in the Highway Code, is it?). Simplifying the traffic sequence at these junctions would speed up the traffic flow. OK, traffic in one direction would have be diverted some way round, but remember what we’re trying to do. We’re determined to minimise traffic in the centre of Cambridge.

5. Taxi, taxi

There have always been a lot of taxis in Cambridge, but now that there’s a recession on it’s like Moscow in the early 1990s, except that the Cambridge taxis don’t double as currency bureaux and kiosks for black-market goods.

Now, I’ve nothing against taxis, but they should be for the occasional difficult trip. They are not an alternative to buses. They are an incredibly inefficient form of transport, using more fuel and road space per journey than private cars – because the vehicle is empty when it returns to a rank or goes to the next pick-up. Why then, are taxis given such privileges?

In Cambridge, taxis can go everywhere buses go, not just to make pick-ups or drop-offs that would be impossible otherwise, but en route. There are certain roads – for example, Sidney Street and St John’s Street (scroll up on the map and, because these streets are so small, zoom in) – where people walk in the road and have to jump back onto the pavement when a taxi wants to pass through. This is madness. Inconveniencing dozens for one passenger makes no sense. Unless picking up or dropping off where private cars can’t go, taxis should have no more rights to drive through Cambridge than you or I.

And the siting of taxi ranks is hilarious. There’s one for 6 vehicles in St Andrew’s Street in the absolute busiest part of town, where space is at a huge premium. Today I noticed about a dozen taxis queuing back past the rank and a couple of community police officers moving them on. As soon as the police left, the queue was back, of course, causing a nuisance. Yet round the corner in Drummer Street, the rank next to the bus station was empty. Totally unused space. Just get rid of the rank in St Andrew’s Street and put a sign up pointing to where taxis can be found.

Incidentally, I once read that pollution levels along Regent Street and St Andrew’s Street are extraordinarily high. Funny, that.

6. Take pedestrians seriously

If we are determined to give cyclists and pedestrians priority over cars – and remember, this is our policy – then give cyclists and pedestrians priority over cars. I must have spent hours waiting, for example, to cross Gonville Place at the crossing at the end of Gresham Road. I stand there watching cars either edging along in a jam (often stopping on the crossing – please, please send a traffic cop to book them, even if it’s just the once!) in one or (better, because you can sometimes nip across) both directions. Now, if the lights have been green to traffic for even 10 seconds, switch immediately to pedestrians and cyclists. The same no-brainers occur all over town.

So, various tiers of government, if we’re going to have a transport strategy for Cambridge, let’s have one that makes sense. We want to use the space as efficiently as possible. That means minimising the traffic in the centre of town. And if we want to minimise traffic in the centre of Cambridge, then that’s what has to be done. Don’t fudge the policy by sticking car-parks where some people would like you to do that; don’t leave sneaky little short-cuts and parking places for drivers in the know; create a sensible traffic circulation even if people whinge; don’t kow-tow to lobbies, such as the taxi-drivers; don’t try to cater to a minority at the expense of anyone else (even bus users – take those stupid stops outside John Lewis, you know, where the queues block the pavement, and put them in Drummer Street); and, above all, make life as easy as possible for pedestrians and cyclists, because they’re exhibiting the behaviour you’re trying to encourage.

You can’t keep everyone happy all the time. And if you keep trying to do so, you’ll end up making someone very unhappy indeed. For example, in this small part of Cambridge I’ve focused on, which I know intimately, cyclists have taken to using the pavements – because space hasn’t been allocated to them in the form of cycle lanes (or they can’t be bothered to sort lights). Cyclists often travel at high-speed on the pavement. It’s only a matter of time someone – likely frail and elderly – is seriously injured. Or worse.

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