New Realism Concept - Sustainable Transport Policies

During the 1990s in the UK, it was realised that there was an imbalance between the demand for travel and the capacity of the transport system. Problems have risen from the subsequent traffic congestion as adding to road capacity can never fully satisfy the demand for travel. The main reason for the above problems was the growing reliance on private automobiles and the policies which support their use through funding for increasing roading capacity. New Realism aims to provide the solution to this.

New Realism concept highlights that road building cannot match supply to meet demand, and so the only ever feasible role for policy would be to reduce investments on roads and invest in improving sustainable travel modes such as walking, cycling and public transport. Due to induced demand, widening roads to address traffic congestion is not a successful approach. Adding road capacity encourages people to drive at peak times which they otherwise would not have, this shows that the benefit of reduced traffic congestion resulting from widening roads is short lived as the problem of traffic congestion will resurface once again when the supported car-use continues to rapidly increase. New Realism is a new direction for transport policy as existing policies and plans are failing. The figure below shows that transportation is a large contributor to Greenhouse Gas Emissions in our cities. Although this example is based on the European Union nations, it is not dissimilar similar to the rest of the world.

Traffic growth and subsequent congestion has resulted in and will continue to result in major consequences to a social, economic and environmental life of cities. The solution going towards avoiding, remedying and mitigating the effects of traffic congestion are not difficult to understand as stated by the New Realism concept – walk over short distances (<1km), cycle over medium distances (<5km), use public transport or carpool over longer distances (5km>). It is easier said than done, achieving this will require travel behaviour change among the general public and government will need to implement policies which offer incentives to use sustainable travel modes and disincentives to reduce private automobile vehicles.

Current policies are aiming to match the travel demand (car use) with a supply of roads. These policies are politically driven and worsen the problem of traffic congestion due to induced demand. There is generally a hesitancy from government officials to deliver the policy prescriptions set out by New Realism due to its radicalism and lack of public support. There needs to be a shift in thinking, both from our politicians and ourselves. New Realism is a shift from “abandoned ambitious aims to more modest and achievable targets” in relation to overcoming transport-related problems in towns and cities. The graph below illustrates the projected increase in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. It is clear that there will be more irreversible damage from continuing to support unsustainable travel modes.

New Realism suggests creating systems to managing demand which are economically efficient and offer attractive alternatives to car use while simultaneously prioritising essential traffic such as public transport and cycling. This is proposed to be done through a variety of Travel Demand Management techniques which include but not limited to bus lanes, parking prices, traffic calming and road pricing.