Road layout problems

 Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, the British government encouraged local authorities to develop traffic management schemes which would encourage "greener" transport.  This led to several cities rapidly creating "low traffic networks" (described here), sometimes with minimal public consultation.

Here in Exeter, the response was to prioritise cycling over motorised transport, and several roads were closed to all traffic except cycles and (sometimes) buses.  Because the response had been partly to help those who needed to travel to keep physically distant from others, this aspect was highlighted. 

One of the closures is very near our home.  I have refrained from writing about it until some of the dust of controversy has settled, and because I was one of many letterwriters to the council about it.  I also lampooned the person who had authorised the advance signage as it reminded me of the children's book character who was told "You ain't got the sense you were born with".

(To deal with the signage; the advance signs read "New road layout to assist social distancing".  This may be a good reason, but is no help to a motorist who encounters it.  That motorist wants to know what to do; the reason is not directly explained.  If traffic is reduced in this road, it encourages walkers and cyclists to use it, and then they will be kept away from congested roads, so it will be easier for that sort of traveller to be 2 metres (or 6 feet) from others.)

Back to my local road closure.  The road has been closed to all but buses and cycles.  Before this, it was used as a rat-run by a small number of drivers, and by locals going to the local hospital, schools and shops.  

 Who benefits from the closure?  Walkers and cyclists can use a quieter road without traffic (which often broke the speed limit).  Local people who now have less noise from traffic and less pollution.  Bus passengers gain from a route which has better time-keeping.  Many motorists, since they are redirected to roads where there is automatic traffic control.

Who suffers?  Local people who cannot use the road as a driving route from their homes to some businesses.  Tradesmen and delivery drivers, who must now follow different (longer) routes.  

And intangibles?  Some people may change their behaviour.  Will the changed traffic pattern mean more contributions to global warming or less?  How is the closure to be monitored for violators?

And those are just the start of the conflicting objectives, just as in much of Operational Research.  What makes this interesting is that the benefits are extremely small for each individual, and there are a lot of people who benefit, but most will not realise that they are benefitting.  However for a few local people, the suffering seems big.  Small gains for the many; large losses for the few.  How do you balance these?  

The council has made its decision, which has accepted the benefits, but has made a few small changes for the benefit of the few. 


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