In the mid-1990s the British Government through the Office of Science and Technology commissioned a major exercise entitled the Technology Foresight Programme bringing together academia, research establishments and industry to examine the trends in the economy and society which could create new systems that the United Kingdom will need to maintain its international competitiveness and the good health and welfare of the population.
Parry People Movers made a significant contribution including providing the Vice Chair of the Transport Sector Panel and chairing the sub-group which examined central urban districts and the impact of growing traffic congestion and air pollution. This resulted in the proposal to create Clear Zones in urban centres where only nil-emission vehicles would be allowed to operate. The O.S.T. commissioned the design and building of a scale model of a Clear Zone which introduced the concept of smaller tramways acting as circulatory systems to achieve connectivity in areas where normal traffic would be excluded. Arising out of growing concerns over the effects of air pollution on urban inhabitants the Government is now encouraging the establishment of Clear Air Zones (‘CAZs’) following the original Technology Foresight guidelines.
Transit Enabled Development
Transport arrangements that are available to the general public have a very large impact on preferences about where to live, work and spend leisure time. This in turn reflects in the value of rents which can be obtained on property and its capital value. It is especially important when considering turning longstanding brownfield sites, which are both an eyesore and need oversight to prevent tipping of rubbish and other illegal activities, into productive economical areas that do not cause a net financial drain.
Improving transit arrangements which suburban rail and tram systems are especially good for, produces a sometimes startling effect on the economic circumstances of an area. New underground lines in London such as the Jubilee line are a much quoted example which have resulted in changes in occupancy and big uplifts in property values. Historically the largest gains have been as the introduction of a suburban rail network has enabled the previously very dense communities, based on workers having to live close to where they are employed, to spread out to new settlements which are outside of the historic city limits. London’s ‘Metroland’ of suburbs and connected peripheral towns is well documented. As pointed out by the economic historian, Dr. T. F. Wright, in other parts of Britain the tramways were crucial in clearing the slums. Nowadays smaller tramways, while being revenue earners for their operators can also become enablers of positive development activity in the following ways:
- Many inner suburbs have become less attractive places to live due to the excessive amounts of traffic from further afield passing through on the way to the city centre. This can be rectified by traffic reduction after introduction of a tramway and development activity will resume.
- New suburbs such as Vauban, a district of Freiburg in Germany which have become less car-dependent as a result of providing a tram service within close walking distance of all houses and flats (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vauban,_Freiburg#Transport)
- New stand-alone resort developments such as those proposed in the South Georgia keys in the United States where the circuit of a light tramway (‘trolley’) system is laid out in a planning arrangement that allows for hotels, hospitals, shopping malls, hotels, marinas and residential homes as well as holiday chalets to be reached by public transport more conveniently than by car.
- Many high-street retail premises in the UK lie empty as a result of changing shopping habits but are unsuitable for conversion to residential use due to the lack of space for parking cars. A frequent tram service connecting the area to the rail network or an LRT stop will provide acceptable workplace-home connectivity thus removing the need to own a car.
- There are growing concerns about the state of the urban environment where crowded streets are seen as potential opportunities for crime and terrorism and the quality of the air that people breathe is affected by particulates in vehicle exhausts and dust from the wear and tear of tyres and road surfaces (the ‘Oslo Effect’). All these risks can be partially mitigated by the increased use of electric vehicles and the availability of frequent public transport services allowing for convenient access of the city centre amenities and workplaces, with the two provisos that the mode is rail-based and that the periphery is cordoned to prevent access by unsuitable vehicles.