How do we cut car use?

PUBLISHED: 10:51 07 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:58 22 October 2010


In some ways, Norwich is like every other city. Dare to travel between the times of 7.40am and 8.40am and you will be caught in the inevitable commuter and school run crush.

In some ways, Norwich is like every other city. Dare to travel between the times of 7.40am and 8.40am

and you will be caught in the inevitable commuter and school run crush.

Crawling along, often not moving at all, many of us will have at some point endured the rush-hour misery of a three- mile trip into the city centre taking ages.

But is Norwich really any worse than the rest of the country?

Well, the short answer is yes. In fact, drivers in Norwich are likely to spend more time in stationary traffic than those in London and only a minute less than in Manchester and Birmingham.

A survey by car manufacturer Citroen looked at congestion in six big cities, with a 'driver' spending one hour starting at 7.40am driving into the centre to record the number of miles travelled and the amount of time they spent stationary.

The route in Norwich, which was undertaken on Thursday, March 23, started at the A47/A140 junction and involved travelling into the city along the Ipswich Road, into Newmarket Road, turning right at Queens Road, along into Bracondale and back round to Martineau Lane, before heading back along onto the A146.

In Norwich, the driver spent 20 minutes, 32 seconds stationary, and travelled 15.7 miles during the hour - this compared to 21 minutes in Manchester, with 16.2 miles covered; 21 minutes, 44 seconds, with 14.8 miles covered in Birmingham; and 19 minutes and 20 seconds, with 6.8 miles covered in London.

Of course it is only one journey on one day and so many factors could have impacted on the level of traffic.

But for those who have sat tapping their steering wheel with frustration as they crawl to work, these results will seem more than plausible.

The fact that congestion during rush hour in Norwich can be appalling is hardly a revelation; it is surprising though, when you consider the results compared to larger cities where you would anticipate traffic being far worse.

The problem with Norwich is twofold and both of these problems are largely beyond anyone's control.

Firstly, the city by design does not lend itself to major changes to the road infrastructure. Most cities have dual carriageways running to their hearts; for Norwich, its medieval layout means ploughing a major road through to the centre is just not feasible, nor wanted.

Expanding the road network in line with the population and local economy is virtually impossible. Instead we are faced with what seems like a constant improvements to our existing roads, causing greater congestion and, often, little improvement to our journey times.

The second problem is the rural make- up of the surrounding area - travel 10 minutes outside Manchester city centre and you are still in a very urban suburb. Travel 10 minutes outside Norwich and you are in the countryside.

This makes the adequate provision of public transport a very different proposition to other major cities.

It is hardly rocket science to say more money should be put into our rail and bus networks. But in Norfolk, when the first and last buses, including at the much heralded park-and-ride sites, often fail to take into account anything other than a regular 9 to 5 day, this is not always a practical solution.

Nevertheless, environmentalists would argue we are still not doing enough and such congestion only proves there are too many cars on the road.

While few will argue with their sentiment of cleaning up our cities, this is only feasible if the public transport infrastructure is better and the public actually show willing, by walking their children to school, getting on their bikes or using car share schemes.

In recent weeks, it has emerged that the city council is not ruling out some sort of congestion charge for Norwich which, like in London, would force drivers to pay every time they bring their cars into the city centre.

It has always been discredited as a local option, but following a decision to extend the scheme, it could open up the debate on charges in Norwich.

With a heavy Green Party influence on the council, the political direction has changed significantly and they are keen for a fresh review of the idea.

Congestion charging for Norwich is still unlikely, but perhaps it is the only way to make people take responsibility for how much they use their cars.

Nothing focuses the mind more, than having to dip into your wallet.

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