Fringe Box



Letter: Modal Shift Won’t Be Easy But It Is Not Impossible

Published on: 24 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 24 Dec, 2021

From: Sam Peters

former Green Party candidate

In response to: Guildford Will Never Achieve ‘Modal Shift’

Across the Netherlands, Germany (including in our twinned city of Freiburg), most recently Paris, and all over the world, there are always those who vehemently oppose any idea of progress or maintain that it’s totally impossible – until suddenly it’s done.

Presumably, we can agree that nobody wants to see Guildford become more hostile to pedestrians and cyclists, more polluted, more congested, more frustrating, more dangerous, and more challenging for local businesses. So why the insistence that even attempting the smallest change to the way we travel is a non-starter?

Obviously, nobody is saying every single person will begin walking or cycling, and there will always be people who need to drive, along with some who will choose to. However, as we can see from the countless examples worldwide, the large majority of people can and will choose to walk, cycle or get public transport if these things are accessible, feasible, affordable and safe.

With the leaps forward in electric bike technology, in particular, there has never been an easier time for many of those who would otherwise struggle to cycle. Alongside the obvious benefits, there are plenty of less obvious ones – for example, that footfall in shops increases dramatically in pedestrianised areas, or that the same area of cycle parking nearly doubles spend in nearby shops compared to an equivalent area of car parking.

The knock-on effect on public health and therefore NHS burden is another often-overlooked positive, particularly important in these times.

But I completely agree that our public transport networks are broken, isolated, completely unaffordable and run down by decades in the private sector. The upcoming four per cent increase to rail fares – a seemingly annual occurrence despite miserable service and the public funding of the vast majority of rail investment – and the fallout from Arriva’s withdrawal from the town are yet more testament to this.

We can perhaps take some hope from Greater Manchester recently becoming the first city area outside London to begin the process of taking public transport somewhat back into public hands, skirting around the ban imposed on new public bus companies by the 2017 Bus Services Act.

In the presumed absence of any hope of investment in public transport or anything resembling nationalisation under a Conservative government, there is still a lot that can be done to encourage people out of cars – despite the (on average) 60 per cent cuts to central funding for local councils (comprising roughly half of funding for most councils) handed down by successive governments over the past 11 years.

Freiburg’s latest Sustainable Transport Plan, or papers such as Sustainable Transport in Freiburg: Lessons from Germany’s Environmental Capital, are a good place to start learning from other more forward-thinking towns and cities.

But ultimately, unless we want to further embed cars into the fabric of our town with their countless downsides – making it ever harder to transition to the kind of town we want – we have to start with the desire to change, and the knowledge that it may not always be easy, but it certainly isn’t impossible.

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Responses to Letter: Modal Shift Won’t Be Easy But It Is Not Impossible

  1. Anna Deadman Reply

    December 24, 2021 at 1:07 pm

    Great letter from Sam Peters. I agree wholeheartedly with his points.

  2. H Trevor Jones Reply

    December 25, 2021 at 1:09 pm

    Although our public transport isn’t as good as Freiburg’s (which is a bigger city so can support more) it’s not that bad and is probably better than many parts of rural France: eg a bus every hour to the small country villages of Compton and Albury, good bases for country walks, isn’t to be sniffed at, nor are three fast trains and three slow trains to London every hour.

    What we miss here is good connections: eg the fine touristy Black Forest village of St Peters can be reached from Freiburg by about three stops in a train every half hour connecting with a bus, much quicker than if it were bus all the way; the Guildford equivalent would be a train to Godalming connecting with bus to Elstead, whereas in practice you’re expected here to go by bus all the way on quite a slow devious route.

  3. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    December 26, 2021 at 11:23 am

    Mr Peters restates the lack of safe pedestrian and cycle routes in Guildford and cites examples of other towns that have successfully created these but offers no solution as to how to achieve this. We need practical solutions to ease traffic problems of Guildford. The problems in Guildford are not the same nor are their solutions.

    I would like to invite Mr Peters to show how he would transform Guildford into a Freiburg doppelganger.

    I have never been to Freiburg but what I can glean from the internet is that Freiburg is not at all similar to Guildford when it comes to its transport network. Freiburg has many footbridges and road bridges over Driesam river and the road network is spread over a larger area.

    Central Guildford has only one Road Bridge over the railway built in 1845 and one footbridge over the tracks. There are two road bridges and two footbridges over the river.

    A major problem is that all roads go through the centre and there are no viable alternative routes avoiding the town centre. Four Park & Ride sites around Guildford reduce traffic entering the centre a little but to restrict all cars would require many more sites with much larger capacities.

    We would all love a town centre with very little traffic and safer pedestrian and cycle routes but in Guildford such is not possible without first improving the road network and thus releasing space for this modal shift. A rail/road transport hub is also desirable to facilitate convenient travelling modes and thus cutting down on the need to travel by cars.

    Mr Peters may not have seen my suggestions for a pedestrian-friendly town centre My proposals lower the A281 into an underground route and include an east-west route over the railway tracks and the river. The latter is a little further north of David Ogilvie’s and GVG’s proposed routes. Together they free up a large area of the town centre from motorised traffic.

    A ring road around Guildford would be ideal but environmental issues and cost would be insurmountable. However, I believe bypass routes of some kind in the southern part of Guildford would be possible. I have mentioned this in my comments in a related thread. Putting the A3 in a tunnel to bypass Guildford would not solve the traffic problems in the town centre.

    I have spent many hours thinking and devising possible improvements to the road network as shown on my website, that I set up in 2007. I know David Ogilvie, a local architect and a town planner, has also spent many years as an adviser in the Planning Group of Guildford Society.

    I have no commercial interest in promoting my ideas. I offer them for the benefit of the councils and I hope if they are adopted they would benefit the people of Guildford and surrounding areas. I am sure David Ogilvie feels the same way. Not everything free is worthless!

  4. David Ogilvie Reply

    December 26, 2021 at 11:56 am

    I am in favour of modal shift, cities like Freiburg have spent huge sums on infrastructure to enable this. The proposals that I have put forward to pedestrianise the town centre to the station and provide resilience with a new crossing will need serious investment but strategic planning seems to be run by accountants. We no longer have a chief architect or a qualified chief town planner in GBC looking ahead to plan to make Guildford a beautiful and sustainable town.

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