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Thursday, 31 August 2017

Pollution and political inertia

Politicians don’t like dealing with traffic management issues because they always find themselves between a rock and a hard place because they must try to balance the desire to reduce traffic with the fact that the economic vitality of their constituency is linked to people coming to the area. This is particularly true of Bath as a major tourism and shopping destination.

In practice, there are only really two strategies for reducing the number of vehicles coming to the area:
·         creating a barrier to entry either physical or economic and/or

·         creating a public transport system that people prefer to cars.
From a political perspective, the former is a problem because it creates howls of protest and threats from the business community and commuters and can rapidly create real economic harm if managed badly. The latter is difficult, expensive and takes a very long time to implement. Both these strategies, but particularly the public transport option, are hampered by considerable legislative confusion.
For these reasons politicians tend to do very little and as we have seen with the saga of the eastern park and ride even that can be derailed by the slightest resistance by special interest groups however small. We have also seen how local politicians of all colours use such situations to gain narrow political advantage.
TARA’s priority has always been the reduction of pollution not because we are entirely indifferent to congestion but because we are much more concerned about damage to peoples’ health.
Unfortunately, because their advisors have always had to tell them that the only way to reduce pollution is to reduce traffic politicians have been as reluctant to deal with pollution as they have with congestion.
Over the last few years this has begun to change. It is now possible, in policy terms, to see pollution and congestion as two separate problems. Euro emissions standards and the recognition of the disproportionate contribution of diesel engines means it is now possible to conceive of relatively low pollution levels from large numbers of vehicles in relatively short timescales. So, for instance, if you banned diesel cars from George Street and forced the bus companies to upgrade their fleet you would more than halve the pollution levels. Banning diesel cars would be relatively pain free politically, legislation is already been discussed, and BANEs are already moving to implement a CAZ which would force an upgrade in the bus fleet.
TARA is therefore focussing on getting BANES to do things to reduce pollution in the short term and are seeking to get the business lobby to support our campaign. This means that we are not pushing to arbitrarily ban traffic from the city but are pushing for measures which will encourage the adoption of new low pollution technologies and discourage older more polluting technologies.
There is one other area of vehicle generated pollution which needs to be addressed and minimised and that is braking. This is particularly important for the very dangerous 2.5 particulates. Clearly this can be addressed by reducing congestion but in lieu of any political enthusiasm for doing this the next best thing to do is manage the vehicles coming into the city to reduce the amount of driving and in particular stop-start driving they do in the city centre. We are therefore campaigning to have better coordinated and fewer traffic lights and better signposted off street car parking with a more realistic assessment of the amount of off street planning required.






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