Are more roads always the answer?

ROADS – we all need them, but do we need more of them all the time? I ask this question as a man who spends more time on the road than he would like, and as someone who lives close to the York outer ring road.

My old newspaper is running a campaign called Dual Them, which is calling for the A1237 stretch of ring road to be turned into a dual carriageway, along with the A64 east of York – which is a notorious Yorkshire bottleneck.

The financial politics of this are a little complicated, in that the outer ring-road is the responsibility of City of York Council, while the government looks after the A64; or doesn’t look after it, if you’re one of the grumbling petrol-heads.

The Press campaign is being masterminded by the estimable Mike Laycock, a man for whom the label veteran can be safely used, even though he is still known for dashing around like Billy Whizz from the Beano.

I confess to having mixed feelings about this campaign – although not about Mike, who was a good colleague for years.

At present, the suggestion is that the roundabouts on the outer ring road could be improved to speed up traffic. This sounds sensible unless you are one of the people who like to groan and grumble in the comments section below stories on The Press website. In which case, it will likely as not be a cause uncontained apoplexy. But then those people run on apoplexy in much the way that my car runs on unleaded.

This story has also been picked up by the newspaper I now write for occasionally, the Yorkshire Post. A statistic jumped out at me from the Post’s news report, in which it said that senior councillors had approved a £32.4m plan to “reduce rush-hour journeys by up to 20 per cent on York’s outer ring road, which often grinds to a half during busy periods”.

Such figures should always be treated with caution, as they are often floated by those who are convinced that whatever they propose will provide the necessary solution. Saying that traffic will be reduced by 20 per cent sounds like a stab in the dark to me. Do we know that or is it a guess?

An educated guess, perhaps – but one swayed by petrol fumes.

Our attitudes to building new roads or expanding existing ones will depend on various personal factors. I now drive quite a lot, so traffic is a problem – especially around the Leeds ring road, or yesterday as race-day traffic brought the A64 to a halt as I was setting off to work.

Then there is the location, location question. As we live close to the A1237, the prospect of noise and chaos for months on end, followed by even more cars, is not enticing.

I confess to double-standards here. I drive a fair bit, but still feel drawn to greener solutions. And the green lobby will tell you that building more roads only leads to more traffic, and hence more jams.

That sounds about right to me, but then I am not a van driver fuming in a daily jam on the ring road.

Still, I worry that the ‘build more roads’ lobby tends to be heard more than any suggested greener solution. As a country, we tend to believe that laying down more Tarmac will keep up us moving forward.

Councillor Ian Gillies, who has the transport brief in York, said in the Post story: “This is a really significant investment which will make journeys easier and quicker on the ring road, as well as preparing us for the ultimate goal of dualling.”

Will it really, Ian – or will it just lead to a different sort of traffic jam in the future? When Ian, a very cheerful Tory councillor, was the Lord Mayor I met him at a do, and he said to me: “I always read your column – then throw it across the room.”

Political differences, you see. Well, you can’t throw a blog across the room.

More roads, good or bad? It seems to be the endlessly unresolved question of the age. And I am still suspicious of all that Tarmac laying, even if one of my squash partners does that for a living.

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