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COVID-19: Transport and the Traffic Survey

COVID-19 shows us is that in a crisis the rules don’t apply, which makes us wonder why they were there in the first place. 

The COVID-19 eruption has focussed minds and resurfaced issues, such as working from home, health, community, online shopping and deliveries. In our transport world, it has meant we can’t measure traffic and have no certainty of the future. Our attached note explains the ‘Old Normal’; thinks about the ‘New Normal’; explains how Authorities are reacting and may react; and provides advice on how to move forward with surveys, traffic modelling and transport assessments.

The planning process is based on a paradigm of ‘Predict and Provide’ (P&P). For traffic this used to mean forecasting a demand and deciding whether a junction or network could conveniently accommodate it. But we found the demands weren’t always real or desirable, and we decided it wasn’t the purpose of planning policy to satisfy them even if they were. We discovered that people acted to minimise their inconvenience, and it wasn’t necessary to prioritise the convenience of commuting car drivers.

What has emerged is the new paradigm to accelerate sustainable mobility – 'Vision and Validate' (V&V), embraced by the new European guidance on Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans. Transport assessments generally started with a SUMP style approach, where the process started with masterplanning. This was a gradual shift, but a shift nonetheless, which meant that the ‘Old Normal’ wasn’t normality at all, it was change.

With V&V, the questions asked are quite different: road networks can be classified by the street and function (link and place). The issue of a baseline then does not arise because you simply define what the link will do. Planning becomes a process of defining a roadmap between scenarios and a vision. This visionary work is supporting a new exciting wave of transport planning from the strategic plan to local streets, last mile solutions and placemaking.

It is casting aside barriers to living virtually and locally, now that people have realised they can work from home effectively by simply downloading a few apps and receiving company pemission. It is teaching us that mobility is phygital and that virtual mobility and travel avoidance alternatives should be firmly in the planning mix.

Now is the opportunity for planning to become bolder. To change its focus from mobility to accessibility in a more systemic way as part of a wider framework that includes health and climate.

The full paper is attached below, but makes sure you also keep your eyes peeled for the series of blogs delving into several key ideas from the paper.