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Traffic in Towns: 50 years of hard lessons 1963-2013

See the presentation in the attached pdf

The impact of the Buchanan Report (Traffic in Towns) on transport planning and urban structure, including the building of high capacity urban roads and traffic segregation, and examples of where these destructive projects have been demolished or reduced in scale. 

Summary of presentation:

Fifty years ago, in 1963, "Traffic in Towns", popularly known as the Buchanan Report was published. This energised a massive programme of road building and redevelopment in the UK and inspired similar actions in cities across the world. It legitimised a way of thinking about urban transport based on accommodating the use of cars. The result was almost 40 years of deformation of towns and cities with road infrastructure that divided communities and disconnected people from places.

This paper looks at the legacy of this hugely influential report half a century later. It explores the key concepts in the Report and the way they influenced city building, including positive as well as negative ideas, and reviews the lessons that have been learnt through the use of case studies.

Buchanan?s remit was to investigate how to reconcile mass car travel with the urban environment, and concluded that road traffic should be separated from the activities it served, so that the impacts of noise, pollution and traffic danger could be removed from the places where people lived and worked. Moreover, he argued that pedestrians should be physically segregated from motor traffic, since the two were seen as inherently incompatible.

The argument was powerful, and was embraced by city governments in the UK and throughout the world. Thus followed the dissection of towns and cities and the surgical implant of major roads for fast traffic: underpasses, flyovers, dual carriageways and tunnels. But the environmental benefits were often never secured, and pedestrians were forced into dark and forbidding underpasses, or up onto windy footbridges, or obliged to take circuitous routes.

Meanwhile, the housing estates, shopping malls, offices, factories, and leisure centres were "plugged in" to the major road network, without any thought for connections for people on foot. The result was the fragmentation of urban environments, all in the name of provision for the car.

By the 1990s a new paradigm had emerged which not only brought an end to the building of new high capacity roads, but also embraced the value of more people-friendly places, and integrated streets.

The 21st Century has seen more radical actions to undo the mistakes of the previous decades: ring roads have been downgraded, flyovers and underpasses demolished, and pedestrians welcomed back to ground level. Places are being reconnected, pedestrians are being integrated with other traffic, and street layouts are being redesigned for sojourn and social functions, and not just for moving traffic. Hence the transformations into what are called, for example, "encounter zones", "shared spaces" and "mixed streets".

The main part of the presentation consists of examples from the UK of city traffic schemes built according to Buchanan principles, which have subsequently been demolished or revised to provide better connectivity and better places.

Paper TitleTraffic in Towns: 50 years of hard lessons
Paper AuthorTim Pharoah
Conference Details Walk21 Munich Deutches Meseum Verkehrszentrum, Munich September 11th - 13th 2013


"Traffic in Towns", Buchanan Report, urban roadbuilding, comprehensivce redevelopment, environmental areas, Walk21

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