Alison Johnstone MSP: Build it and they will come – why more roads are not a solution
Given how ineffective spaghetti junctions have been, you’d think they’d be extinct by now. You don’t need to have done much driving to know that these twisted motorway mazes are exactly where the worst and most stressful bottlenecks appear, along with all the toxic pollution that goes with it. In fact, we’ve known since the 1960s that more road infrastructure leads to more traffic.
It is easy to think that more lanes, more flyovers and more bypasses will ease congestion, but numerous academic studies around the world have shown that more often than not it actually increases demand.
Increasing demand for the private car is the last thing we should be doing in a climate emergency. There has been some fierce defence of the A96 expansion between Inverness and Aberdeen in the press over the weekend from those who argue that public transport in the Highlands is “non-existent”. Surely that is a great argument for making public transport better, not growing congestion.
That’s why it’s bizarre that the Scottish Government think Sheriffhall roundabout on the Edinburgh bypass needs to become a £120m spaghetti junction. Transport Scotland have launched a consultation on it, but even their own modelling predicts a five per cent increase in traffic, and that’s before you factor in the cause and effect of building more roads known as ‘induced demand’. If you build it, they will come.
Yes, the Edinburgh bypass is prone to choke points, but we must have the courage to recognise that growing capacity will not solve that.
This is a government that declared a climate emergency. Increasing congestion on our roads is a contradiction of that commitment.
On Friday, thanks to sustained pressure from Scottish Green councillors, the City of Edinburgh produced its draft ten-year plan for transport in the city. It’s an impressive statement of intent which includes a promise to prioritise bus, tram, rail, walking and cycling.
But that level of ambition needs the infrastructure of the future, not the spaghetti junctions of the past.
Proceeding with the £120m Sheriffhall roundabout is not progress, it’s business as usual. More roads, more traffic and yes, more greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s also a missed opportunity. Think of what £120m could do for our communities instead. £120m could go a long way in transforming our Capital for the future. It could pay for 120 miles of segregated cycle paths, for example. It could boost our bus lanes and park and ride offerings to get our city moving again, instead of sitting in gridlock every day. This is what leading cities across Europe are doing, and it’s where Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland needs to get to.
Yesterday we launched a campaign to stop the Sheriffhall spaghetti junction. We called for the Scottish Government to invest this cash in cycling infrastructure and public transport instead.
The SNP in Edinburgh council and Holyrood need to match their rhetoric with real transformative change if we are to build a sustainable future. That means ditching the failed old dinosaurs like spaghetti junctions.
Alison Johnstone is a Green MSP for Lothian.