What should Guernsey’s traffic strategy really be?

September 15th, 2010 by Peter Roffey

There has been a lot of talk recently about the disintegration of the States approved “Integrated Transport Strategy” and calls for a review of this whole area of policy to ensure that it is achieving what our government wants from it.

In reality it is far more fundamental than that. First the States need to revisit their whole philosophy on traffic and decide what their goals really are. At the moment their every action seems to be at odds with the officially agreed rhetoric. Until they can sort out and agree on their real “vision” then any detailed work on how to get there is so much wasted energy.

What should Guernsey’s traffic Strategy really be? (Click image to expand – ©RLLord)

It wasn’t always such a confused situation. When the strategy was first approved – back in the days of Deputy Pat Mellor’s Traffic Committee – there was a very simple objective at its heart. “To reduce car use in Guernsey”.

Not everybody agreed with it. Some felt it was unnecessary because Guernsey didn’t have a real traffic problem. Others felt that a Guernseyman’s car was a sort of totem for his personal liberty and that efforts to reduce car use smacked of social engineering. Another group were worried less about the philosophical arguments than whether the strategy would end up hitting them in the pocket.

It should be no surprise that issues surrounding people’s cars raise almost as much passion as those relating to their health or their children’s education. Look at any car advert on television and it’s clear they are being sold as much on the basis of the buyers’ potential emotional attachment to the machine as on its functionality. For many a car is an extension of their own persona, or a fully fledged member of the family. Some even give them names.

So, yes, traffic policy will always to fraught with controversy and tensions. Former Deputy Anne Robilliard found that out to her cost when she took a high profile stance against 4x4s on Guernsey roads. It probably wasn’t wise to do so at exactly the same time as giving up her secure St. Peter Port seat to fight an election deep in “Range Rover” country out West. Her loss just showed the strength of the backlash facing those who seek to mess with a Guernseyman’s pride and joy.

In fact it was probably only a politician of Pat Mellor’s kamikaze qualities who could have got the original traffic policy through the States in the first place. But for all of its detractors it did have one big advantage – [well two for those of us who supported its environmental aims] – it gave clarity of purpose. Like it or not, we knew where the States were going. They wanted to reduce car use in Guernsey. That was a simple aim, a straightforward aim and, importantly, a measurable aim.

Alas that clear objective was first watered down and then ignored by those mandated with implementing it. The Environment Department’s every action is at odds with the original strategy. It’s clear that in their very DNA the political members of the board rebel against the official States vision. Yet they don’t have the courage to produce an alternative one and seek formal support for it.

Let’s face it, there can be many variations on a theme, but there are only two real philosophical options for Guernsey’s traffic strategy.

1. There’s the original vision of trying to reduce car use for environmental and quality of life reasons.

2. There’s the alternative approach of saying “traffic problem – what traffic problem?” and just letting things find their own level.

If the States re-affirm the first alternative then a number of controversial actions could flow from it. They could introduce paid parking in long stay zones and ring-fence the cash for improving the commuter bus service so it becomes a viable option for almost every islander. They could re-introduce car tax – but only for the very large cars which they wish to discourage. At the same time they could increase the number of parking spaces reserved exclusively for small cars. They could make better provision for bikes and motorbikes and encourage walking to work. The list is endless

However if the States prefer option two none of these controversial actions are needed. In fact they don’t really need to do anything.

I know which option I prefer but either would be better than the current lack of direction. Only when the States decide their destination can they really debate how to get there.

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