The National Road Network Indicators for 2016 which was recently published by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) makes for interesting reading. The report is split into five parts – Network, Economic, Road Condition, Safety and Accessibility/ Environment.
The first part deals with the extent of national roads, traffic levels, and level of service which essentially means whether a road is congested or not. Chart C1 shows the level of service during the morning peak and demonstrates that over the whole country the level of congestion is surprisingly low with congestion apparent only in the vicinity of the cities – Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. With a surprising degree of honesty, the report admits that
Following the substantial investment in National Roads over the last decade, most route sections are operating to the highest standard of service. However, for certain roads such as the M50, further interventions such as demand management are required to ensure that higher levels of service are achieved.
So it concedes that most of the network is operating to a high standard and accepts that congestion will worsen on the M50 unless more measures such as demand management are introduced. As the principle type of demand management is road pricing or a congestion charge, this will not be to the liking of government which is opposed to such measures. The most interesting sections are Charts E and F which show Trip Duration and Trip Distance for National and Regional Roads and which are based on national computer models. The main findings are
- 28% of trips last less than 10 minutes
- 11% of trips are for a distance of less than 5km
- 38% of trips are for less than 10km
- 24% of trips are less than 7.5km
- In 2016 traffic growth was 4.6% across the network
- In 2016 growth in the Dublin region was 6.9%.
The 24% of trips less than 7.5km show the potential for substituting trips by car for trips by bicycle. It demonstrates clearly that congestion will not be solved by building more roads but by providing for more efficient modes of transport in terms of space and speed.
The second part Economy deals with estimates of future levels of population, car ownership and vehicles kilometres. By 2050 the ESRI forecast that the population will increase to between 5 and 5.6 million while TII expects total car ownership to increase from 2.5 million in 2013 to 3.5-4.0 million. The number of vehicle kilometres travelled is also forecast to increase from just over 40 billion in 2013 to between 52.0 and 58.5 billion in 2050 depending on future growth rate. Obviously, TII don’t agree with the concept of Peak Car or Peak Car Use. It also appears not to agree with Smarter Travel targets for reduction in commuting by private car although Smarter Travel uses a short time frame to 2020 while TII forecasts take a longer time frame to 2050. Although traffic growth was 4.6% nationally (and 7.4 in the Mid East region ie the commuter belt), it assumes that traffic will grow at an average rate of about 1% between 2016 and 2050 but this still implies an overall increase of nearly 40%. Just where this traffic will go is unclear but it is likely to lead to an increase in demands for yet more investment in roads for motorised traffic. This is already apparent in calls by groups like the Small Firms Association for a new motorway, the Leinster Outer Orbital Ring, to be developed to supplement the M50 at the same time as TII complains about inadequate funding to maintain existing roads.
The final section looks at Accessibility/Environment and includes the statement “the key benefit of a quality road system is improved accessibility to jobs”. This statement can be interpreted in two ways. The benign view is that a quality road system will reduce congestion and reinforce economic development thereby leading to increased employment. The alternative view is that the development of a better quality road system will lead to an increase in congestion and longer commuter times due to induced demand ie more people choosing to travel further to jobs because of an improved road system. Now looking at Dublin and the other Irish cities, I wonder which view predominates?