The future of transport: the highway to hell?

Monday 25 October, 5.45pm until 7.30pm, Blackwell Bookshop, Precinct Centre, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9RN

Venue: Blackwell Bookshop, Precinct Centre, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9RN

Tickets: Free, but tickets must be booked by contacting .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) as space is limited.

This event will take place in the discussion area of Blackwell Bookshop. Please arrive before 5:45pm for a light buffet reception and a 6:00pm start - expected to finish at 7:30pm.

‘There is no Plan B, which is why we will have to have a period of reflection.’ So said Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester’s city council, when Mancunians roundly rejected a new transport plan in 2008. The plan would have made £3billion of funding available for transport improvements, much of it borrowed against future revenue from a proposed rush-hour congestion charge. The voters of Manchester, it appeared, were in no mood to foot the bill for improvements through a tax on driving. Changing transport systems is rarely a straightforward process, given that they are complicated, and engineers are typically locked into an infrastructure designed for a previous age – not to mention the additional pressure today of public spending cuts. Proponents of the Manchester transport plan claimed the city has the slowest-moving traffic in England. In built-up areas, there is clearly a limit to how many extra roads can be built. Many agree that public transport services need to become more frequent, less crowded and more reliable. And that means spending money. While nobody likes paying higher fares or more tax, that may be just the kind of uncomfortable choice that needs to be made.

On top of concerns about congestion and worries about safety, changing cultural attitudes mean that for many mobility itself is no longer an unquestioned good: cars are frowned upon, aviation deemed too carbon intensive, trains too expensive, and space travel simply pointless. We are urged to consider alternatives: whether it is restricting car use in favour of cycling or reducing unnecessary journeys through stay-at-home tele-conferencing. Local government supports car pooling schemes and energy-efficient transport. The idea of environmental taxes to fund new infrastructure and penalise transport use has widespread support.

Should politicians be unashamed about arguing for the funding required to make travel easier if that is what the voters want? Or do they, and we all, have a responsibility to curb our enthusiasm for rapid transport: in the interests of both the environment and just slowing down the pace of life a little? The technology now exists to make what were once the dreams of science fiction a reality: jet-packs; hydrogen powered cars; Maglev public transport; and automated highways. Yet we have much more modest transport ambitions today, in which high-speed rail links come only slowly and at the expense of new runways. What future for transport in the 21st century?

Michelle Di Leo
director, FlyingMatters, the national campaign for flying

Yvonne Hübner
principal policy advisor, Institution of Engineering and Technology

Austin Williams
associate professor in architecture, XJTLU University, Suzhou, China; director, Future Cities Project; convenor, Bookshop Barnies; founding member of New Narratives

Keith McCabe
principal consultant, Atkins; chair, Manchester Institute of Engineering and Technology Transport Interest Group

Produced by
Simon Belt IT consultant; coordinator, Manchester Salon
Recommended readings
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Philippe Legrain, Independent, 8 October 2010

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When cyclists are continually told that their mode of transport is saving humanity from doom, it’s no wonder so many of them are annoying pricks.

Brendan O'Neill, spiked, 23 July 2010

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Shirong Chen, BBC, 10 September 2009

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