Smarter travel is the clever way to go


As I write this column overlooking the street in Holloway where I live, an old man who lives opposite is taking his grandchild to school. They hop in to his Fiesta, and I know that in about ten minutes the grandfather, with whom I have exchanged friendly words but not yet names, will be back. Then after a cup of tea, he will pop out again to take his bull terrier for its matinal.

 I know, therefore, that he is fit enough to walk to this school which cannot be more than a few hundred yards away since he is back so quickly. I long to rush out and say, ‘look why don’t you walk to the school as it would be good for the lad [who is around eight] to use up a bit of his excess energy and good for you to get a bit more exercise’ – let alone, of course what it does for the environment, congestion and the planet.

 While obviously I can’t do that as he would be perfectly in his rights to say ‘mind your own business’, that is precisely at the root of schemes using ‘soft measures’ to try to change people’s travel habits. A three year programme in Sutton called Smarter Travel has just come to an end and the results are promising.

 Sutton won a London wide competition to of the boroughs obtain funding for its project to persuade people to travel more sustainably. The core part of the scheme is to send people round to knock on doors to discuss their transport habits and so far two thirds of the 80,000 households in the borough have been contacted.

. Interestingly, Daniel Ratchford, who has been running the project for the past year, says that it was very important not to associate it with the local council: ‘We deliberately created a different branding from the council and the interviewers say they are from Smarter Travel, rather than the council, so as not to give the impression that it is the local authority preaching’.

 He has been pleased that so few people have simply slammed the door in the face of the interviewers since, when asked, most people are interested to improve the way they travel. People are motivated to change their behaviour for various reasons. Some see cycling and walking or using the bus as a way of becoming fitter, others realise that it is cheaper to use the bus while some want to save the planete.

 Cycling has being the big winner with an 88 per cent increase, albeit from a low base. Other measures such as training sessions and the provision of cycle parking have helped, too but this is a remarkable figure especially as other outer London boroughs have not experienced any similar growth (it is central London which has had the big boost in cycling in recent years, and indeed, only there has there been the kind of culture change which leads to a self-sustaining increase).

 For the most part, the results have been less dramatic. There has been a 14 per cent increase in bus patronage and only a 2 per cent reduction in car journeys. Nevertheless, even reversing of constantly increasing car use is a considerable achievement and something to build on. The widespread adoption by local businesses and schools of travel plans, which incorporate continuing measures to encourage sustainable travel, should mean that the figures continue moving in the right direction.

 Indeed, although the project has now ended, work will continue albeit on smaller basis but there is, too, a very interesting permanent legacy. The council’s Smarter Travel team is being incorporated into the team that carries out its traditional transport role which mainly consists of road improvements and traffic calming measures. There has been, as Ratchford admits, something of a culture clash: ‘The highways people tended to be men in their 50s and talk engineering, while the Smarter Travel staff tended to be women in their 20s who spoke marketing’. But already the blending is bearing fruit. A railway bridge which is being replaced will now incorporate a cycle lane and a wider pavement on each side, whereas previously there had only been a narrow walkway.

 Clearly every council in the country ought now to be considering moving in this direction. Even though superficially there is a cost, the reduction in demand for space on the roads and less congestion means that ultimately such schemes pay for themselves, albeit in an indirect way.  Since the scheme is predicated on the idea of choice, there seems to be no ideological barrier to all the parties supporting it though perhaps the Tories might worry that it has too much of a ‘nanny state’ feel for them. Meanwhile, sadly, my neighbour will continue to take his grandson to school in the car.

  • James F

    You should try to talk to your neighbour. Many people do not realise the blinding obvious!

  • “I know, therefore, that he is fit enough to walk to this school… ”

    While the grandfather may be fit enough to walk, you haven’t provided any evidence that the grandson is also fit enough to do so. He might have an impairment which makes driving him to school the safer option. (Incidentally, many cars today now have air filters, so even an asthma sufferer might prefer the car rather than walking.)

    “Meanwhile, sadly, my neighbour will continue to take his grandson to school in the car.”

    You already talk to the chap. Why not discuss this too? After all, it’s *our* planet, not just *his* planet. We *all* have to breathe in the pollution.

  • Anoop

    “A railway bridge which is being replaced will now incorporate a cycle lane and a wider pavement on each side, whereas previously there had only been a narrow walkway”

    This should be common practice and should not require special pleading. It is the job of highway designers, architects, town planners, the Government etc. to design the built environment so that walking and cycling are the most natural and pleasant modes of transport. This is far more effective and important than trying to persuade individuals to change their travel behaviour without improving the streetscape.

    This is important for 3 reasons:
    1. Public health – better cardiovascular fitness, less obesity, (possibly more happiness and less depression) – as recommended by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence Clinical Guideline 43 on Obesity.
    2. Public health – traffic reduction leading to less respiratory illness and road traffic accidents
    3. Global warming

    Not everyone agrees about the existence of reason 3. But reasons 1 and 2 are very strong.

  • Michael Willoughby

    what was the cost of the scheme and by how much has it been scaled down?


  • Pat K

    Amazing, what a load of bash the Engineer claptrap.

    The bridge was no doubt without footpath or cyclepath because it was old, Is it a Victorian road over rail bridge constructed as part of the permanent way? I suspect it is and so it should be noted the Victorians didn’t seem to promote cycling and walking as well as they should have particularly given the absence of the motor car from the highways and the by-ways of the country in those days. However, they did give as the basis of an industrial and engineering heritage that people seem to have forgotten also gave us the basis for the “comfy” living some many enjoy now. Thanks for that Mr Brunel…..who was by the way an elderly Engineer.

    Having personally seen and been commissioned to rectify the problematic and downright dangerous schemes that some of the 20 year old “marketing” or “smarter travel” types design [TfL is chock-a-block with them] I can only say, the 50 year old engineer has more knowledge, experience and a greater understanding of responsibility than these transient bunch of clowns could ever possess or apply to their work.

    “Smarter Travel” is like fashion, and like Mr Ratchford and the farcical Smarter Travel scheme Sutton introduced in ther principal town centre it will hopefully pass and fade from memory. Until then who takes responsibilty for ill concieved designs that are currently being promoted, or should I say marketed?

    The 50 year old engineer maybe?

    One should remember that the 50 year old engineer was 20 once, and they went to college and studied a real subject and then went out into the real world to gain experience in it to make sure they do their job responsibly and appropropriately…It’s called Continuing Professional Development, something I suspect Mr Ratchford knows little about.

    As a 50 something male engineer, Engineering is a term I understand, but what is marketing anyway? Isn’t it akin to selling?

    Or is marketing the bull definition for polishing a turd.

  • Derek L

    Without wishing to nit-pick on the above post, but doing so, I K Brunel (end of para 2) was 53 when he died. “Elderly”?

  • Dan

    Near my office one used to have to walk under a series of 4 subways with a central open area at below road level to cross the road. It didn’t bother me but many people were intimidated by it (so jay walked at street level), and people seemed to think it a nice place to urinate regularly. It had a closed down newsagent kiosk in the middle to add to the atmosphere. Dated from late 1960s construction of the inner ring road.

    2 years back council spent several million filling it in, removing the roundabout and re-organising the junction with surface level pedestrian crossings. This was purely to get rid of these subways (ie there was no vehicle related reason to do this).

    I fear engineers were responsible for building it originally. No doubt it was fashionable at the time, and no doubt engineers can be influenced by fashion.

    There’s room for lots of practioners in this field, with skills that complement each other.

  • RapidAssistant

    Dan – on an related issue, it amazes me that even today some of the hideous architectural mistakes of the 1960s are being repeated – in my home town (Glasgow) they are currently talking about expanding the biggest shopping mall in the city centre so that the current multistorey car park will need to be relocated. They plan to build it on top of Buchanan Street bus station, which will then become a sub-surface, fume filled hovel which will no doubt become a haven for all sorts of undesirable activity.

    And the city has been here before – the city centre’s other bus terminus at Anderston – built beneath the ghastly Anderston Centre with its council tower blocks, a half abandoned concrete shopping precinct and several underground car parks became a red light district and a hotspot for drug dealing. Services declined as people didn’t want to go anywhere near it and SPT ended up closing it down and moving a lot of services to the existing congested hub at Buchanan, whose feeder roads are forever clogged up with buses at rush hour going nowhere very fast.

    When do we ever learn? Are there people with brains in council planning departments, I cry??

  • Pat K

    Derek L

    I accept that using the term elderly for a 53 year old may sound misrepresentative by today’s standards, but with average Victorian life expectrancy of around 40, I think 53 could be considered to be “elderly”.

    Also at that tme Engineers were highly respected and probably also undertook the role of the planners of the urban fabric. Following the introduction of planning laws in the mid-20th Century we have seen that role replaced more and more by the “town planner”; the people responsible for the post-war “homes in the sky” which latterly became the new-age slums as communities disintegrated, kids lost play space and families were relocated.

    These were also the people who came up with the ideas of grade seperation [or subways, flyovers and elevated walkways] which further led to isolation, loss of overlooking and poor community integration. All this time the Engineer was being pushed aside at the design stage to became simply the person who required to use their skills to build these monstrosities. It wasn’t the Engineer who had dreamt up these concepts, it was the Engineer who had to come up with the ways to build the planners, politicians and marketting types pipedreams and try to make them work.

    Why didn’t the Engineer speak up against this? Many did, but too many people, politicians, and the public listened to the marketing people [many of whom are probably now much older than 50] as they sold their ideas of Utopia on the council estate. Why didn’t the public listen top those that did speak out? Because the Engineer didn’t speak the new language of these marketeeers and spin merchants. Engineers lost their status and now Engineers are blamed for every ill that the town planner foistered on the public.

    And do we learn? No, almost thirty years after realising the mistakes that planners made with the estates of the 60’s and 70’s we embark on building the new slums of Britain and to support these crowded stacks of little boxes they will be add an infrastructure which will lead to further problems in the future.

    A continuing case of the Kings new clothes….

  • Derek L

    Hi Pat K

    I take the point on “elderly”. The Victorian 40 or so year life expectancy is a “skewed” average. It reflects the high numbers of deaths in infancy and to age 5. You have a lot of people living to 80 or so, but large numbers not getting to age 5, and the average comes down quite dramatically – worth remembering when considering life expectancy figures (which are at birth) in developing countries. For the better off in Victorian times, 80 or 90 was far from unknown.

    But, as I said, this is nit-picking and not that important in the overall context.

    On that issue, surely there were and are, quite a lot of engineers involved in town planning?

    I suspect you have it slightly backwards – it was the engineers who said we can build high-rise monstrosities (your term), and the town planners who said “Oh great, let’s use them”. And then we had Ronan Point, which established that the engineers may have missed a little flaw in the structures (although that is a far wider debate).

    There are many initiatives which are engineer led, followed by marketing people saying we can sell that (look at the mobile phone market, for example – texting was developed by engineers for small purpose, and even the marketing people did not realise how it would take off in overall application).

    On the railway front, high speed push-pull was engineering led. The erstwhile Southern Region put a 4 REP on the back of 2 4TC’s and shoved them down to Bournemouth at 90 mph, without any ill effect. Which led to the 86/87 push-pulls on the WCML and the 91 push-pulls on the ECML. (And similar all over Europe). While the operators accepted the concept with enthusiasm, it was the engineers saying we can do this, can you use it, rather than the other way around.

    OK, so I have picked 2 which were successful, and I guess there are many less so.

    What “new slums of Britain” are we building now?

  • Pat K


    Thanks for the reply, I accept any average, or statistic, is likely to be skewed towards supporting the case form the person presenting the argument. A bit like Mr Ratchford’s inane gender and ageist generalisation that 50 year old male Engineers = bad – 20 year old female marketing types = Good.

    Brunel was an exception to the rule, in many ways and it’s a pity that we live in culture that is so risk-free, so dominated by checklists and tick boxes that Engineers, no matter how old, cannot flourish with some degree of respect.Essentially I’m sick of professionals being undermined by the likes of Mr Ratchford and his like. I’m surprised that he can maintain any respect amongst his staff when making such crass comments about them.

    I suapect that many Engineers were and still are involved in town planning, I’m one of them. But, as I suggested, many of them have seen their roles diminished to a point where they rarely have little or no influence at the sharp end. The cult of celebrity and faces have put paid to that hence, the rise of the likes of Rodgers, Foster etc, very laudible Architects, but these people have adopted a wider mantle, speaking on too wide a variety of professional topics. A bit like Mr Ratchford.

    The Engineering profession has been subserviant and complicit in its own downfall, putting up an elitist face to the public at a time in the 70’s and 80’s when it should have been more open and down to earth, encouraging more students to choose Engineering over media studies.

    One of my issues over the “smarter travel” rhetoric of Mr Ratchfords is that who amongst these “marketing” types will take ressponsibility for the inevitable when something goes wrong.

    You cite Ronan Point, in that case the inquiry identified the problem and because of the paper trail of engineering led design the cause could be readily identified and a solution/resolution developed. I suppose another analogy might be like Richard Feynman chairing the NASA shuttle disaster hearing, can you imagine a conclusion being so quickly and readily identified if it was chaired by Charles Saatchi?

    I think I may have been unclear rather than as you put it, “having it slightly backwards”. I talk of Civil Engineering, not one of the other specialised Engineering disciplines such as Structures, M&E etc. The role of the Civil Engineer has been greatly undermined in the societies they helped to create. A friend of mine quotes “Without Civil Engineers we would have no civilisation”, that is true I believe, and we now have a “Civilisation” with no respect for Civil Engineers and, I might add, without a respect for itself. Manifest, I believe in the likes of Mr Ratchford, who I think, based on his comments above, owes an apology to every male 50 year old Engineer in his charge as a Head of service at Sutton. It’s easy to knock a 50 year old male professional, who might not want to rock the boat on the verge of retirement, I bet he wouldn’t have made the statement about contigent of women or ethnic minority staff.

    Was it the Engineers who said we can build high rise homes?

    Or was it the Town Planners riding on the back of the Abercrombie report.

    Even if Engineers were the ones who developed the concept, capability and techniques to build higher, as in the early 20th century American high-rise “skyscrapers”, I’m pretty confident to say that I suspect it wasn’t the Engineer who took the idea and developed the “communities in the sky” concept over here. I love 20th century Architecture but having lived in a tower block as a child I soon learnt about the downside of it.

    Thre current desire to “stack ’em high” can possibly be traced back to the Urban Task Force report calling for an Urban Renaissence and a need to deliver the 4 million odd homes the politician were looking for at the time. Afraid to use anymore of the green belt than necessary the pressure was on for high-rise and brown-field devleopment. And that’s where we start to witness the new slums springing up, apartments of 40 odd square metres to raise a family, pokey little apartments going under the guise of “affordable” homes with hardly any personal amenity space, maybe a poky little balcony overlooking a main road,

    You suggest two successes, I wouldn’t disagree with these, other than to say look at what the marketing men have done with the great piece of kit that was the mobile ‘phone!

    However, I on’t disagree that there continue to be many ground breaking initiatives which are singularly Engineer led [even by some 50 year plus Engineers] .

    How long that will last in this world of spin and Ratchfordism I don’t know, I just pray that it does and the likes of Mr Ratchford and his Smarter Travel types are led away so that they do even less damage.

  • I’ve never seen the word ‘Ratchfordism’ before, and am interested and intrigued by some of the comments that Cristian’s article has provoked. I certainly hadn’t realised I was saying anything so controversial.

    To be absolutely clear, I do not favour marketing over engineering; women over men; or twenty-somethings over fifty-somethings. My point in raising this in a long conversation with Cristian was simply to highlight the fact that what we’re doing in Sutton is to very successfully integrate two quite different approaches. I certainly wouldn’t advocate replacing engineers with marketers – and this is not what we’ve done (I have a fantastic team of transport engineers in Sutton, who are extremely experienced, and who do a great job). In fact, the ‘integrated transport packages’ we’ve agreed with TfL to implement in Sutton are entirely about bringing these two professions and approaches together to achieve some genuine improvements on the ground – and yes, to encourage people as part of that to rely less on using their cars.

    And in terms of the results of the programme, our Year 3 results (now available on are clear evidence of our success – and even better than the Year 2 figures that Cristian quoted. A 75% increase in cycling; 6% decrease in car use; and a 16% increase in bus patronage. Not controversial; not spin; just a huge success that we’re really keen to share with others.

    Daniel Ratchford, Strategic Director of Environment & Leisure, London Borough of Sutton

  • Derek L

    Hi Pat

    The only point I was making on the statistical analysis is that they need to be looked at with care. I don’t go further than that.

    You obviously know more than I do about engineers and town planning issues, and I am not going to argue about that.

    I did not appreciate that you were talking about civil engineers, and accept that point, to the extent that I can, although I would have thought that without civil engineers, we might have a different civilisation. But we were always going to have to build bridges, roads, and so on, so we were always going to have civil engineers.

    I see the point on the modern “new slums”: presumably the high density (and small) flats/houses on brownfield. Brownfield development seems to me to be a pretty good idea, not least because you usually get living units fairly close to work, thus reducing the need to use fuelled transport to get there, and you also get to use sites which would otherwise remain derelict.

    There is undoubtedly a problem in that many of these were built for the “Buy to let” market, which is not doing too well. They do reflect a demand for relatively small living units for singles or young doubles with no immediate intention of creating a family. That demand has reduced a bit as a result of the current economic woes, but I am sure will resurge, and it is clearly quite a big bit of the market.

    You are quite right in pointing out that these places are no good for bringing up a family, and it would no doubt be useful if there were a little more concentration on that element.

    Essentially, there are not enough homes in the UK for the population, which is why house prices are high. There are also a lot of vested interests which would like house prices to remain high, which is perhaps a lot to do with why there is simply not enough new build in the areas that do demand – new families and so on (the better housing you point to).

    I don’t suppose that will happen, but watch the small apartment/flat/house take off as the economy eases.

  • Derek L

    Looking back at the top, I seem to be way off topic, for which sorry. On topic, I do walk to work and back, about 35 minutes, of which the last 20 is the most irritating (particularly when it is raining or snowing).

    I have used the bus once or twice – £1.90 for 2 miles or so – that’s from “First regenerating travel”, and their shareholder’s pockets (and perhaps a bonus or two). It took longer than walking.

    I also drove (once, never again) – took an hour, mostly watching the bicyclists passing on the left.

  • Lee

    My only comment is that I think it’s perfectly reasonable to be both an Engineer and a Smarter Choices practitioner. According to the ICE’s website they quote ‘We believe that civil engineers are “at the heart of society, delivering sustainable development through knowledge, skills and professional expertise.” I would argue that smarter choices covers these aspects and whilst it isn’t the only method available to solve the problem of traffic congestion, it can certainly play a key part, especially if coupled with improvements to transport infrastructure. As a male, almost in my 40’s, I guess I don’t fit into either category but am a living example that one can be an Engineer and a Smarter Travel type regardless of age or gender.

  • RapidAssistant

    I see Stephen Glaister has been at it again (read here: ) Can anyone find a counterargument from anyone else that’s been published online so prominently?

    He’s right about trains increasingly only for the rich – the current fares structure has ensured this – but is he really saying that cars are for the poor therefore? Given the costs of petrol, insurance and road tax (older cars are not subject to the lower tax bands that newer ones are) these days, it’s just plain arrogant for him to state that “for 90% of people, the car is public transport”. It’s almost an diametrically opposite view from Mrs Thatcher who made us feel like losers if we even thought about using public transport.

    Whilst he’s right to point out that the economics behind HS2 are decidedly ropey, it doesn’t do the cause any good when the media give this man a soapbox to keep on speaking up for the motoring lobby.

  • Pat K


    I think if you re-read my posts the one thing you might see is that I am not advocating is that an Engineer, be they male, female, over 50 or under 50, cannot be practitioner of smarter travel. In fact I think i quite strongly intimate that probably in the majority of cases [but not in all; even I recognise that there are few bad engineering iniitatives and practitioners around] that they may be the most appropriate advocates of smarter travel. I am also cognisant that not all the good ideas come from Engineers.

    I take exception that a part of a professional workforce is dismissed in the way it comes across in the article, and despite Mr Ratchford’s follow up comment, which I will get round to answering, I suggesf he should re-read Mr Woolmer’s article again through the eyes of a 50 year old male Engineer who has worked successfully at the front line of municipal and transport engineering all of his working life.

    My other gripes about “Smarter Travel”, in the context of Mr Ratchford’s reported comments in Mr Woolmer’s article is not about whether “Smarter travel” is a good or bad thing. It about the implementation of the concept, the spin attached to it and the notion that every 20 year old [irrespective of gender] marketeer or someone goiing under the title “project manager” can deliver resonsibly designed and appropriate measures without the knowledge, experience and particuallrly responsibilty that comes with the professional qualifications of Engineer.

    When you get your first, fatality linked to a “Smarter travel” scheme [and God forbid that happens], or you get your first major contractuarl dispute, where will you find the marketeer or the unqualified project manager then?

    If there not having quickly away on their toes I suspect that you’ll find them either pointing at the 50 year old engineer trying to pass the buck to them, or maybe, they’ll be asking them poliitely and very apologetically to sort the mess out.

    I think I already know the answer to that one.

  • Dan

    Interstingly this has made the gruaniad :

    The quaility of the readers comments does not come close to what can regulalry be regulalry read here… but some are quite interesting, touching on questions about the long term impact etc, or the extent to which it represents good value (probably things never easy to really know – and not, in themselves, reasons not to do it) – but, for example one reader states:

    “There has been a huge amount of money spent here, something like £7M. You could build a lot of cycle routes with that money. Instead, it has been spent paying people to knock on doors and hand out leaflets, which is very expensive and the benefits may not be long-lasting.
    Cycling has increased, but at 2% modal share now it’s no better than the national average. Research shows it’s safety concerns that prevent more people cycling. Without safe cycle routes, you won’t get the number of cyclists to increase much further. People may start cycling, have a couple of near misses and give up. If you look at places that have high rates of cycling, it’s because it’s safe to cycle. It really is that simple!”

  • Imagine a place such as this:
    A ‘HYPER-GRID’ – suburban-sprawl with ‘absolute zero public transport’…
    The mode of travel is ‘strictly’ confined to ‘two-ton-plus-gazzoline powered behemoths’…
    Residential, educational, retail, entertainment, general business, medical, light & heavy industrial locations are very-very-very far away from each other…
    Television, cinema, radio, magazines, newspapers(the popular media), elementary schools, colleges’ universities alike have basically prohibited/excluded/deleted the following terms: ‘public-transport’, ‘train’, ‘trolley/street-car/tram’, ‘train-station’, railway station or depot’, ‘mass-transit’, ‘subway/underground’, ‘bus’, ‘bus-stop’, bicycling’, ‘walking’- except upon a motorized treadmills/cycles in a school gymnasium or private health club.
    On almost every principal road intersection or street corner and along strip-malls there are gazzoline stations and ‘drive-thru fast-food un-restaurants’, where you can ‘-gas up, slurpee up, gobble & go-‘.
    The media of this place constantly and forcefully perpetuates the ‘myth of the private automobile’ at the expense of everything else…
    Had enough hints? It’s your guess…