The House of Commons Transport Select Committee has published its report into ‘all lane running’, the recent practice of changing the motorway hard shoulder to be a full time traffic lane.
Having heard all the evidence, MPs conclude “the risks arising from converting the hard shoulder into a running lane are an unacceptable price to pay… We do not support the deployment of all lane running”.
In our evidence to the Committee, we highlighted problems of induced traffic and air pollution from increasing road capacity, as well as obvious and serious concerns about safety. We are not alone. Motoring groups, emergency services and transport experts have united in speaking out against all lane running.
The hard shoulder fulfils a purpose, both as a refuge area and even more importantly, as an emergency access route. And it provides some limited buffer space between noisy, polluting traffic and the surrounding area.
We called for a moratorium – a halt to any new all lane running schemes, and a review of existing sections where air pollution and safety are worsening.
We agreed that there is a case for the original “managed motorway” concept, which introduces a controlled environment and uses the hard shoulder in exceptional cases. In the pilot study on the M42, where Active Travel Management was used, safety improved by nearly 56%. All lane running is branded as a “smart motorway” but with none of these safety benefits.
The Transport Select Committee agreed: “We find that the way that the Department has presented the risks of All Lane Running is disingenuous. The increase in risk caused by the loss of the hard shoulder is not an unfortunate, necessary cost of installing the controlled environment. The two acts are not intrinsically connected. By packaging the two together, the Department has been able to say that “overall risk”, an arbitrary concept, has not increased. The Department cannot decrease the risk of some hazards in order to justify an increase in the risk of other hazards.” (para.60)
Their report also finds that emergency services access is impeded, that recovery personnel are particularly at risk, and that the levels of Red X non-compliance and misuse of emergency refuge areas are unacceptable. Overall, they conclude that the case for all lane running has simply not been made.
“It is not justifiable for the Department to go ahead with a major motorway programme with only one year’s worth of safety information from the specific design that they have chosen. The All Lane Running design has been chosen on the basis of cost savings, and it is not acceptable for the Department to proceed with a less-safe design, putting people’s lives at risk, in order to cut costs.” (para.79)
Will this damning report make a difference?
Smart motorway rollout is a central element of the Government’s Road Investment Strategy, with plans for 30 all lane running schemes, covering 10% of the motorway network.
An early test will be the proposed introduction of all lane running to the M4 near Reading, where a decision is due in September. We joined with Friends of the Earth, local councils, community activists and others in objecting to the plans last year.
A policy change is overdue. Air pollution continues to breach legal limits. The number of fatalities and serious injuries on motorways, unlike roads as a whole, has risen. The Fifth UK Carbon Budget report, published this week, points out that for transport, “much of the opportunity to reduce emissions requires a degree of behaviour change relating to the adoption of electric cars, reducing car trips or increasing the proportion of journeys made by rail.” (section 207) The £6bn allocated for all lane running could be better used addressing these challenges.
The cross party Transport Committee could not be clearer: “We recommend an immediate halt to the rollout of All Lane Running”. A prudent Government would do well to listen.