Sustainability in transport projects: a consultant's perspective

David Fletcher, an associate at transport planning consultancy SYTRA Ltd, speaks to Laura Archer of IEMA Futures about his work improving sustainability in the transport sector.


What does your workday usually involve? 

I think the variety in my day-to-day activities is one of the things that I enjoy most about being a transport planner. No two days are the same: they involve a mix of site visits, design team meetings, client or pre-app meetings, and assessment work in the office. This ensures the job remains fresh and exciting. Trying to get the right balance in a consultancy environment between project work, business development, marketing and office management is often challenging. 

During my career I have worked on a wide range of developments, including large-scale residential schemes, leisure and tourism proposals, major infrastructure and energy projects, and education schemes, as well as commercial and industrial projects. This has naturally led to a vast geographical spread of projects across the UK, from accessible projects in central London to rural projects in Scotland and Wales. 

How do you ensure your projects are sustainable?

With any new development, the Transport Assessment, Travel Plan or Transport Chapter of an Environmental Statement are key to the long-term sustainability of the site. These documents need to ensure that the site is accessible to everyone (of all mobilities) through sustainable modes of transport, as well as ensuring that the site does not result in additional congestion on the surrounding highway network. This can lead to other environmental concerns, such as air quality and noise impacts.

A key component of the job is coming up with innovative and cost-effective transport solutions to mitigate the impact of developments and ensure they meet needs. The revised National Planning Policy Framework emphasises the provision of electric vehicle charging points at new developments, and this is just one element of sustainable development. It is also crucial to ensure there is good access to public transport, high-quality cycle parking, and good-quality, safe pedestrian and cycle routes to key destinations, usable at all times of day. It is important to provide development in the right locations so that they benefit from existing facilities, or help enhance and improve facilities and sustainable transport infrastructure. 

As part of Travel Plans we have implemented, we have included various sustainable travel solutions, such as:

  • Free taster tickets for public transport to encourage people to try travelling by bus or train, in the hope that they will use it in the future
  • On-site car club vehicles, free car share membership and free driving credits
  • On-site bike hire facilities or bike lockers with folding bikes, so that people can use bikes instead of cars for shorter journeys
  • Electric bikes in hilly areas, to ensure that residents and staff of all capabilities are able to cycle
  • Electric car charging facilities
  • Enhanced pedestrian routes, and the provision of showers, storage and changing facilities at workplaces, to encourage people to walk to work
  • Puncture repair kits, pumps, lights and high-vis clothing in bike stores, as well as regular ‘bike doctor’ visits to encourage people to cycle
  • Site-specific travel websites that are available via smartphone. This enables staff and residents to access travel information to and from the site when they are on the go
  • Online shopping lockers at developments, to encourage online shopping and minimise the number of failed deliveries. 

These measures have helped to facilitate a modal shift away from the car and towards sustainable modes of transport. 

On a recent scheme in London, we wanted to provide a ‘car-free’ development that still catered for people with mobility difficulties. We approached a car club operator about providing an accessible car club with a wheelchair-adapted vehicle. This enabled us to reduce the level of parking at the site and focus the scheme on more sustainable modes of transport, while ensuring that all residents had access to a vehicle when they needed one. 

Has the concept of sustainability changed during your career? 

The biggest change during my career has been the greater focus on the environmental impacts of development. Government policy has shifted towards the presumption in favour of sustainable development. 

This is evident in transport mitigation, which used to be targeted more at road widening or improving the capacity of junctions. Little thought was given to getting people out of cars in the first place. More recently, there has been a shift towards sustainable modes of transport, targeting developer contributions towards innovative transport solutions, cycle route improvements, new or improved bus services and bus stops, widened footways and the provision of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 

These solutions combined can give people a realistic alternative to the car and help overcome some of barriers that prevent people travelling via sustainable modes – such as not being a confident road cyclist. 

Could projects become more sustainable? If so, how? Are there any barriers stopping this?   

I believe that projects can become more sustainable from a transport perspective, and the two main barriers preventing this are: outdated and prescriptive policy, and money. These are two of the biggest barriers within the planning and development industry. 

Many transport policies are outdated and overly prescriptive, which can limit the opportunities for developments to bring forward innovative transport solutions. For example, stringent parking standards often limit the number of car-free or car-lite sustainable developments, even in highly accessible locations. I also feel that the potential for councils to exercise their compulsory purchase order (CPO) powers more, to help deliver sustainable transport schemes, should be explored.

Government funding mechanisms such as the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) transport contributions were seen as ways to generate more money for sustainable transport improvements, but more needs to be done to help councils come up with innovative solutions to transport problems – especially given resource constraints. The potential for councils to work more closely with consultancies and other transport professionals will be key to the creation of innovative transport solutions and sustainable developments.
Emerging transport technologies, such as driverless cars, gyroscopic vehicles, sustainable fuels, drone delivery vehicles and high-speed rail, will also help to make developments more sustainable. 

The views expressed in this article are of David Fletcher and are not necessarily those of SYSTRA. 

Laura Archer is a member of IEMA Futures, a new steering group of young sustainability professionals.


Image credit | iStock
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