Goodbye quiet country lanes?

Transport secretary Alistair Darling's pump-priming of the road-pricing debate has been all over the mainstream media. Environmental groups are said to be "warm" to the idea of charging motorists per distance travelled but will satellite-tracked road pricing lead to faster Mercs on £1.30 a mile motorways but a motoring underclass rat-running on the 2p a mile country lane network?
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That congestion is crippling is not in doubt. Gridlock Britain is a reality and traffic-jams are going to get longer as the years go by.

Something radical needs to be done and road pricing is being mooted as the wonder solution.

Alistair Darling broached the subject in three of the weekend's newspapers and is set to expand on the theme at a speech to the Social Market Foundation in London later today.

Road pricing which would replace road tax and fuel duty, and, says Darling, would cut congestion and would be cheaper for half of all motorists.

He wants pilot schemes up and running within two years. A full roll-out of national road pricing would not be possible before 2015.

But what will be the traffic impact on lightly travelled country lanes? More than fifty percent of the 10 000 mile National Cycle Network is on country lanes.

Such lanes would be the cheapest to travel along, 2p per mile compared to £1.30 a mile for a key motorway in rush hour. Of course, if motorists broke the law and exceeded speed limits on these sort of roads - as thirty percent of them already admit to doing - travel times would be lower. Perceived to be lower, that is.

Road pricing, in the form of the congestion charge, may have been a boon for London's cyclists but in the capital a whole zone is cordoned off and rat-running into the centre of the zone is not possible.

National road pricing could see rat-running on a frightening scale, forcing cyclists, pedestrians, equestrians and others into off-road ghettoes

In a letter published in yesterday's Guardian, Sustrans' chief executive, John Grimshaw said: "Government proposals to cut congestion are missing the point by a mile. Once again the focus is on a single issue, in this case our overcrowded roads. It fails to address the bigger picture – reducing travel."

However, The Guardian edited out this paragraph:

"Road charging may solve congestion but if all it does is tip more traffic onto the quiet roads it will do nothing to reduce the stress on the environment and, if it makes the roads so busy we cannot cycle on them, our health will suffer also."

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