The Directors New Roads! Or a sad tale of Induced Demand!
Inspired by a recent podcast by the wonderful Andy Boenau - Urbanism Speakeasy. This is my take on the inspiring story by Hans Christian Anderson adapted for today and set out to highlight why we always appear to miss the obvious even though it's before our very eyes. How sometimes it takes the eyes of a child to spot what we can't see through professional assumptions. Unlike children we've all had our corners knocked off a bit and that isn't always a good thing. So in reading this I hope I can make you think about adding a few corners back on. Or at least challenging the status quo a bit more! It's a bit of fun or is it? Does this go on daily across the UK in transport funding, planning and design?
The Director's New Roads!
Many years ago there was a Local Authority Director so exceedingly fond of new businesses that he spent all his money on building new roads for cars and lorries in the hope it would attract them. He didn’t read evidence or look at current research. He cared nothing about people that walked, people that cycled or those that ride in a local bus, except to occasionally spend a little on these modes to try and show fairness. He had a set of traffic lights for every hour of the day, and instead of saying, as one might, about any other place, "The Director is engaging with his community or creating a liveable walkable city" here they always said. "The Director is planning the next road widening or junction."
In the great city where he lived, life was always very busy, everyday many strangers came to town, and among them one day came two professionals. They let it be known they were traffic engineers, and they said they could build the most magnificent roads imaginable. Not only were their junctions and extra carriageways uncommonly fine, but roads made this way had a wonderful way of making congestion invisible to anyone who was unfit for their position, office, or who was unusually stupid.
"These would be just the roads for me," thought the Director "If I build them I would be able to discover which people in my city are unfit for their posts. And I could tell the wise people from the fools. I will remove congestion! Yes, I certainly must get some of these roads built for me right away." He paid the two traffic engineers a large sum of money to start work at once.
They set up a large office and began to model traffic, though there was nothing but numbers and algorithms on their computers. All the finest software and the purest CAD systems which they demanded went into their new office, while they worked these meaningless computer systems far into the night.
"I'd like to know how those traffic engineers are getting on with my new roads," the Director thought, but he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were unfit for their position would not be able to see the congesting becoming invisible. It couldn't have been that he doubted himself, yet he thought he'd rather send someone else to see how things were going. The whole City knew about the new road's peculiar powers, and all were impatient to find out how stupid their neighbours were.
"I'll send my honest old Head of Transport to the traffic engineers" the Director decided. "He'll be the best one to tell me how the new roads look, for he's a sensible man and no one does his duty better."
So the honest old Head of Transport went to the room where the two Traffic Engineers sat working away at their software and meaningless computers.
"Heaven help me," he thought as his eyes flew wide open, "I can see that this will just fill up and cause more traffic and not hide the congestion at all". But he did not say so.
Both the traffic engineers begged him to be so kind as to come near to approve the excellent road, the beautiful junctions. They pointed to the meaningless computer, and the poor old Head of Transport stared as hard as he dared. He couldn't see anything that made the congestion invisible because there was nothing to see. "Heaven have mercy," he thought. "Can it be that I'm a fool? I'd have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the Head of Transport? It would never do to let on that I can't see the congestion disappearing."
"Don't hesitate to tell us what you think of it," said one of the traffic engineers.
"Oh, it's wonderful -it's enchanting." The old Head of Transport peered through his spectacles. "Such a road, what junctions!" I'll be sure to tell the Director how delighted I am with it."
"We're pleased to hear that," the traffic engineers said. They proceeded to show all the extra lane widths and to explain the intricate junctions. The old Head of Transport paid the closest attention, so that he could tell it all to the Director. And so he did.
The traffic engineers at once asked for more money, more computers and more engineers, to get on with the road design. But it all went into their road. Not a thread went into the cycle tracks, bus routes or pavements, though they worked at their designing as hard as ever.
The Director presently sent another trustworthy official to see how the work progressed and how soon it would be ready. The same thing happened to her that had happened to the Head of Transport. She looked and she looked, but as there was no benefits to see in the new roads she couldn't see the congestion becoming invisible.
"Isn't it a wonderful piece of design?" the traffic engineers asked her, as they displayed and described their imaginary disappearing traffic road.
"I know I'm not stupid," the woman thought, "so it must be that I'm unworthy of my good office. That's strange. I mustn't let anyone find it out, though." So she praised the disappearing congestion she did not see. She declared she was delighted with the wonderful additional lanes and the exquisite junctions To the Director she said, "It held me spellbound."
The entire City was talking of these splendid roads, and the Director wanted to see it for himself while it was still on the drawing board. Attended by a band of chosen men and women, among whom were his two old trusted officials - the ones who had been to the traffic engineers, he set out to see the two traffic engineers. He found them designing with might and main, but without a stitch of congestion disappearing.
"Magnificent," said the two officials already duped. "Just look, Your Majesty, what carriageways! What a design!" They pointed to the meaningless computers and drawings each supposing that the others could see how the congestion would disappear.
"What's this?" thought the Director. "I can't see any congestion disappearing. This is terrible!
Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be the Director? What a thing to happen to me of all people what will big business say! Oh! It's very clever," he said. "It has my highest approval." And he nodded approbation at the computers and drawings. Nothing could make him say that he couldn't see any congestion disappearing.
His whole retinue stared and stared. One saw no more than another, but they all joined the Director in exclaiming, "Oh! It's very clever," and they advised him to build the roads from this wonderful design especially for the great procession he was soon to lead. "Magnificent! Excellent! Unsurpassed!" were bandied from mouth to mouth, and everyone did his best to seem well pleased. The Director gave each of the traffic engineers a cross to wear in his buttonhole, and the title of "Chief Traffic Engineer."
Before the procession the Traffic Engineers worked day and night, shut off all the existing roads and laid lots of new concrete and tarmac, to show how busy they were finishing the Director's new roads. They pretended to take the numbers off the computers. They made holes in the ground with huge diggers, laid drainage put in endless traffic lights. And at last they said, "Now the Director's new roads are ready for him."
Then the Director himself came with his noblest Heads of Service and local dignitaries, and the traffic engineers each stood proudly in front of their designs. They said, "These are the keys to your car, here's your coat, just get in, drive off and the congestion will miraculously disappear. "All of our designs are truly marvellous you will hardly notice the lack of traffic. One would almost think we hadn't removed the cars and lorries such is the subtlety of our design."
"Exactly," all the Heads of Service agreed, though as they looked out could see queues building up and no congestion disappearing, for there was nothing new to see.
"If The Director will condescend to drive his car along the road," said the traffic engineers, "we will help you onto the new roads with our new traffic signals and computer management systems." “As Director you will not have to worry about cyclists and pedestrians as we have made no provision for them at all."
The Director put on his coat, and the traffic engineers turned on the magical traffic signals and computer system, one road after another. They took him outside and seemed to be looking at something - that was the supposed car free roads and the Director turned round and round before the City folk amazed at his own foresight and planning.
"How well your new roads look. Aren't they becoming?" He heard on all sides, "That new carriageway, so perfect! Those junctions, so suitable! It is a magnificent transport system."
Then the minister of public processions announced: "The Director's car is waiting."
"Well, I'm supposed to be ready," the Director said, and turned again for one last look at the roads "It is a remarkable design isn't it?" He seemed to regard his roads with the greatest interest.
The Heads of Service and dignitaries who were to follow his car looked from their cars as if all the traffic was moving freely. Then they pretended not to notice the huge queues building up behind them. They didn't dare admit the congestion was not invisible.
So off went the Director in procession under his splendid canopy but moving just a few feet or so. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, "Oh, how fine are the Director's new roads! Don't they move the traffic along more freely? And we see no long queues!" Nobody would confess that he couldn't see any congestion disappearing, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No road the Director had built before was ever such a complete success.
However from the crowd a small voice spoke "But the congestion hasn't gone at all" a little child said, "and there is nowhere for me to walk or ride my bike!"
"Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?" said the boy’s father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, "The congestion hasn't gone. A child says the congestion hasn't gone at all."
"But the congestion hasn't gone!" the whole city cried out at last.
The Director shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he sat stationary in his car more proudly than ever, as his Heads of Service sat behind him in the congestion that wasn't there at all.