1: The legacy and the future

1: The legacy and the future

Traffic in Towns had its most powerful impact on the integration of land use and transportation planning. The report explored a wide range of planning, engineering and construction measures open to a nation in love with car-ownership, from ‘do nothing’ to 'go the whole hog’.

Yet back in 1963, few involved with Traffic in Towns, a ‘very technical’ tome on urban roads and traffic, imagined that it would have such far-reaching impacts across the world. The 1964 Penguin edition became an international bestseller. Since then, Buchanan’s ideas continue to feature in virtually every course on transport and city planning. Traffic in Towns: the next 50 years begins with a candid exploration of the Buchanan legacy, which instigated keen debate from its publication. Professor Carmen Hass Klau, a close colleague and contemporary of Sir Colin's, recalls initial reactions to the original report and places them in context; a time when Britain was considering substantial and comprehensive road building programmes.

Traffic in Towns was understood and mis-understood in equal measure, but was instrumental in foreseeing the problems that increasing car traffic would have on urban wellbeing. In Britain, the book was variously associated with the use of single and double yellow lines in town centres, pedestrianised shopping zones with multi-storey car parks, one-way streets, kerbside barriers and motorway bypasses. Despite Buchanan’s best efforts, his report was seen by many as a blueprint for radical – and very scary – urban surgery. Paul Buchanan, Sir Colin’s grandson and an internationally renowned transport planner, offers his personal view. ‘The overarching concept providing the theoretical context for Traffic in Towns is that transport planning and the building of highway systems are part and parcel of a much wider subject. Buchanan believed in the idea of towns as “accumulated investment of centuries”.’ Internationally, the reception was rather different. The report was apparently still in print in Japan in the 1980s, and also made an impact in Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. Buchanan was of the opinion, quite correctly, that the Germans already had similar ideas to his own. A German translation of Traffic in Towns, or Stadtverkehr, was already available in 1964, and was required reading for every German planner. Ken Gwilliam, Economic Adviser on Transport to the World Bank, offers his perspective of Buchanan's impacts and legacy across the wider world based on his experience working in the urban transport field for most of the time since the publication of the original report. He interprets the essence of Buchanan's message, how far it differed from the conventional wisdom of the time, and the extent to which it remains relevant or has been overtaken by events. The broader and longer-term legacy is considered with particular reference to its impact on the developing world through the 2002 World Bank urban transport policy review Cities on the Move, of which Gwilliam was the primary author.


Fri 30 October 2015

1.1 Sir Colin Buchanan's career and his Traffic in Towns report

Sir Colin Buchanan said that 'much of our future happiness and well being depends on the extent to which we can control the motor vehicle'. Traffic in Towns, his best-known book, has been seriously misunderstood: was it a surrender to the car, or an attack upon it? Most in Britain labelled Buchanan the promoter of large urban road building programmes, yet the Germans saw him as the father of traffic calming. This misunderstanding has survived for more than 50 years; Buchanan considered the book an exposition of choices, rather than recommendations for immediate action. By Carmen Hass-Klau, University of Wuppertal

by Carmen Hass-Klau