Cardiff’s very high levels of congestion is much more than an inconvenience for commuters – it is causing lasting harm to the city as a whole, according to Victoria Winckler, Director The Bevan Foundation.
Commenting on a research paper by the Centre for Cities think tank, she said the underlying causes of traffic queues in Cardiff are different to other cities in Wales, the UK and Europe.
The researchers note three key factors in the capital. First, Cardiff’s main centres of employment are dispersed: yes, the city centre is important for jobs but so too is Cardiff Bay and the area around the University Hospital. While the city centre is relatively well served by public transport, the latter two are not, usually requiring two buses to get there.
Second, Cardiff’s population lives in relatively low-density housing, with medium-rise living being mainly for students or holiday lets rather than residents. The position has worsened recently, with many new housing developments in Cardiff being not only low density but also some way from public transport.
Think of some of the big current developments – Plas Dŵr in north west Cardiff or Sant Silian and St Edeyrn’s Village in St Mellons to name just three – all a long way from a train station.
And third, the researchers note the small footprint of the city’s bus network. The neighbourhoods within a 30-minute commute of the city centre are smaller than the Cardiff’s built-up area, leaving many places on the outskirts of the city with relatively long travel times.
This contrasts with other UK cities, whose 30-minute commute zone extends well beyond their boundaries. Some of the journey times from Cardiff’s peripheral areas are jaw-dropping: according to Cardiff Bus’s app, the trip from Pentwyn or St Mellons to the city centre takes around an hour. That’s nearly as long as the journey from Merthyr Tydfil or Aberdare!
Should anything be done? In the longer term, the researchers say the answer lies in increasing the number of jobs in Cardiff city centre and encouraging greater density housing close to public transport services.
The researchers also recommend a Cardiff congestion charge for travel into the city centre, and not the whole of Cardiff as proposed by Cardiff Council.
In the shorter term, providing low-frequency, targeted services to serve peripheral business parks would make sense, along with levies on workplace parking and greater subsidies for bus services. Other recommendations, such as exempting bus lanes from the 20 mph limit are less convincing.