Top 5: Unintended consequences


With the Brexit vote still providing unintended outcomes galore and Usain Bolt, the world’s most efficient form of active travel, responding to taunts by promising to run faster, here’s our top five unintended consequences in transport.

1) More roads mean more traffic

It’s been known for a while that new and widened roads can be self defeating as a way of tackling congestion as they can simply encourage more people to use their cars. These days this effect may still be an unintended consequence (albeit that many schemes actively promote increased growth and mobility) but no-one can say they weren’t warned.

2) More diesel means more death

In 2001, the then chancellor Gordon Brown introduced a fuel duty tax break on diesel on the basis that the fuel produces lower CO2 emissions than petrol. The number of diesel vehicles on the country’s roads more than doubled subsequently – and probably consequently. The tax break remains in place today.

Unfortunately, it’s now recognised that diesel vehicles contribute significantly to toxic NO2 air pollution and around 40,000 premature deaths annually. Last year former Labour minister Lord Drayson said the products of diesels are ‘literally killing people’ and in June the then transport secretary (Sir) Patrick McLoughlin hinted at a change of tack that the Daily Mail called an outrage: ‘First we were bribed to buy diesel cars. Now they want to tax us for doing so. ‘

3) The ‘West’ Indies

Which way is East? The Columbus monument in Barcelona

It’s a little (well) known fact that when Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas, he was in fact trying to find a route west to the East, blindly hoping that the world would turn out to be round. In doing so, he invented Transatlantic travel, leading to the Titanic, Concorde and people trying to row across for charity.

Other unintended consequences of the colonisation of the Americas include, the introduction of lung cancer (tobacco) and obesity (chipped potatoes) to Europe, not to mention the murderous grey squirrel. At the same time, conquistadores took many diseases to the Americas that were fatal to many of the people already living there.

4) It’s not rocket science

The invention of the United States of America also led to man taking one small step onto the moon and it’s often said that the scientific developments NASA produced have also had some surprising spin-offs.

OK, so they didn’t actually invent Velcro, Teflon, Tang or computers, but NASA’s failed efforts at a new space food led to the technology to make nutritional supplements for infant formula and its invention of the camera-on-a-chip CMOS sensor, which is found in camera phones, led directly to the ubiquitous selfie.

5 ) No consequences, in fact

The not-so-new town of Milton Keynes is often cited as an example of the failure of segregated cycling infrastructure to deliver cycling activity. In 2014 the Green Party complained that ‘the percentage of cyclists in Reading has not increased over the last ten years, despite government and council initiatives’. In 2001 4.1% of the town’s commuters used a bike to get to work and 10 years later in, the figure was ... 4.1%.

Earlier this year, the then transport minister Robert Goodwill boasted about the Government’s efforts to promote cycling, while admitting that it had little to no knowledge of the outcome: ‘The Department for Transport does not centrally hold figures for how many bicycle lanes have been constructed, as this is a matter for local areas. The Department has provided funding to local authorities to implement cycling schemes for instance through the Cycling Ambition Grants, Local Sustainable Transport Fund, Local Growth Fund and Integrated Transport Block’.


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