© 2017 The Harpenden Society

It was in 1972 that Alisdair Aird published his dystopian traffic prediction The Automotive Nightmare, a gloomy picture of noisy, polluted gridlock. Forty years on, does Harpenden present some of the elements of his fretful dream? Certainly for those arguing that the town can take no more major development without extensive infrastructural resourcing – see our front page story – traffic is seen as a key issue.

To begin with, it is the fate of many town centres, or  maybe even town squares once utilised for marketing and social purposes, to find themselves little more than stretches of main roads. Every working day 34,000 vehicles travel through along the A1081, that is 11.4m annually, with, at peak times, one every four seconds.

'Harpenden's own high street is everyone else's highway.'

These are journeys into and/or out of Harpenden, exclusive, then, of internally generated traffic. Hertfordshire is one of the UK's most car-rich areas and it is estimated that there are 22,500 vehicles in Harpenden. Each day 25,000 private car 'trips' are initiated  by Harpenden households. This amounts to some 9m a year – and 20% of all these journeys are of less than one mile. A 'trip' often constitutes two journeys, with a parking episode in between, such as a school run: 43% of Harpenden children are conveyed by car to and from school.

 It is a remarkable fact for a purported commuter town that 56% of the employed population travel to work by car, wastefully carrying as few as only another 5% as passengers; that is, 61% travel by car to work. Indeed, the average occupancy for all car 'trips' is 1.6 persons. This is as opposed to only 18% who travel by train. Harpenden's roads are thus vital arteries for economic as well as domestic reasons and they are faced with serious clogging. Moreover, some 3000 commuters, a proportion of them rail-heading out-of-towners, are also using the roads. On a typical weekday there are 2400 traffic movements in and out of the station approaches.

Apart from any extra housing either in Harpenden or, say, in South Bedfordshire, the extra cars that would be generated by the proposed Luton airport expansion are calculated to be a further 7,500 a day.

The Harpenden in Question

being a series of editorial commentaries on important Harpenden issues that should challenge thought and encourage inquiry and action.

10. Being Car-Full

A new estate of 250 houses on the outskirts of the town would mean something like 500 extra cars and roughly the same number of additional 'trips'

The unknown factor and one extremely difficult to gauge is the use made of Harpenden's facilities by incomers from smaller surrounding settlements, such as those driving to Harpenden for schools, shops, railway transit and sundry other purposes. This is a very difficult number to estimate but it is not small and there are few if any signs that it will not increase..

The case for promoting even more car usage in the town through extra housing development looks even weaker.

'With so much traffic movement Harpenden faces gridlock'

 ... and the prediction is that between now and 2021 traffic growth in the District of St Albans will be 11.5%

Could that 'automotive nightmare be beckoning?

Eric Midwinter

Sources – Department of Transport Travel Survey (2011) Herts County Council Traffic and Transport Data Report (2010) and Herts County Council Travel Survey (2013)

Please send comments on this article or any other issues raised in this edition to the editor:

Eric Midwinter 37 Bloomfield Rd. Harpenden AL5 4DD


Sub-editor Harry Downie

Autumn 2013 Newsletter