I've already written for the Daily Mail about the Institute of Economic Affairs paper Sharper Axes, Lower Taxes which proposes cutting state spending from 40% to 30% of GDP by the time of the next election with a programme of an extra £215 billion spending cuts.
The following is their proposal to save an estimated £1 billion by desisting from funding the "traffic calming" measures of local councils.
Liberalising state-owned local roads
Local government spending on roads also includes £2.5 billion per annum of capital expenditure (DfT, 2010a), although this is likely to fall significantly by 2014/15. Since the mid-1990s, various traffic control measures rather than road improvements have come to dominate council projects. These include ‘traffic-calming’ schemes such as constructing road humps and chicanes; narrowing roads and widening pavements; increasing the number of traffic lights; installing bus and cycle lanes, etc.
It is difficult to produce a precise estimate of annual spending on control measures. The DfT provided local authorities with a road safety grant of £110 million in 2008/09 (House of Commons, 2009). Part of the £600 million annual ‘integrated transport block’ given to councils is spent on controls, particularly those that favour socialised transport over private cars. Besides these funds, improvements to local roads typically come packaged with the kind of measures listed above.
There is some evidence that traffic-calming measures reduce the number of road casualties (DETR, 2000). But they may also slow down the emergency services, cause pain and discomfort to the infirm, damage vehicles, increase pollution and reduce travel times. On the first point, the London Ambulance Service has suggested that road humps and other measures, by slowing down their vehicles, may cause hundreds of deaths a year in London alone (LAS, 2003).
In an unhampered transport market, the costs and benefits of traffic control measures would be carefully weighed. But the transport planners at local authorities have arguably neglected the negative aspects, perhaps in part because central government grants have been available for anti-car schemes.
There is now a growing body of evidence that removing traffic controls actually improves road safety and promotes more civilised interaction between drivers and pedestrians (Cassini, 2010). Further economic benefits would include reduced travel times and lower vehicle maintenance costs. Paring down the command-and-control transport bureaucracies would be a highly effective method of achieving significant cuts. The process would be straightforward, involving ending associated central government grants. Reversing the expansion of traffic control measures could perhaps save over £1 billion per year, including savings in administration and maintenance costs.