Economic, Environmental and Social Impacts of Changes in Maintenance Spend on Local Roads in Scotland

9 Impacts Related to Wider Operations

9.1 Footways and cycle-tracks

9.1.1 Summary of issues

The Scottish Government report on Designing Streets (Scot Govt 2010) and Designing Places (Scot Govt 2001) both recognise that road maintenance is not a single issue and there are many other policies and influences to what and how maintenance is undertaken.

As a proportion of their assets, Local Authorities have more 'off-road' responsibility than Transport Scotland has in managing the trunk road network. For example, Local Authorities manage a significant network of footpaths and cycle-tracks which support local trips by pedestrians and cyclists. The perception of local road management is, therefore, not only related to the road assets.

The significance of footways and cycle-tracks in terms of impacts has been highlighted in the literature review (see Appendix B). The disbenefits of a network of footpaths and cycle-tracks in poor condition fall into various areas:

  • Safety. The risk of trips and accidents increases if conditions deteriorate.
  • Security. Residents and visitors perceive that the neighbourhood is less secure if the condition of assets is poor.
  • Amenity value. Neighbourhoods in poor condition are less highly valued.
  • Health. If the network is in poor condition, this acts as a disincentive to pedestrians and cyclists.

The disbenefits are unevenly distributed across various groups. Often, with budget constraints, funding for such assets may take a lower priority than for roads and so cyclists and pedestrians are disproportionately affected; older people are more concerned about the risk of slips, trips and security than the general population; people with disabilities are more affected by surfaces in poor and inconsistent condition. Footways near residential homes may receive higher priority and be less affected by maintenance funding restrictions.

9.1.2 Local road information on footways and cycle-tracks

There is less data available for footways and cycle-tracks than for the main carriageways, as they are lower value assets and so traditionally receive lower funding for monitoring and management. The current SCOTS project[5] has only just started collating information on such assets. Data is currently being collated on condition and asset value, but is as yet incomplete and there is no historical data for comparison. However, a brief review of available data has been undertaken, and information on public claims against a sample of Local Authorities was also collated as part of this study with the aim of identifying any conclusions that can be drawn from the information.

Information on claims for the last 5 years was provided by 13 Authorities. Due to the fact that there is a time lag between claims being notified, and subsequent settlement, the value of settled claims (which would be the most useful figure to assess in the long term) in the most recent years is not necessarily reliable (as further settlements might yet be made). For this reason, the most useful information for this study was considered to be total number of claims made and the trends are shown in Figure 9.1. Although this does not solely represent the effects of changing footway condition, it does show an overall effect of public attitude to footway and cycle-track condition and claims for compensation. It is recognised that as well as network condition, public attitude to willingness to make claims and the perceived likelihood of success with claims may have changed over the time period.

Figure 9.1 Number of claims received by a sample of Scottish Local Authorities

Figure 9.1 Number of claims received by a sample of Scottish Local Authorities

Whilst there is an overall upward trend in claims made against Local Authorities, the number of claims for footways appears to be relatively constant, or even decreasing.

Data from the SCOTS project was available from 9 Authorities[6] (four rural, three semi-urban and two urban). There are many factors (e.g. weather and access by utility companies) that affect the change in the value of infrastructure assets, including footways, but following figures have been derived for the sample Authorities:

  • Total gross replacement cost of footways and cycle-tracks £1.2 billion
  • Total depreciated replacement cost of £820m
  • Total annual depreciation of £20m
  • Ratio of depreciated replacement cost to gross replacement cost of 64% which is a measure of the average 'state' of the asset with a ratio of 100% being as new and 0% as end of life. The ratio varies from 40% to 80% showing the range in conditions for different Authorities

If a linear scaling is applied to the annual depreciation of the 9 Authorities to estimate the value for 32 Authorities[7], then the total annual depreciation is between £60m and £80m. If this figure is of the correct order, then a similar annual amount will need to be invested in the assets to maintain them at their current condition and a greater investment would be needed to improve the condition and increase the asset value.

In 2009/10, from Table 4.3, the combined expenditure on structural maintenance, safety maintenance and emergency patching, routine repairs and other was around £280m. The above calculation suggests that 25% of this allocation would need to be spent on footways and cycle-tracks to maintain current conditions. It is considered unlikely that such levels would be devoted to these assets with any of the Scenarios, and so it is likely the conditions will deteriorate over the analysis period for Scenario 1 and this would be exacerbated with any further reductions in expenditure (Scenarios 2 and 3).

In recent years much effort has been used to improve the identification and design of accessibility features (e.g. tactile paving) and guidance on their implementation in the street-scene. Any reduction in adopting that guidance will have a negative effect on pedestrian users.

9.2 Street lighting

9.2.1 Summary of issues

The drive for reduced energy consumption as well as any more general on-going drive for efficiency savings has been identified in the literature review (see Appendix B). Street lighting is implemented to minimise the risk of accidents and, particularly in the local road context, has associated wider benefits for local residents of improved security and general amenity value. Recent years have seen the development of improved technology to deliver better lighting outcomes (e.g. use of dimmers for low traffic levels, lower energy consumption bulbs etc).

The traditional basis for evaluating new street lighting benefits was to assume a 30% reduction in night-time road accidents. Based on conclusions from more recent research (Crabb, Crinson, Beaumont, & Walter, 2009), the figure now adopted by the Highways Agency for lighting schemes on trunk roads in England is 10%. The research also showed that in order to implement new energy saving technology, some upfront cost is required but this is balanced by an overall saving in a 30 year whole of life agency cost analysis. It was also noted that as electricity prices increase, returns would be achieved over a shorter timeframe.

The balance of evidence from the literature (e.g. (Fox, 2007)) is still that lighting provides a safety benefit and also that it has beneficial impacts on community well-being according to integration and social accessibility criteria.

9.2.2 Local road assessment

A simple scenario assessment was undertaken of the safety impact of providing reduced street lighting. The converse of the approach for assessing new lighting schemes was adopted (i.e. if lights are removed, there will be a 10% increase in night-time road accidents). The analysis also assumed:

  • A specified percentage reduction in the lighting budget (revenue) translates to the same percentage reduction in the amount of available lighting on the network
  • Current night-time road accidents are evenly distributed across the lit network

Both of these assumptions are clearly tenuous. However, to argue anything more detailed with the data available and in order to generate an assessment of potential orders of magnitude, it was considered an appropriate first step.

Section 5 has identified that for Scenario 2, there will be a reduction in the lighting (revenue) budget of 11% and for Scenario 3 the reduction will be 23%. Section 9.2.1 has identified that between 2005 and 2010 the average number of all accidents on lit streets after dark was around 2000 and of these around 30 were fatal. The analysis was carried out on all accidents and fatal accidents only, and the worst case (all accidents) results are shown in Table 9.1.

Table 9.1 Summary of scenario analyses for street lighting
Item Scenario 2 Scenario 3
Agency cost saving (£m) 37 87
Increase in annual accidents (All) 22 46
Increase in accident costs (£m) 18 37

Notes. 20 year analysis period, 2002 prices, discounted costs.

Increase shown for Years 1 to 10. Assumed to gradually return to current rate in Years 10 to 20 due to return of budgets to existing levels.

This coarse analysis shows that there is a benefit to reducing lighting on the existing network, when considering accident impacts only. However, it assumes that a given percentage reduction in lighting budget translates to the same given percentage reduction in lighting. In reality, there are some base fixed costs and decommissioning costs that would be required so this would not be achievable.

The analysis also assumes that existing lights that are turned off will only increase the risk of accidents by 10%, the current figure for justifying lighting installation. However, if it were assumed that lighting already installed on the network was implemented and achieved 30% accident reductions (the earlier Department for Transport figure adopted) then the results would be very different and show a significant disbenefit to any reduction in lighting costs. Recent trials by the Highways Agency on trunk roads in England (introduced to reduce the carbon footprint) suggest little change in the number of accidents when lighting is switched off for part of the hours of darkness.

There is evidence that reduced lighting will lead to higher costs associated with security and accessibility that will also off-set any of the apparent savings. A study by Painter and Farrington and Welsh (Farrington & Welsh, 2002) reported a fall of 41% in crime in Dudley, West Midlands, due to improved lighting. Similar results were obtained from a study for Stoke-on-Trent.

9.3 Other operations

The literature review showed neighbourhoods place a value on good condition in terms of no graffiti, no broken walkways, frequent street cleaning and vegetation cutting etc. Public perception will be reduced if less is spent on these. This has not been quantified but it is clear there are benefits from keeping up the amenity value.

Studies by Transport for London have valued the increase in residential prices and retail rents achieved by roadspace improvements or close proximity to open space (e.g. parks). Transport for London has demonstrated benefit-cost ratios of between 2.5 and 5.5, without indirect benefits, from improvements in the public realm. Other studies have shown improvements to footfall for retailers after carriageway and footway improvements. As well as showing the benefits of maintenance and improvements these valuations provide measures to use in attracting private sector funding for maintenance and improvements in local areas.

Poor walking environments and transport links can leave areas isolated and damage community cohesion. Increases in cat and dog mess, litter, broken glass, vandalism and uneven footways all represent disincentives to the use of pedestrian footways and reduction in visual amenity. These negative impacts will be increased with reductions in maintenance funding for footways.

9.4 Conclusion

Based on the analysis of the depreciated replacement cost of footways from 9 Authorities the condition of the footway and cycle-track assets is likely to be deteriorating at current levels of expenditure and these assets will be subject to increased deterioration under reduced budgets.

Reducing the lighting budget will likely result in fewer lit street lights (since lower cost lighting technologies have an initial investment cost). Reducing street lighting has an effect on amenity and a measurable effect on accidents (increases of between 10% and 30%) on accidents. With a 10% increase in accidents, a reduction in lighting costs is economically beneficial, but if the increase in accidents is 30% then the converse argument stands.