Byline: ANDREW GLOVER
ANYONE who uses the A1 at rush hour knows all too well that it isn't shy of a snarl-up or two. Sections passing the Angel of the North and approaching the Metrocentre can often be reduced to crawling pace by the sheer volume of traffic.
Another stretch of the road identified by the Highways Agency as one of Britain's busiest routes runs along the western border of the Team Valley Trading Estate in Gateshead.
The thriving estate is shared by shoppers flocking to the retail park, students studying at the Gateshead College campus and employees working at the 700 businesses based there.
With around 20,000 people working and learning on Team Valley, even before those heading for the shops are counted in, travel planning and traffic management has always been key to the site's success.
Since 2009 the Workplace Travel Plan Company has been working to ease congestion on the A1 Western Bypass by developing sustainable travel plans for everyone who uses Team Valley.
And last year the teamvalleylinks.com Community Interest Company (CIC) was launched with the triple objective of promoting sustainable travel, economic development and regeneration, and social inclusion and access to employment.
This month the CIC released the results of a travel survey designed to track trends and inform planning for new strategies. The research followed previous surveys before the CIC was formed and the results found the proportion of people travelling by car had reduced while the numbers of people using public transport, walking or cycling to get to the estate is on the up. Project director Peter Wignall said the team were pleased to see firm progress was being made as efforts are stepped up to encourage more Team Valley users to leave their cars at home.
"I think it's very encouraging," he said. "If you look at the executive summary it says there has been 'a continuing downward trend of overall car use, an increase in the proportion of public transport users and a growing improvement in the perception of public transport services', that's really what this is all about.
"It's about a modal shift. We're aiming for less use of cars and more use of public transport. What we're also working hard on is improving the perception of public transport.
"The perception is that it's a poor quality service but the reality is that's not true. We've got to work at that and that's one of the things we've been doing. There are hundreds of buses coming into the Team Valley."
The increasing reliance on public transport at Team Valley has been mirrored elsewhere in the region. Data released by the Office for National Statistics last year showed more people were using public transport to get to work in the North East than any other region except London.
And transport bosses in the region are pushing on with plans to make life easier for cyclists and commuters making their way to out-of-town developments.
Earlier this month the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority submitted a bid for pounds 5m of funding from the Government's Local Sustainable Transport Fund. If the proposal is successful five new cycle routes will be provided for Newcastle and Sunderland.
While future investment would be welcome, Peter is keen to stress that now both Tyne Tunnel crossings are open, some of the congestion that used to clog up the A1 at peak times has cleared. Of the specific targets set by the CIC, the survey results show that only the one relating to car sharing wasn't met. "There has been a decrease in the level of car sharing but generally it's very encouraging," said Peter.
"It's very positive and it's a continuation of what we're trying to achieve. Managing transport behaviour is longhaul stuff and it takes a lot of hard work to do it.
"We'll continue the work that we've been doing, it's a process of evolution, not revolution. …