Design guidance could reduce noise and environmental impact of roads – new report

Reducing road transport noise is one of the environmental improvements called for in a new report published by the Campaign for Better Transport(CfBT). “Roads and the Environment” is, they say, a ‘source book of ideas for making our roads, old and new, fit more sensitively into the landscapes and ecosystems through which they pass’.

The report draws on case studies, and uses examples of improvements to existing roads that could make our road network better for people and the environment.  They recommend an approach to updating the strategic road network that would make roads:


  • less intrusive in both noise and visual impact for communities
  • safer and more aesthetically pleasing to travel for road users
  • better adapted to the environment and landscape, and less damaging to habitats across air, water and land (we’d like to add noise intrusion, which also disrupts wildlife, here)

Recommendations for reducing road transport noise in the report are:

  • Low noise surfacing should be the default standard when resurfacing existing roads
  • Explore use of new technology to reduce duration and impact of road surfacing works
  • Measurement of tranquillity should be used to prioritise rural locations for action
  • Greater use should be made of trees and shrubs to act as noise barriers or to screen hard barriers

They would also like to see outcome based performance indicators for road noise.

We would add that, as well as prioritising the protection of tranquillity in rural areas, the requirements of noise action planning guidance should be taken into account. Under the EU Environmental Noise Directive noise action planning is required to be undertaken to:

  • determine exposure to environmental (largely transport) noise
  • ensure information on noise and its effects are made available to the public
  • prevent and recue environmental noise where necessary and preserve environmental noise quality where it is good.

Noise mapping of the UK has been undertaken,  looking at the areas where most people are exposed to noise from transport routes. This mapping is carried out by modelling noise levels from transport movements, and shows areas where people are exposed to the highest levels of noise. Exposure to transport noise is linked to health impacts including heart disease, and the number of people exposed to high levels of day time transport noise is one of the public health indicators for England.  The Chief Medical Officer in England recently acknowledged that noise pollution is second only to air pollution in the extent of damage it causes to public health.

The CfBT report is timely as design guidnance for roads is due to be updated as part of the governments’ second road investment strategy (RSI)2. This will allocate funding for the strategic road network of motorways and trunk roads to Highways England from 2020. Currently design guidance for roads is contained in the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB). CfBT say the revision of DMRB offers an opportunity for including measures to enhance roads for people and the environment, by producing a green retrofit manual which would bring together best practice for the enhancement of existing roads.

The full report is available on the Campaign for Better Transport website.

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