Monday, 11 July 2011

Car culture, my brief history

A random flashback I had recently:

"Ain't No Gettin' Round Gettin' Round". It's a song by Julian Cope, from the album Autogeddon which was in turn inspired by the mammoth poem (also a book) Autogeddon by Heathcote Williams. These eccentric characters were writing about car culture as it grew up in the 80's and 90's. The whole period came to a head in possibly the biggest anti-car demonstration that I can remember in my lifetime: The building of the Newbury Bypass.

Anti-road protestors were eventually crushed by new laws, and politicians told us that roads brought prosperity and they fueled economies.

End of flashback.

Looking back, the protesters and eccentrics were right about so many things but none more so than - if you build a road it gets filled with new traffic. Worse still we are now held ransom and imprisoned in our cars by random gridlock.

We have known that building even more roads doesn't work for the long term, and it is very costly too.

There's the Glasgow M74 extension that has just opened. 5 miles of road for £692 million. (£138 million per mile).

More locally, we can thank the recession for killing off the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon upgrade. 18 miles at £1.4 billion (77.7 million per mile).

The same corridor has seen the transport experiment that is the
Cambridgeshire Guided Bus which is about to open. 15.5 miles at 180 million (£11.6 million per mile). There is local outrage at the cost, but it seems quite cheap compared to the roads above.

The Busway vision in someways was right - you can't keep putting more cars on the A14 - but the Busway was not the reason the A14 upgrade project was killed, somebody wanted both, A14 for lorries, Busway to share the commuting load. Also, a freight only railway link will go west from Cambridge too. I don't understand why that one is freight only.

Transport infrastructure attracts big money in the UK.

Ah, hang on, that's unless you want something simple like a pedestrian crossing, or a cycle path. It seems that our local councils that look after our communities find it very difficult to get any money to do simple upgrades. The easiest source of funding is Section 106 money. You get money from developers when they build new housing. Existing communities are stuffed unless they are next door.

We got some new cycle paths in and around Cambridge. It was funded by Cycling England Money. £140 million across 18 towns. Cambridge got £500,000. At Guided Bus money rates, that's 75 yards of cycle routes for Cambridge.

Its a real shame those billions available for road transport cannot be spent on cycling and walking facilities. We have money, but we have no political will.

Maybe one day, politicians will join the dots between a lot of societies problems - pollution, asthma, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, congestion, travel time, fear of traffic, loss of local shops - and help us fix our communities.

I wonder where we will be in another 30 years.

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