10 Sep 2013

Greens and Cars


Most people would assume that a Green agenda is bound to be bad news for drivers. Cars are not very green, after all. Let’s take a step back for a moment and think about the driving experience, and how we define good for drivers, and bad for drivers in the first place.

The most obvious take is that ‘good for drivers’ means the freedom to do what you want with your car. It’s the car advert showing the empty road and a sleek car performing beautifully. Excitement, freedom, grace, power and speed combined. Even for a non-driver like me, it’s easy to see the attraction.

I walk and cycle a lot around Stroud, and I what I see most days, are drivers sitting in queues. I see heavy traffic at peak times, jams around the town centre at weekends, I see the trouble people have finding on road parking. I can’t imagine that’s a whole lot of fun. I can pass cars when I’m cycling. So where is the romantic freedom of the open road? Not in Stroud.

There are many things built and organised around the idea that people have cars. Centralisation means people from the villages have to come into Stroud for basics. Once upon a time villages had shops (plural) post offices, pubs, village schools and maybe even a doctor. Now you have no choice but to travel to a larger urban centre for most or all of those things. There isn’t much public transport infrastructure, so many of us don’t have the option of taking a bus instead, especially if we need to be out after dark. We have to travel to find work; maybe there is no work where you live, or you can’t afford to live where you work. We’ve got into a position where work, schooling, shopping, health and leisure all tend to mean having to get in a car. Meanwhile everyone else has to get in a car too, the roads are congested, heavy traffic is dangerous and stressful to drive in, we spend far too much time in queues and the experience is miserable. Building more roads certainly hasn’t fixed it.

Heavy traffic means children do not walk and cycle to school, because parents feel (understandably) that it isn’t safe for them. All those cars on the school run add to the problems of heavy traffic, making a vicious circle.

Not everyone can drive, and not everyone wants to. If we had more public transport, people who don’t really want to drive could get out of their cars. If we had more safe spaces for walking and cycling, we’d have more pedestrians and bikes, and fewer cars. If the infrastructure didn’t mean having to drive somewhere to deal with the most basic necessities, there would be a lot fewer cars on the road. If work stayed local, if we avoid building yet more car-only out of town shopping spaces, we won’t have to have the cars to access things we want. We could have something totally different. Something nicer that is more of a joy, and less of a chore.

In an ideal world, I think most drivers would prefer not to have to sit in queues or struggle with heavy traffic. Roads kill a lot of people every year, and we’d all be a lot happier if that didn’t happen. In a community that invests in public transport, supports cyclists and enables safe walking, drivers benefit. Quieter roads mean a happier driving experience and less money wasted burning fuel just to stare at the motionless car ahead of you.

If we aren’t all trying to drive everywhere every day, than that vision of the open road becomes feasible again. If you actually like driving, consider supporting schemes that get cars off the road. It’s not about forcing people, or punishing drivers, it’s about real choice and a better quality of life all round.

1 comment:

Russ said...

Nissan and others(like Google) are working on self-drive cars; basically robot cars that drive themselves. If and once these cars are on the road, I see the law gradually changing so that they become the only cars that are allowed on the road(with various exceptions, like emergency vehicles, etc). The roads should then become a lot safer, with no more text-while-you-drive drivers, no more boy racers, no more drink or drug drivers and other menaces.
This will make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and parking will be easier, if a self-drive car can drop you off in town, and go and park itself in some out of town car park.
Buses are ok, but there is a lot of waiting around, often in the cold, and rain, and those seats at bus stops are almost impossible to sit on(designed so that people don't kip on them when they are drunk, or if they are homeless).
Cars could be an ok thing, especially if we sort out the energy problems of this world.
I don't see us moving back to small shops in villages for all our requirements. People had a lot less expectation of what shops could provide a hundred years ago; now people want a lot more than a loaf of bread, and a lump of meat.
I wonder if soya milk could be produced locally, to Stroud, or would I be stuck with only cruel local dairy products, or nothing.