Who needs cars?

The dire warnings about not using cars issued by Transport for London for the Olympic period beg a wider question. If we  are all able to dispense so easily with using cars in central London during what seems to be an ever extending period, then do we need them much anyway.

Transport for London’s whole transport policy in relation to road space is based on the notion that nothing must be done to affect traffic flow. More recently this has been couched in terms of ‘resilience’ but at root that is the same thing. The current level of potential throughput, determined by all kinds of historic and practical factors, is sacrosanct. So if, for example, cyclists need to be better accommodated, then that cannot be done at the expense of reducing space for cars. Surveys tend to show that of the peak hour traffic, perhaps as little as 20 per cent really needs to be there at that time – the rest could use other modes, travel at different times or simply not make the journey at all.

This is patent nonsense and is illogical. For example, if cycle lanes are successful at attracting people out of their cars, then surely they should be allocated space. Moreover, there is a lack of strategy behind this policy. If TfL is genuinely trying to achieve modal shift and encouraging the most environmentally-friendly modes, then the logic is to devote more resources to them. Boris Johnson’s notion that boosting cycling can be achieved without any cost in terms of space and accommodation for cars is simply dishonest. When I asked him this question during the hustings, he blustered about technology and the like, but had not real answer. It is time for his transport advisers to persuade him to change course on the basis that if we don’t need our cars for the next three months, do we need them at all?

  • I’m a Londoner who lives in Zone 3.  Last summer I wasn’t working and I noticed something very interesting.  Most of the cars on the street I live on don’t move during the week.  In fact most barely moved during the weekend too.  Indeed between January and March this year there was a car that didn’t move at all.  I know this as it had a flyer for New Years Eve at a restaurant stuck under the windscreen wiper.

    I do wonder who these people are who regularly drive in to Central London, and why.  But you still see them.  The ones clearly not put off by the Congestion Charge and the traffic.  What would put them off?

    Trouble is, few politicians – especially Conservatives so reliant on the burbs for votes – ever want to come across as anti-car.  I don’t expect to see Boris do anything to disrupt traffic flow any time soon.

  • Bravo! Let’s start by making London’s zone 1 car-free. There’d be a spill-over effect into outlying boroughs. 

  • Anthony Cartmell

    Sadly our “Holy Cars” and their drivers are protected religiously by our leaders. Which is a pity, as encouraging people to carry their own 1.5 tonnes of metal and glass with them when they want to move around London is not particularly sensible, efficient, or safe.

    Those that don’t like “public” transport should logically encourage the “private” modes of transport that are walking and cycling: no timetables, complete freedom to travel when and where you like. But I believe that logic and politics are opposing forces of nature…

  • Michael D. Willis

    Imported from Detroit:::

    >>>Mad-Car-Disease & OBESITY!!!

    Check out “Weight of the Nation”—a recently released documentary from the USA – produced by HBO/National Institute of Health and the CDC-Center for Disease Control. It really highlights the truly insane drive-thru – eat in your car culture that is suburban North America, cause Canada is very auto-oriented and a colder version of Blubberland USA…

  • Paul Holt

    Not for the first time, CW has missed the target.u00a0u00a0 It is not Transport for London that needs to be considered, but Transport for Britain.u00a0u00a0 With many people’s rail lines taken away by Beeching, the answer to “who needs cars” is everyone who has no viable alternative.u00a0u00a0 Which leads us to the subject CW is failing to address: what is CW’s transport vision, to include road, rail and air, noting that China will be building 70 airports in the next three years?

  • David Carrod

    This may come as a shock to some readers, but the World does not begin and end in Central London. Politicians, of all parties, will not go very far in encouraging the use of public transport over car use, because they know the vast majority of voters will boot them out. The inescapable fact is that people aspire to own and drive cars – they do not aspire to travel on trains and buses. Anyone who doubts this only has to look at the viewing figures, and overseas sales rights, for BBC’s Top Gear – the #1 income earner for the corporation. If they made a similar programme about public transport, it would be aired on BBC4 at 11:30pm and only watched by a handful of insomniacs.

  • Paul Holt

    Agree with your main point above, but Michael Portillo has made several series recently which air at prime time on BBC 2.

  • Michael D. Willis

    The “GRIDLOCK” episode from Dr. Who is really a lot like gridlocked traffic in MAYNILA, Philippines or LA, Chicago, Detroit, or New New York as visited by the Doctor…you get a hydrocarbon high!

  • Michael D. Willis

    “Hell On Wheels” AMC TV.com series is a Rail-Adventure series set in the American West during the building of the ‘Transcontinental Railroad’. A cast of  many nations is involved in the TV production including Brits, Americans, Europeans, Chinese etc. The second part of “Hell on Wheels” airs in August of 2012.
    Since the California High Speed Rail Initiative was passed last week, a great new age of railways is returning to the USA and Canada. The UIC just invited California into the HSR Club.
    Author and comentator Christain Wolmar has been an important contributor to the 2nd renaissance-of-railways. Several of Mr. Wolmars books are at Barnes & Noble booksellers in the USA.

  • Fandroid

    There is loads of potential for increasing the amount of road space in London for cycling. In most places it’s not the amount of road width that governs the flow of traffic, but all the various other restraints, mostly junctions. However, if anyone proposes reducing the amount of carriageway for vehicles, all the usual suspects cry ‘foul!’,normally without bothering to check if it’ll make any difference to them whatsoever. The other way to make it safer for cyclists would be to drastically reduce legal speeds. We’ve all witnessed the pointless race between traffic lights, which increases average overall traffic speed by zero mph. If there was a general central London speed limit of 20 mph (or less!), the traffic would almost certainly run more smoothly, there would be less air and noise pollution and the roads would be safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Predicted response to this – ‘War against the motorist!’

  • John Byng

    Andrew Bowden is quite right.  There are many Londoners who hang on to their cars and use them occaisionally when they would be much better off without them.  The money saved would pay for all the public transport, including taxis, they might need plus the occaisional hire car and still leave plenty in the bank. Add a bit of walking and cycling and this all adds up to a better quality of life at less cost.  Londoners – do your sums.

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