Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Car congestion? Simple, build more roads!

Ok... I'll hold my hand up, and admit I love cars and motoring. I passed my test when I was 21, my first car was a secondhand Nissan Stanza, I soon wrote that off on the central reservation in Park Lane. So, I decided to save up some money and buy a new car, a Peugeot 205 Ralle. Loved it - drove it all over the UK, and Europe.

Today, it seems that the attitude towards cars, their owners, roads and motoways, have changed drasticly over the past 20 years. If you ask me, the Mayor of London, Ken Livinstone perfectly encapsulates contemporary attitude towards cars "I hate cars. If I ever get any power again, I'll ban the lot". This seems to be the solution to car congestion on offer by everyone these days, from New Labour to the entire environmentalists movement - the message is simple enough, 'get out of your car', and get a push bike, or jump on the bus instead. Better still... walk. Yeah right... as if.

Driving in London can certainly be a total nightmare, especially at Bank holiday weekends. In fact, Bank holiday weekends are when the road systems in England actually grinds to a halt. But, what I want to know is, why can't the 5th wealthiest nation on Earth, build itself out of congestion? Why can't we build more roads? That's how you gid rid of congestion, the Westway in West London is proof - if I want to go to Hammersmith from From Old Street, I go on the Westway, and Edware, Paddington and Notting Hill completely dissapper.

The debate about car congestion is dominated by petty small-mindedness. Apparently, the people who gave the world the engineering marvel that is the Channel Tunnel, are somehow incapable of building the kind of brand new state-of-the-art fast road infrastructure that we desperately need. The mantra from the government is that, whatever happens, we can't just build our way out of the problem. What? I would consider that an insult to the British building and engineering industry. Given the resources, there isn't anything they can't build.

So, hold on a minute, why can't we build our way out of this problem? Isn't that how humanity has progressed from the caves to modern day civilisation? Along the ancient trading routes, upon the roads the Romans built, on the Victorian railways, and on modern motorway systems. Our political elite seem to be in a different gear than our ancestors - Tony Blair and co seem to be in reverse.

It's not entirely self-evident as to why the British government believes that the British people 'cannot simply build our way out of the problems we face'. In case we forget, the Transport Secretary Alistair Darling reminded everyone at a speech to the Institute of Public Policy last year - that - you guessed it, 'we cannot build our way out of the problem'. Alright, alright, message recieved.

But, hello? Can I ask - why is the politics of petty, small-minded, local green Nimbyism being placed, over and above the fundamental notion of providing universal provisions? The past fifty years have seen motorways improve the quality of our lives, and has given us all more freedom in the process. Indeed, it is no business of the government to persuade people out of their cars, especially when they have no viable, or even visible alternative to it.

The British government are so bereft of vision, leadership, and most importantly, ideas, they have resorted to taxing motorists out of existence - what a novelty.

The truth is, we need new, bold ideas and plans if we really want to get rid of congestion from our cities. Not government mumbo-jumbo about 'car-sharing' schemes, that simply ain't good enough. We need to seek new horizons, not the low horizons on offer by this penny-pinching bunch of political bean-counters.

Picture: From the Guardian Unlimited


At 2:43 PM, Blogger Matt M said...

Car-sharing and the like have a part to play in any transport scheme. Even if it doesn't solve the problems faced it'll decrease the amount of traffic on the road slightly - making journeys more pleasant. Better public transport would do likewise.

As for more roads... there's a balance required between practicalities and aesthetics - the countryside is essential for a decent country to live in, a good road network is essential for travel and the economy.

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

I think you are on the right track here.
The opponents to your proposal e.g., Transport 2000 argue that bigger roads attract more cars.

However there is much that can be done, not the least to make people feel better in urban environments, tuynneling, bridges etc... Yes I have more of these. And there would be money too, that is if road tax and fuel tax would be used for exactly that!

As to the points on my blog, I see your point on dividing congestion and environment, but both should go hand in hand, not only for the obvious reasons, but also because clean cars mutes the anti car lobby main argument.

At 3:10 PM, Blogger Roland Dodds said...

Good points here. I also love cars and I love driving. I also don’t think increased taxation on car owners is going to fix any congested street.

When folks talk about building more roads and such to solve the problem, many will bring up that we simply don’t have the room for wider roads in many of our cities. Having spent the weekend in NY I would have to agree that wider roads is not the answer. That does not mean there are alternatives to making the existing space work better for motorists.

I personally have no idea what those alternatives are, but I assume that is why I am not paid redesign busy expressways.

At 4:21 PM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

When it comes to solutions, I'm up for any suggestions, as long as it's bold and daring. Our problem is, the New Labour government won't even contemplate trying to build our way out of urban car congestion, and they haven't got a good reason of why we can't.

The answer lies with people of vision me thinks, people like the great British architect Sir Norman Foster, would be a good place to start.

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

Hi Matt & Daniel,

When Matt says 'there's a balance required between practicalities and aesthetics - the countryside is essential for a decent country to live in, a good road network is essential for travel and the economy', I agree wholeheartedly.

As far as I'm concerned, what really needs to happen, is that we need to build more parks and open spaces in urban areas, as London expands outwardly. This is the type of trade off I had in mind.

One of the main problems London has, is that there are too many regulations that put a halt to new housing schemes on the outskirts of London, which means, London's population density increases, but, without London, as a city, expanding into the countryside.

This state of affairs has to change, or in 5 to 10 years from now, parts of London's suburbs will suffer from cronic overcrowding and congestion. We need to build more faster routes in and out of London in order to avoid such things.

I totally agree with Daniels' point about how 'clean cars mutes the anti car lobby'. This is certainly true. Car manufacturers are making car engines cleaner and greener then ever before. Indeed, Honda, have some of the cleanest diesel engine motorcars on the world market.


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