As Easy As Riding A Bike)
Right and wrong solutions to urban congestion
November 30, 2016
When I arrived in St Albans on a Saturday morning earlier this month, I encountered a long, completely static queue of motor vehicles. It turned out they were all waiting to enter the Christopher Place car park in the city centre, which has 180 spaces, but was already full.
The queue snaked around the corner, winding for several hundred metres around the city centre streets.
As far as I could tell, this was completely normal for the drivers and passengers inside – nobody was getting angry, they were just patiently waiting for other people to leave the car park so they could move up one slot in the queue. The sort of thing that probably happens every Saturday. And of course they are paying for the privilege.
I rarely drive, but when I do what immediately hits me is the frustration of being ‘caught’ in this kind of situation – having to queue, having to wait, often so far back in the queue you have no idea what’s causing the hold up, and with no way of finding out. Driving in urban areas is frequently a dispiriting, painful experience, made so because everyone else is doing it.
Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, these kinds of problems are going to get worse. More and more of us are going to be living in towns and cities, a function of increasing population, and a continuing trend away from rural dwelling to urban dwelling. 53 million of us already live in urban areas. That is going to increase pressure on the existing road network, if we continue to travel around as we do now.
There are two long-term solutions to this pressure – the first is to ‘spread out’, to redesign our towns and cities to accommodate even more motoring. What could be called the ‘Milton Keynes’ solution, or perhaps the Lord Wolfson ‘flyover’ solution.
If you don’t like the look of that, the only other solution is to change the way we move about in urban areas, to reduce pressure, by maximising the efficient use of road space. That means prioritising walking, cycling and public transport, policy that will require sustained investment in redesigning the way our existing roads are laid out, to make them safe and attractive enough for people to switch away from car travel for short urban trips.