Our local area Facebook group had a miniature version of the national Brexit divide recently, after the council decided to experimentally close one of the main roads to see how it affected congestion and street life.
I haven’t seen such anger on the internet since the New Atheist Wars of the late 2000s. I admit I’m a partisan on this issue, but it was amazing how unnecessary so many car journeys still are in London; people complaining about the traffic along their route, for journeys that are well-served by public transport and could even be walked in under half an hour. Unless you’re disabled or need a van for tools, there is literally no good reason to drive to work in London.
I’m biased because I’m a bike wanker and more importantly my children’s school is on a major road, and there is increasing evidence to show that traffic is really bad for their health.
Of all the things we do that will baffle our descendants, the two major ones for me are a) the cruelty with which we treat animals for meat and b) the way we’ve allowed cars to dominate and destroy our cities. The United States is obviously the Mordor of the car madness, and every Thanksgiving weekend the sheer insanity of it is shown in its full glory.
Yet just as America often leads the way in terrible ideas and trends, it’s usually ahead of the curve in solving them too. In Arizona there’s a new car-free town called Culdesac Tempe being built, which looks intriguing. The developers also have plans for similar developments in three other states.
I’d love to see something similar in England, but we’re still enthralled to these Mechanical Jacobins, as Russell Kirk called them. In fact new housing is often blocked over here because of a lack of parking spaces; there was a recent case near me in north London, where Barnet Council blocked housing because building homes without parking spaces went against their policy.
The lack of affordable housing is an existential one; literally existential in the sense that it’s stopping the next generation being born. So there’s something quite perverse about denying our posterity’s existence so that we can have parking spaces.
Rather than having our cities run by cars, I’d like to see the Government propose a couple of car-free developments on the edge of London, obviously near transport facilities; I’ve written before about the impressive Jakriborg in Sweden, but my inspiration would be the model village inside the Efteling in the Netherlands. It looks like a Vermeer painting, and cars are only allowed in for loading and unloading, with a 5kph speed limit.
There’s no reason why new developments can’t look like that, and I believe that one day they will; people will just find it baffling that we once allowed the neighbourhoods where children were raised to be dominated by cars.
But, anyway, the moral of the story is: never go on your local Facebook group.