Memo to Philip Hammond: Hoverboards project

Continuing the 1963 Buchanan Report on the future of transport in towns, over the page:

A development which may offer a more direct challenge to the motor car, assuming the problem of noise can be overcome, is the air-cushion craft.  It seems to give scope for development of a small personal machine, useable perhaps eventually on ordinary pavements as a substitute for walking.  Yet it may be questioned whether it would really take this form, whether the urge to put a perspex cover over it for weather protection, to use it at higher speeds, to add extra seats, and to affix luggage containers, would not soon convert it into a motor car in all respects but the possession of wheels.

[…] It may have a different source of motive power so that it is no longer strictly a motor vehicle, it may be quieter and without fumes, it may be styled in some quite different way, it may be produced in smaller forms, it may be guided in certain streets by electronic means, it may have the ability to perform sideways movements, but for practical purposes it will present most of the problems that are presented by the motor vehicle today.

These days if you drop a criticism of car addiction into a conversation somebody will be there with a defence of car use: you could have the bigger carbon footprint.  Somebody driving their compact fuel efficient car to the shops once a week might have a smaller carbon footprint than somebody taking daily long-distance rail trips.  Congestion?  Sure, but that won’t make much of a difference to their carbon footprint.  They might drive into somebody?  Sure, but that won’t make much of a difference to their carbon footprint.  Particulate pollution?  That’s not a greenhouse gas.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that there were already multiple major problems with our transport and town planning long before we discovered our CO2 problem.  We need a solution to them all, not an excuse to ignore all but one.

(With a tip of the hat to Carlton Reid, whose joke I’m stealing.)

In pictures: Britain’s once proud stations

A petrol station on Clerkenwell Road has been turned into a cinema.  This is a disaster; an act of war on the Motorist that must be condemned.  The BBC’s Andrew Sully explains why this epidemic of sudden garage death should be such a worry to us.

Firstly, there’s the fact that the petrol station, like the post office and the village shop, is a traditional hub of the community.  I don’t know about you, but I have many fond childhood memories of trundling down to the outskirts of the village to pick up the daily pint of engine oil and sometimes, as a treat, one of those T-shaped plastic things with the rubber and sponge that everybody suspects is supposed to be useful for something, possibly in relation to the windscreen, but nobody has ever quite worked out what.  Certainly, in my village, when given the choice between hanging out by the bus stop on the village green or standing about breathing in the fumes in Mr Whatshisname’s filling station, the local youths knew the cool place to go.  Everyone in the village knew Mr Thinggy, behind the counter.  He was like part of the family.

The Cineroleum: stealing petrol from the prospective drivers of the Alfa Romeo (advertised, left) and Ford Focus (advertised, right) - click image to embiggen

Ray Holloway, chairman of The Petrol Retailers Association, says: “Motorists are now noticing gaps in fuel availability and if it gets worse, as expected, they will certainly be inconvenienced when searching for a forecourt in some areas.”

Christ.  Not more inconvenience to the Motorist.  But this should not just be of concern to the poor hard done by Motorist.  This is an environmental catastrophe:

“And the environmental effect of having to travel extra miles just to fill your car is also considerable.”

This is why The War On The Motorist is so damaging: making driving difficult is bad for the environment.  We must provide more wide and fast roads so that Motorists are not forced to destroy the environment waiting in congestion.  We must put up multi-story car parks in popular parts of town, and give over our streets to free parking, so that Motorists are not forced to destroy the environment driving in circles looking for somewhere they don’t have to pay to park.  And we must have a dense network of filling stations throughout the country, and they must all offer cheap fuel, so that Motorists are not forced to destroy the environment driving fifty miles in the hope that the fuel on the other side might be a fraction of a penny cheaper.

Why can people not see that this is the only sustainable thing to do?

When Greenpeace closed down BP’s London filling stations last month, the newspapers reported that Motorists “understood the anger against BP but were annoyed at the inconvenience caused.”  What the newspapers, who are clearly all in the pocket of Greenpeace, refused to discuss is the fact that the Motorists who were inconvenienced by the protests would have to drive up to two miles further to fill up their tanks, possibly getting stuck in traffic on the way, and that this is bad for the environment.  The entire Greenpeace exercise was self-defeating, the Daily Mail commenters brilliantly realised, because it would cause climate change, not solve it.  What an embarrassing mistake for the protesters.

The logic is simply indisputable.  We must end the War On The Motorist in order to save the planet.  That means more roads, bigger roads, abundant free parking, and the extension of government subsidies for petrol stations.

As the BBC article concludes:

Whatever drives independent petrol station owners out of the business, even non-motorists miss them when they’re gone.

Indeed.  When you think of the alternatives…

Final reminder: Congestion Charge consultation

TfL’s consultation on proposed changes to the Congestion Charge ends today.  This is your final chance to send in your comments.

Briefly, the notable proposed changes are these:

  • Abolish the Western Extension Zone (WEZ) — the section in Kensington and Knightsbridge, west of Park Lane and east of Shepherd’s Bush.  This was a manifesto promise of the mayor.  The WEZ has been unpopular with rich tories who want to drive to posh Knightsbridge shops, and with the residents of Shepherd’s Bush, Hammersmith, and Wandsworth, who believe that it has merely shifted the congestion into their own streets.
  • More discounts and exemptions for cars with low CO2 emissions, including exemptions for plug-in hybrids and any conventional car that emits less than 100g/km.
  • Increasing the charge by £1, to £9.

Roughly, my comments on these were:

  • If the CCharge zone is merely redistributing congestion to other neighbourhoods, why not extend it, all the way to the M25 if necessary?  If the shifted-congestion claim is true, then TfL’s proposal is endorsing the return of congestion (even worse than before, given the recently remodelled streets) to Knightsbridge and Kensington.  I can’t say I’m much of a fan of these particular neighbourhoods, but our friends at NHM and Imperial might want to let the mayor know what they think about his endorsement of a congested and polluted Kensington.
  • This implies that the purpose of the CCharge is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  It’s not.  Carbon emissions are important, but there are a whole suite of other equally important considerations, most notably saving our streets from the blight of continuous noisy intimidating gridlocked traffic, and saving a few of us from the particulate pollutants that kill 4-5,000 Londoners every year.  The new exemptions are an extra invitation for people to burn diesel in our streets — releasing pollutants so deadly that they would, if produced by anything other than a car, be illegal, and which will cost London taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds — so long as they keep within the 100g/km CO2 limit
  • The price is, of course, absurd and regressive.  For most of the people who would want to drive in London — the bankers and drug dealers — £9 is nothing.  They’ll spend three times as much on lunch.  And for anybody who lives more than 30 miles out, it’s probably equal to a return train ticket.  The CCharge is failing, and will continue to fail, because the price is a token price — it’s not enough to put the Motorist off, but it’s sufficient to give them a sense that they have paid for a service, and are owed something in return, something that pedestrians, bus passengers, and cyclists have not paid for and are not owed.  The CCharge is the greatest example of our town planners attempting to manage the harm caused by car use, without actually solving the problem.  This practice is elsewhere exemplified by one-way systems, traffic signals, speed cameras, bus lanes, double-yellow lines, and forests of road signs.  Easily ignored, often useless, and yet frequently cited as evidence of the “War On The Motorist”.  Managing the problem isn’t working.  It’s time to simply close the central zone roads to any motor vehicle that doesn’t have a very good reason for being there.

I’m not really sure what I’m asking the mayor to do.  Strengthen the CCharge as an interim solution, until the problem can be tackled properly, I think.

(Tip of the hat to Clean Air London, @CleanAirLondon.)