From A to B
Catching the bus to sustainable transport
People have always had to travel from one place to another. Whether it was going to the forest to hunt, travelling to the market to sell your wares or commuting to the office to start the nine-to-five, all of them involve travelling. The reasons, distances and modes of travel may have changed, but it is an indisputable fact that humans must travel to get by in life. Nonetheless, whilst we may not have much choice in whether we travel or not, we do choose the way in which we move from start to finish. Increasingly, and it is still increasingly, people everyday are making the choice to travel by car. Admittedly, car ownership growth in Europe and the USA is stabilising (NOT falling). However, in developing countries, as they become richer, they are rapidly increasing their car ownership, meaning roughly twenty percent of carbon emission still occur as a result of the car. This is set against increasing levels of obesity (upwards of twenty five percent in the UK) which can, in great part, be attributed to lower levels of daily activity. Therefore, despite increasing concern about the environment, greater knowledge regarding the importance of staying active and ever rising congestion on our roads, to many people are still deciding to drive for every journey out their door.
I believe the reasons for this often illogical choice in face of the facts is attributable to two main things, both of which are inextricably linked. Firstly, there is currently a culture devoted to cars and convenience which has normalised the auto-mobile for every trip, big or small. And secondly, big strategic decisions at every level, both in the past and at present, continue to pave the way for the car. However, it is my contention that the car doesn't have to be the only choice. From here I will focus on what I believe to be some changes that can be made in how we plan, design and manage our cities that may help to make alternative choices of travel, not only more palatable and possible, but actually enjoyable.
I'm not going to pretend to suggest every possible solution to excessive car use or highlight every alternative transport model. Instead I aim to demonstrate a couple of broad alternatives that I think could relativity easily be designed into our environments to make that step-change a little easier.
Solutions don’t necessarily need to be particularly extravagant or complex. Simple things can make a world of difference. Designing cycle routes that actually go somewhere. Ensuring enough undercover bike stands are installed at places people want to get to. Installing paths and crossings were people want to walk. Improving bus and train services so people can link journeys. All of these seemingly obvious changes can help. To often, on my ride to the train station the bike racks are full. Thankfully, there are also secure stands were I work, but what if there wasn't? I would certainly think twice about cycling again if I couldn't be sure there would be somewhere secure and ideally dry to lock my bike. Furthermore, integrating these changes with emerging technologies should make it easier for us to plan alternatives, for example by telling us how congested roads are or when the bus is late before we even leave the house, or even letting us know the location of free and secure bike stands. These small changes if implemented in a holistic and intelligent way can begin to make a world of difference!
Of course larger scale changes also need to be seriously considered; solutions that may well take a lot more money ,time and political will to implement but ultimately will have the greatest success because they involve designing in active solutions, not just welding them on as an afterthought. However, they are ultimately the only way we are going to get people out of their cars and onto the streets.
A simple idea is to ensure people can link journeys and places connect. This doesn't just mean pedestrian and cycle links (although these are very important) but also ensuring if people have to drive, they can visit more than one place or service at once. For example, in an urban area, a parent should easily be able to drop their seven year to school via bike and then securely lock their own and child’s bikes up. They then should be free to easily walk their three year old toddler to nursery and finally pop into the grocery store for some essentials before cycling back home again, all within one easy and active trip. If their feeling social or just fancy a morning pick-me-up, they should have the choice of going into the nearby coffee shop for a brew, all in one easy motion. Even if a car is necessary to get to school, they shouldn't feel the need to then drive between each individual service if the essentials are all placed together. Furthermore, the growth in people walking would also contribute to enlivening places, a problem I discussed in ‘Empty Places’.
This could be achieved by placing all the services people use daily together and within easy reach of peoples’ homes; not as is currently often the case were each service is separate and housing is placed in isolated closes and cul-de-sacs. There also needs to be links to those places and attractive pedestrian and cycling routes that prioritise walking. For example, by using shared spaces between roads and pavements and limiting obstacles to people desire paths.
The Times, in 1861, contained an article that suggested it was ‘…an insult to common sense to suppose that people who could travel as cheaply on the outside of a Paddington bus would ever prefer … to be driven amid palpable darkness though the foul subsoil of London.’ And yet when the first line oppened in 1863, people thousands of people went down into the dark, soot and steam riden tunnels because it was faster and more convenient. The over saturation of horse drawn carriages and the excretions they produced quickly subsided and the streets of London became a far more pleasant place to walk and, in later years, cycle. Of course, it would be naive to suggest such a solution is possible in the vast majority of places. Furthermore, London still has a congestion problem, mainly cuased by cars. Nonetheless, it demonstrates that when there is a realistic choice in how we travel, and when that is properly signposted to people there is a good chance they will make changes to their lifestyle and follow a new route from A to B.