More cheaper parking = bliss?

4 Jan

Eric Pickles, the communities secretary has just announced that developers can now build housing with more parking spaces for cars and that towns can compete with each other to provide cheaper parking in town. Is that good news for pedestrians? I don’t think so because it is yet another message from the government that they are favouring motorists over other road users and some much more useful legislation could have been proposed.

More cheaper long term parking in town centres will result in one or two additional journeys during the busiest time of the day per parking space and cheaper short term parking will lead to more people flitting in and out of town during the day which will generate more journeys per day increasing congestion and air pollution etc. More space for cars in new housing projects will make no difference to places that are already built up which is the majority.

It is inevitable that more cheaper town centre parking will lead to complaints from motorists about congestion on the radial routes with associated demands for more roads, wider roads and for the claiming of bus lanes, cycle lanes and re-timing of traffic signals etc etc. Increased congestion will affect public transport, slowing journeys and increasing costs making them less competitive and will result in a loss of services. Park and ride services are already under threat from the cuts to local authority funding. Where services are cut, such as one of Ipswich’s park and ride sites which will close imminently then people will be ‘forced into their cars’ rather than out of them.

Many people now understand that cheap or free car parking paid for by employers and other facilities is a subsidy for drivers paid for by everyone else. Public transport users are not able to ask for a refund for their fares which would be considered as a benefit in kind, however this is exactly what motorists get when they are provided with free or cheap parking by their employers or elsewhere. Cyclists are lucky if they even get a secure cycle rack to leave their bike. Support for workplace parking levies and charging for use of car parks at out of town centres would have reduced the incentive to drive. Strong policies to support sustainable travel options and car clubs would have reduced parking pressures and congestion in all parts of out towns.

Luckily many local authorities support the previous policies and with the severe Local Government cuts it is likely that councils will continue to need their income from town centre parking and will resist cutting a major source of funds. Indeed Leicester is planning to increase town centre parking charges to support park and ride services and Winchester is planning to close a city centre car park at the same time as opening a park and ride site.

The Coalition seems to been setting off back in the old direction of  ‘predict and provide’. This will inevitably end in tears as we can tell from a brief review of recent of history. As an example. In the 1970s the government compulsory-purchased all the houses along this section of the Archway road when they intended to widen the road to motorway standards. They sold them off again only in the mid 1990s after many  severely disrupted public inquiries. This was originally part of the proposed Ringways scheme with 4 motorway standard roads through and around London which were never built (except for the M25 which was a cobbling together of Ringway 3 and Ringway 4).

The houses along the Archway Road were to be buldozed in the 1970s

There were others, including the long and messy M11 Link road protest followed by numerous robust protests by Reclaim the Streets in towns and cities across the UK. Then in 1994 and 1997 landmark Royal Commission Reports on Transport and the Environment were published supporting what the environmentalists had been saying about the folly of responding to congestion by building more roads. In 1996 the Conservative government took notice and launched a ‘great transport debate‘ shortly before they were kicked out and Labour took up the reins.

Luckily we are not going to end up back there again for a number of reasons:

  • Rising oil prices, which are approaching $100 a barrel but are still no where near its previous peak of $150 or the predicted $200. Consider that in 1998 it was $10 per barrel. Rising fuel prices will cause a lot of bother for the government and they can’t respond by lowering taxation on fuel in any meaningful way.
  • Most of our towns are already in place can more parking can’t be provided without demolishing peoples homes which is not going to be considered.
  • Sustainable transport modes such as cycling, car clubs are growing fast at a time that the car industry is on its knees and isn’t about to come up with a dream electric vehicle.
  • Smart phones and other devices and capturing people’s interest and their use is incompatible with pointing a metal box in a straight line. Just look at the people using these devices on trains and buses etc.
  • And then there is the tricky issue of ‘passive driving‘, which is where the consequences of someone decision to drive ends up with someone else dying or getting ill, be it from a traffic collision or poor air quality. There is a very clear parallel between this and passive smoking. Road traffic casualties are at an all-time low but are still far too high with over 2,000 people killed directly by traffic collisions (many of them pedestrians and cyclists) and many more by poor air quality caused by other people’s decisions to drive.

I believe that in time privately owned cars in cities will in the future be as out-of-date as ‘immobile phones’, the ‘Soviet Union’ are becoming. Check out ‘After the car‘ for details.

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