Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Anti-Car Rant


Woonerf for The Denburn Valley. Philosophy, Background and Site Visits
Reader Comments
Nala said...
I don’t know why you don’t just re-title your blog ‘Anti-Car Rant’, for that’s all it is in various disguises. 
The truth you avoid recognising is that most people aspire to the convenience of personal motor transport, pay dearly for the privilege, provide much employment, contribute greatly in taxes, and then people like you expect them to ‘leave the car at home’...



Scottish Transport Statistics No 29: 2010 Edition
  • 27% increase in the number of motor vehicles licensed in Scotland since 1999
  • 43% of motorists say they drive every day (including weekends)
High Level Summary of Statistics Trends - Chart data
  • 208 deaths caused by bad driving in 2010
  • 13,116 injuries caused by bad driving in 2010
[compare with...]
  • 79 homicides in 2009/10
  • 5,700 criminal injuries (non-sexual assaults in which the victim's injury resulted in detention in hospital or outpatient treatment) in 2009/10


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Department for Transport
National Travel Survey 2010
  • 20% of all journeys less than one mile were made by car during 2010
  • 59% of all journeys 1-2 miles were made by car
  • 78% of all journeys 2-5 miles were made by car
  • 43% of primary school children were driven to and from school in a car
  • Walking journeys fell by 8% between 2009 and 2010. This is the lowest level recorded ever.
High Level Summary of Statistics Trends - Chart data
  • 180% increase in males overweight, obese or morbidly obese between 1995 and 2009
  • Only 37% of adults engaged in physical activity for more than 10 minutes per day.
NHS - Health Scotland
Physical Activity
Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death as a contributor to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers worldwide. It is also related to other leading risk factors for NCDs (e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high glucose levels) and to the increase in childhood and adult obesity.
[...] Physical inactivity should [therefore] be regarded as a major public health priority in Scotland today.
Preventing Overweight and Obesity in Scotland.
A Route Map Towards Healthy Weight.
Scotland is experiencing the obesity epidemic. 
Scotland has one of the highest levels of obesity in OECD countries; only the USA and Mexico having higher levels. In 2008, 26.8% of adults in Scotland were obese and 65.1% were overweight; for children the corresponding rates were 15.1% and 31.7%. As overweight has become the norm, we have developed a distorted view of normal body shape and just how many people in Scotland are overweight and obese.
Attainment of the Government’s purpose of a flourishing economy requires a healthy population. Overweight and obesity pose real risks to the health of the population in Scotland and its ability to meet its overarching purpose of sustainable economic growth because of the burden of disease that accompanies overweight and obesity.
 to achieve a healthy weight it is important that we both participate in enough activity, and that when we are not doing this we are careful to minimise how much time we spend sitting down ... To achieve sustained weight loss, for the majority of Scotland’s population who are already overweight, requires both a change in eating habits to reduce calorie intake and an increase in physical activity. For adults, at least 60 minutes of moderate activity, such as walking, is required on most days of the week to both lose weight and maintain weight loss
The scale of change required for both diet and physical activity to reduce obesity across the population cannot rely on individual behaviour change alone. We need to act at the population level so that these changes become the norm in Scottish society.


More people are today killed and hurt by bad driving in Scotland than by all other non-sexual crimes combined. And more are killed by bad driving in Scotland each year than by all those media-panic favourites: MRSA, clostridium difficile and winter flu put together.

The pathology of an obesity epidemic caused by sedentary lifestyles sweeps through our health services preventing treatment capacity from being allocated to other needs. Not only that, but that same sedentary pathology also threatens the sustainability of our economy; an enervated sick workforce being unable to compete internationally with workforces which are better equipped by their vigour and fitness to meet the challenges caused by the ending of economic growth.

Fear of traffic around schools means that today's parents are - ironically - driving more and more of those children to school, they forbid their children from going outside independently and they chauffeur them to every single activity outside the home. This life behind closed doors means we not only expose our children to an obesogenic lifestyle, but we also run the risk of battery-rearing a generation of "cotton-wool children" who will never be able to learn resilience for themselves and will be unable to cope with risk.

If the damage caused to the population by driving were caused by - say - terrorism or an infectious epidemic we can imagine the public outcry and subsequent policy action. Yet fully one-fifth of all  journeys of a distance less than one mile are undertaken by car. This distance is walkable. Perhaps it's an unpopular and revolutionary stance to take, but yes, we believe that distances of less than one mile are walkable.

Our message to policymakers is that, rather than roll out yet more and more road-space creating projects for Aberdeen, they should go for the easy win; the low hanging fruit. Target first those 20% of journeys less than one mile which are undertaken by car. Lessons from places like Malmo, Lubeck, Aalborg, Montpellier and Eindhoven can show the way. In the town centre the introduction of severe parking restrictions and penalties, long phase asyncronous traffic signalling, pedestrian priority, shared spaces etc will 'nudge' an increasing amount of people to simply leave the car at home when undertaking these short, perfectly walkable journeys. As the urban environment becomes less dominated by motorcars, opportunities can then be explored for measures to tackle those 59% of journeys less than 2 miles which are undertaken by car. As more of the urban environment is abandoned by private motor-transport then public transport, cycling and walking become more efficient and attractive, and the circle is completed.

But to return to our critic's original statement...
The truth you avoid recognising is that most people aspire to the convenience of personal motor transport, pay dearly for the privilege, provide much employment [and] contribute greatly in taxes...
Indeed yes, motoring is expensive (about £550 per month for the average person running the average car, according to the RAC). It's true that, whenever there's a petrol-tax-hike or price increase because of record-high oil costs, we all see the STV cub reporter sent out to do his easy-peasy hack-work lazy boilerplate on "hard pressed" motorists who are "beleaguered" by record fuel prices. And there they are: motorists-in-solidarity-on-the-forecourt being interviewed; happy to be interviewed venting about paying "more than enough". They roll their eyes and go through the motions of complaining bitterly, but if you look closely, if you examine the micro-gestures, you'll see that their eyes are actually smiling - laughing even - with self-regarding relish. Oh yes, the motorists love to complain because in that complaining they get to boast about how much money they spend on running their cars, and how hard they work in extra overtime hours to keep the show on the road. This demonstrates that they are cash-rich and time-poor: the very badges of high status.

Thus the ever-increasing cost of motoring affords the motorist a chance to perform Darwinian status-display dances. From the young contract engineer using his soft-top roadster as a fanny-magnet to the yummy-mummy piloting her oil-tanker-vast Range Rover around the centre of town - higher motoring costs simply and conveniently serve to enhance status, for in Aberdeen motoring is now a Veblen Good; the more expensive it is, the greater its attraction. Indeed motoring today is the high status distilled essence of aspiration itself.

So, if - like so many insecure and alienated Aberdonians - you have a deep-seated need to display how much you're capable of spending in order to keep the show on the road - what better way to affirm your importance, affluence and high status to yourself than motoring? Because, if you wish for it hard enough and if you choose to "buy in" to it, motoring makes you feel wealthy, high-ranking and sexy, just as the car-adverts promise it will. And then you can ignore everyone and everything else.


But what about the people of those Swedish, Danish, French, German and Dutch towns we mentioned? Do they not love their cars as much as people of Aberdeen? Are they somehow less 'advanced' than us? Or is it that they have just learned to use their cars more appropriately, like well-adjusted grown-ups?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An excellent post. Whenever possible, I walk places (I live in a fairly small town, so it's relatively easy), and take public transport if I'm going into Aberdeen itself (as the road infrastructure is simply inadequate for the volume of traffic it sees).

Indeed, if I worked in a different location, I would use public transport & walking to get there - unfortunately the practicality of the matter is that if I drive, I can be at work in 15-20 minutes, if I take public transport the journey time increases to an hour or so.