Lately, I’ve felt a growing disdain for cars, and traffic in general. Living in a city for the majority of my 20s, I’ve largely dismissed cars as an inevitability of modern life. But since moving out of Brighton 9 months ago, to a “quieter” town, in search of a better quality of life for my family, the abundance of traffic on the roads has become increasingly grating.
Traffic is unattractive, impractical, noisy, smelly, unhealthy and unsafe. But we live with it, because for the majority, we begrudgingly rely on it ourselves in part to get around. As the adage goes, we are not stuck in traffic; we are the traffic.
We’re conditioned to live our life around roads. We walk on pavements, waiting for a safe place to cross. We plan journeys on foot relative to road systems. And we instinctively avoid large areas of our environment due to the presence of vehicles; be it moving (roads) or stationary (parking).
I love taking my 20-month-old on walks to the local parks in our town. He’s increasingly confident on his feet and loves to explore everything. But I’m not alone as a parent in being on constant high alert watching his every move to ensure he’s currently in a “safe zone” (ergo: not wandering towards a road). This is exhausting and honestly takes a lot of the fun out of a peaceful stroll and exploration of our local area.
I’m a firm believer in minimal discipline, particularly of the punitive kind, but there’s no way to avoid a constant nagging or hand-holding to ensure my child’s safety near roads, where there’s zero tolerance for a lax approach. It’s impossible to guard your child completely from danger, nor would it be beneficial for them, but cars are literal killing machines; something the innocence of youth has yet to learn.
Abolishing road traffic is of course incredibly fanciful and implausible, probably in my lifetime. But as part of our global targets to cut emissions and hitting carbon neutrality, car-free neighbourhoods must become a reality. We already have Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), but these feel more like lip service than promoting any real change. With these, there is a gentle deterrent to driving through a LTN, but for the most part it is not prohibited, merely inconvenient.
Imagine the community and nature that could flourish in a vehicle-free suburban area. Room to move and explore with minimal danger. Outside spaces for meeting, dining, exercise and entertainment. Room and clean air for nature to thrive. Vast cycling networks for safe, efficient and inclusive travel. Separate designated paths for small electric taxis, bicycle taxis and tuc-tucs for those with reduced mobility to use and cargo bikes for deliveries. Roads and our addiction to private vehicles prevent all this.
In closing, roads are a fundamental part of our transport ecosystem, and have their place; but keep them out of our towns and cities. Long ago we invented improved modes of transport for travelling short distances efficiently and identified the importance of exercise and clean air to our health and wellbeing. And yet here we still are; building civilisations around complicated, costly and unhealthy road networks, perpetuating a society of “I’m alright, Jack”. We can do better. For our own good, our children’s future and for generations to come.