“Politicians can’t break free from our car culture”


scan0005The following letter on the conflict over increasing road building – between academics and transport professionals on the one hand, and the Government on the other – was published in Local Transport Today:

Politicians can’t break free from our car culture

Your editorial “Road critics go unheard” (LTT 07 March) asks why, when so many professional bodies and academics question renewed interest in increasing inter-urban road capacity, “…if their arguments are so sound, why do ministers not seem to be listening?”.

During my career as a transport professional (and I guess of just about everybody reading LTT) there have been many well-argued reasons put forward for reducing dependence on car use and associated modes such as road freight.

The shorter list of motor traffic exacerbated problems includes congestion, emissions (whether noxious, noise, or greenhouse gas varieties), destruction of rural and urban environments through road building, dependence on the vagaries of oil production, danger to other road users, loss of local community, reduction of children’s independent mobility, health disbenefits for those not engaged in ‘active travel’, the massive costs of road building and subsidy to the motor manufacturing industry etc, etc. There is a long list of criticisms of contemporary car culture and the institutions that back it up.

Yet successive governments have resolutely persisted with ‘predict-and-provide’ and business as usual whatever the warnings of all manner of concerned professionals and academics.

To give just one example of the fanatic commitment towards increased motorisation: the last decade or so has seen median earners priced out of property ownership in the South East, and massive increase in costs for those renting. There are also all sorts of other well publicised costs of living have risen. Yet, despite there being little chance of these costs significantly declining, and the cost of motoring lower than it was a when New Labour last came to power, the last Opposition transport spokesperson voiced a commitment towards even cheaper motoring!

We are in the grip of a car culture which not only assumes increased car dependency as given, but excludes any significant attempts to have a real alternative. This not just due to the power of the motor manufacturers, or even the oil companies (are they likely to support a world with less fuel burned?) but a deeper cultural issue. Essentially, unless the sense of entitlement assumed by motorists is properly questioned, no real progress on road building or anything else can be expected.

Transport professionals are kidding themselves if they base their arguments on belief systems like cost-benefit analysis which underpin the system we now have. And they are kidding themselves if indeed they think that any form of argument will work which sidesteps fundamental features of car culture. Until they become car culture sceptics, it will be business as usual.

Robert Davis


Road Danger Reduction Forum



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