Sunday, 22 November 2015

Cars must fade from our cities, and fade fast.

"What puzzles me is how the cult of the car remains such a popular one. Motorists - the kind who drive as a default rather than occasional or emergency mode of transport - adhere to a religion that hurts society and themselves. Some seem even brainwashed by Top Gear repeats and motoring festivals into thinking a honking lump of metal can be "sexy"."

This is not me ranting away, but an op-ed piece by Rosamund Urwin in London's Evening Standard newspaper. Varsovians - your love affair with the car is a throwback to the 1960s. You are catching up with lost time; but things change, and car use is slowly fading in world's largest cities.

Fading all too slowly. My fourth week in London, I can see how our planet's developed cities are being fouled by the motorcar just as the less developed cities are fouled by open drains. Walking around Ealing, this lovely suburb is blighted by cars. We humans want it all - house, car, clothes, etc - status, in a word. Cut the car out of the equation, and suddenly everything fits. The beautiful Brentham Garden Suburb, so carefully designed by Arts and Crafts architects between 1903 and 1915, is today visually ruined by cars parked in a solid line on both sides of the streets.

Below: Flog the black SUV with the darkened rear windows and buy a detached home, for God's sake. Apart from anything else, the cars are spoiling the view.

It's time to move on. The age of the oversized, fossil-fuel powered car has passed. Its demise will not be quick - people are lazy and selfish. But it will happen, in stages, as the new reality dawns...

Stage One. Realise that there is nothing big or clever about owning a large, powerful car. No, in the developed world, it no longer impresses; it is a symbol not of status but of your anti-social, egotistical personality (think fart in a crowded lift). What does impress, especially in London with its house prices, is property. (A nice detached house at the top end of Birkdale Road is a lot more impressive than a semi off the Brunswick Road. And motorists - you could afford it if you just ditched the mobile status symbol.) Averaged out across the week, you spend 12 plus hours a day in your house and (if you're unfortunate) two in your big vehicle, which costs you a small fortune to finance, insure and run. And contributes to your ill-health in later life.

Stage Two. If you really must have a car, have a small one, and use it as infrequently as you can. Save energy, emit less. Treat the car as a domestic appliance, not as a status symbol. It should be as energy efficient as possible. No low-profile tyres to scrape expensive alloy wheels on kerbs. No barrage of optional extras that pump up the list price to twice that of the base model. No 'performance pack' that potentially gives you vastly more speed than is legally permitted on public roads. Still, if you do need a car - hire one, or share one. Or call a taxi. The ownership model is in decline.

Stage Three. You live in a city. Use its amenities - public transportation. Walk. We all need to rack up 10,000 paces a day (8km/5 miles) of walking a day, according to the NHS, the World Health Organisation and the Surgeon-General of the US. That's really hard to do if you drive everywhere by default. Half and hour of brisk cycling is the equivalent in health terms of 5,000 paces. And on a bus or train you can benefit from Twitter, Google and the rest of the social media. Which you can't in a car. The Millennial Generation is more interested in the latest mobile devices than in owning cars. You'll not impress them with a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S. An Apple iPhone 6S draws more gasps.

Finally, a bit of good news...
Nearly 60% of Poles choose public transport over car
Poles are becoming conscious of the Earth's finite resources and are making changes in their own households, the Ministry of the Environment's research indicated. According to the survey, over 70% of Poles limit their water consumption, while 57% choose public transportation or cycling over cars whenever they can.  Half of respondents said they purchase energy-saving light bulbs, refrigerators and washing machines (40%), additionally, they switch off lights when leaving a room (67%).
Ministry of Environment
This time two years ago:
Leeds, by day

This time four years ago:
Bad customer service - a camera repairer to avoid

This time six years ago:
November weather notes

This time seven years ago:
First snow, winter 2008-09

This time eight years ago:


Anonymous said...

Poland is definitely behind the curve here.

In Bydgoszcz, (another) new shopping centre just opened. I see they advertise "1200 parking spaces!". Mind you, the centre sits at a major intersection and is served by a tram line and 5 or 6 bus lines.

In Germany, you can find such centers in the middle of the city. Parking isn't such a problem, and it keeps the main shopping streets busy. Our main street here is pretty much dead now (except for banks and second-hand clothing shops).

dr Marcin said...

So, what if banks sell mortgage credits and small vehicle loans in a package? 2 in 1 But you're absolutely right. A 1,44 km (approx. 1 mile) distance between Putney Green Man down to the Putney Bridge jammed all the days and more and longer than the same distance on the ours Karczunkowska Street during peak hours. No important that there are located some of 4 (whether 5) bus stops on a route, and buses stop there at some of each 250 meters (imagine that on Karczunkowska?), but an average speed ranges there between some of 20 and 40 mph. Putney High stands all the days. It explains me why there are not so many car accidents in London. How, for God sake, they might be, if vehicles are almost constantly in a non-motion? Some more. Saw at some of tens (if not hundreds) of streets, roads, avenues and closed ends at many residential areas some of typical pictures. Typical semi-detached house (build during Victorian Age) with a parking porch sized perhaps slightly larger than a nose handkerchief and parking 2-3 (not rarely 4) huge autos on such a that. And not so seldom, one of such a vehicle parked in a such a way that its back sticks out on a sidewalk because of a scarce of a space. Moreover, some of additional auto belonging to a given estate is parked in a street alongside of a pavement. But, okay, I was querulous, maybe. But there's something that I do really like in London... and that's a culture of parking. I might walk throughout of kilometres of streets, roads, ways, avenues, closed ends and alike, and mostly never (but even if... very rarely) I might be enforced to perform a slalom ride because improperly parked vehicles baring the way. During some of 1,5 month, passed thru thousands of cars and I may reckon on my one hand situations when my walking route was interrupted by a barring the way vehicles. And even if such a happened, some of the vehicles have being permitted to do so, because parking like that resulted from that because drivers temporarily loaded or unloaded something that might not be loaded or unloaded if a vehicle not being stood on a pavement. Obviously, loading/unloading area was vividly signalized and marked on; walking route was secured and safely traced-out; vehicle and an area were separated and guarded out of pedestrians; a signalling man to protect the pedestrians safety has being on a place.... And it was like regarding not only vehicles at construction sites but also at just common homes (whether residences). A full of culture.... Because? Parking on pavement (except of the designated bays) is illegal and might cost some of £ 200-300 (and even more) a fine. A fine... executable. £ 200-300 out of a pocket and such a pleasure weights of 4-10 per cent of an average family monthly budget, annually earning £ 26-52k.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Dr Marcin: You are so right. London is still largely Victorian in its layout; only the very largest of houses had stables for horses, the rest have no spaces for the car. Cars have been getting bigger and bigger - stupidly so. Families have been getting smaller. Roads have not been widened. Road safety culture is a different issue. I was puzzled at first by seeing cars here in London standing by the side of the road, engine running, driver seated. Turns out the drivers were receiving or sending SMSs or making mobile phone calls! What - can't they do this while driving at 80km/h, as any Polish driver can do?

@Anonymous: I've written about Polish architects and town planners recently - I think they should have their driving licences taken away as a prerequisite to doing their jobs!

dr Marcin said...

American folks might also read newspapers, shave (or perform a make-up or manicure..., once saw also a pedicure... no kidding), follow a video-conference via a cell-phone, feed kids sitting at the back, and drink a morning double coffee simultaneously... Seriously, that wasn't a joke. Saw dudes like that. Hahaha

student SGH said...

Indeed there is nothing impressive about possessing an SUV or upper-end car, but a compact car with turbocharged engine is much more practical and safer than a city car. Superb performance of high maximum speed is of minor importance (though a car behaves well on the road some 30 kmph below maximum speed, hence headroom also comes in handy), but good acceleration (therefore I favour turbo-chargers) simply makes driving easier on Polish roads. Plus if you take four people on board and baggage into the boot, driving a small is a nuisance.

Worth looking at the relationship between property prices and brand-new vehicle prices - back in early 2000s a brand-new compact car (priced at PLN 60,000) could buy you half of a small flat in Warsaw. Today a brand-new compact car costs mere PLN 10,000 more, but a flat of the same size costs four times, so the proportion has changed by 100%. Cars have become more available, properties less available, yet cars still impress, because in absolute terms they are cheaper, especially in Poland where people try to strike a deal of their life, by fooling themselves they are buying a Volskwagen Passat B5 1.9 TDI from a German grandpa who drove it to the chruch and back...

The best idea is to choose a place of residence which would reduce to minimum dependence on a car in travelling to work and running everyday errands and use a car for longer trips only (this would also reduce a vehicle's wear and tear and make it last longer, but are vehicles produced in 2010s designed to endure 20 years of service?)