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The Big Interview: more car-friendly or more car-free?
10:49am Sunday 22nd September 2013 in News
Car-free or car-friendly? Hundreds have had their say on the future of transport in Brighton and Hove.
Earlier this week, The Argus lifted the mask on who was part of the anonymous Unchain the Brighton Motorist.
The group, which includes taxi firms, solicitors and the Tourism Alliance, describes a blanket extension of 20mph city limits as a “declaration of war” on motorists.
But Brighton and Hove City Council maintains restrictions are needed to reduce air pollution and improve road safety in a city with little space.
With the roll out of the restrictions being currently debated, what does the future hold?
For the first time in our regular Big Interview section, we have two people answering questions on the biggest issue of the week.
On one side is PER-ERIC HAWTHORNE, a director at Streamline Taxis and member of the Unchain the Brighton Motorist.
On the other is TOM DRUITT, of The Big Lemon, the city-based bus company whose vehicles are powered by cooking oil.
Why should Brighton and Hove become more car-friendly/car- free?
PH: Of course we should try and encourage people not to make unnecessary car journeys. But we shouldn’t live in a dream world where everyone finally abandons all motor transport – it’s just not going to happen: old people with arthritis can’t cycle or skateboard; mums with two young kids and fifteen bags of supermarket shopping can’t go home by bus; plumbers can’t fix your boiler if they can’t park near you; nightclubbers can’t get home to Tongdean between midnight and 6am without a taxi or a friend’s car; and special-needs kids have to get to school on the other side of our city.
TD: There are many reasons why Brighton and Hove would benefit from being more car-free.
Personally I find cars very useful at times but I believe their significant environmental and social costs mean that we should find other ways of travelling wherever possible and speed up efforts to make other modes safer, more accessible and more attractive.
We are lucky in Brighton and Hove to have cross-party consensus on the need for sustainable transport improvements and this has resulted in improvements in bus and cycle lanes and the introduction of 20mph zones, all of which have created an environment where walking, cycling and using the bus are all more attractive ways to travel.
This enhances travel opportunities for people who do not drive and creates a healthier, safer and more pleasant urban environment for everyone.
Transport is perhaps one of the biggest gripes for people living and working in the city. Is there a way to accommodate everyone?
PH: Not on the cheap. You can’t solve any problems by just trying to bully cars off the road or away from the centre; you have to invest money – proper money – in alternatives that work. Park and Ride would be good, but only if there are enough buses and taxis available 24/7 that can actually get you conveniently to your destination.
If parents want 20mph outside their school, but taxi drivers want to do thirty between 9pm and 6am, they can both be accommodated – by investing in variable speed limits. If pedestrians want to amble down East Street but a resident needs a new bed delivered we won’t get that solution without ‘Shared Space’.
On Phase Two of the 20mph, a better thought-through consultation process would have helped. But it might have cost more money. How do you accommodate Southwick residents who drive to Brighton every day on Kingsway if you only send questionnaires to residents of Kingsway and the surrounding area? Online consultation is all very good, but a lot of motorists still aren’t that computer-savvy, whereas there is no limit to the number of times the same motivated activist can log on and fill out an online consultation their way. Is that really democratic? TD:I have no idea whether transport is the biggest gripe or not but it is certainly a hot topic and I’m glad that the city council seems to be serious about tackling it.
There is clearly not enough road space and parking space to accommodate everyone if we all drive, but I think with improved bus routes, safer cycling routes, more cycle parking and a better pedestrian environment we can indeed accommodate everyone.
Are 20mph limits really the way forward?
PH: Yes. Outside schools and hospitals. But daytime – not evenings and night.
Yes. In narrow residential streets – but not on arterial roads.
And limits have to be self-compliant, which means spending proper money on pinch-points and road surfaces, not leaving speed bumps and unrepaired pot-holes.
We already have a 20mph Phase One experiment and it’s clear this just isn’t working in some areas – along main roads like Cromwell Road, for instance.
Or anywhere at night.
The Department for Transport Guidance says that local speed limits should be evidence-led and self-explaining.
But any road safety figures and other research on Phase One must run over at least three years to be meaningful.
So why is the council in such a hurry to force through Phase Two a year before that evidence is available?
20mph limits can increase accidents on some road-types.
Of course, if you reintroduced cost-free parking all along the seafront, that’s the best way to slow down traffic. Without a speed limit.
TD: 20mph limits are an important part of the jigsaw, but they’re not the whole picture. In terms of safety the evidence is pretty conclusive and this is why the Department for Transport recommends that “for residential streets and other town and city streets with high pedestrian and cyclist movement, local traffic authorities should consider the use of 20mph schemes.”
It is also why all three political parties in Brighton and Hove agreed to introduce the 20mph zone and why councils in Portsmouth, Newcastle, Leicester, Oxford, Hull, Bristol, Warrington, Islington as well as most other Sussex towns, are going down the same road.
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents 1,754 people died on UK roads in 2012 and at 20mph there’s a 2.5% chance of pedestrians being fatally injured compared to a 20% chance at 30mph.
Statistically most people reading this will know someone who has been injured or killed on a road. A friend of mine was knocked down and killed in a 30mph zone in the centre of Forest Row. If that had been a 20mph zone he might still be alive.
Should cars be banned from the city centre?
PH: Pedestrians should have priority in the Lanes. But that should be ‘Shared Space’ not some selfish pedestrian-only scheme. Look at New Road – that works. Pedestrians walk in the middle of the road and cars give them priority. By all means re-route through-traffic. But shops and restaurants still need deliveries; disabled people need taxi access and local residents also need front-door access.
And it’s quite funny that when it rains, lots of Greens come off their bikes and order taxis.
TD: I do not believe that cars should be banned throughout the city centre, but the evidence is clear that pedestrianised areas do a lot better economically. A report by research company Just Economics shows that shoppers on foot spend up to six times more than those who arrive by car.
And in a speech to the Liberal Democrat conference Norman Baker, Transport Minister and MP for Lewes, points out that Cambridge has a pedestrianised city centre and the lowest empty void rate of shops anywhere in the country.
So it would almost certainly help our retailers if areas such as the Lanes and the North Laine were pedestrianised.
Do you agree that it’s important for a vibrant city that people can get around quickly and effectively?
PH: Yes. Not just because the alternative is getting around slowly in frustration, but because so many people come to Brighton, get stuck in traffic, get stung by the parking and vow: “Next time I won’t bother. I’ll visit Southend, or Worthing, or Portsmouth instead”.
We’re a city that completely relies on tourism – we have more cafes and restaurants than Manchester. And more visitors than the Eiffel Tower.
Please let’s stop scaring them away with bad experiences – slow access, pot- holed roads, constantly reducing parking spaces and some of the highest parking charges in the country, even on Sundays.
TD: Yes, but this does not have to be done by car.
Paradoxically, it’s not the speed limit that makes car travel in the city so difficult, stressful and time-consuming, it’s all the other cars.
So if more people chose non-car modes of travel, other cars would find it a lot easier to get around quickly and effectively.
In the city centre I find cycling to be the quickest and most effective way to travel, but many of the cycle routes in the city centre do not join together in a sensible way. This needs to be addressed.
What do you think the public’s view is on reducing car use in the city?
PH: Warm and cuddly, according to many Green activists. But they’re out of touch, because according to yesterday’s online Argus poll, 72% are in favour of our ‘Unchain the Brighton Motorist’ campaign.
Brightonians want to use their cars, but they’re put off by poorly maintained roads, traffic jams and draconian parking policies.
Why not have free parking after 6pm and all day Sunday?
TD: According to the Campaign for Better Transport Brighton and Hove is the least car-dependent city in the UK outside London and it seems to me that most people in the city appreciate the benefits of schemes such as New Road, which have reduced traffic, improving the urban environment as a result.
Notwithstanding a small but vociferous lobby, who mistakenly believe that they are the target of some kind of ideological ‘war on the motorist’, most people seem to be broadly in favour of continued efforts to make the city centre a safer, healthier and more enjoyable place to live, work, play... and shop.
Comments are being accepted on the council’s 20mph plans until October 4. To have your say visit www.brighton- hove.gov.uk/20mph or call 01273 290000.
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