George Monbiot (right) notes that government – Supercharging the future of driving – still plans to spend £27 billion on building more roads, presumably to accommodate all the new electric cars it will be subsidising.
He continues: “An analysis by Transport for Quality of Life suggests that this roadbuilding will cancel out 80% of the carbon savings from a switch to electric over the next 12 years”.
He says the government seems to have no interest in systemic change:
“Everywhere, even in the government’s feted garden villages and garden towns, new developments are being built around the car. Rail policy is just as irrational. The construction of HS2, now projected to cost £106 billion, has accelerated in the past few months, destroying precious wild places along the way, though its weak business case has almost certainly been destroyed by the coronavirus”. His analysis:
Fundamentally, this is not a vehicle problem but an urban design problem
“It is an urban design problem created by our favoured vehicle. Cars have made everything bigger and further away”.
Paris, under its mayor Anne Hidalgo, is seeking to reverse this trend
Monbiot reports that, like several of the world’s major cities, London is being remodelled. The mayor, recognising that, due to Covid restrictions, fewer passengers can use public transport, has set aside road space for cycling and walking. Greater Manchester is asking government to support plans for 1800 miles of protected pedestrian and bicycle route.
Paris, under its mayor Anne Hidalgo, is seeking to reverse this trend, by creating a green “15-minute city” – a city, “reclaimed entirely by its citizen”, where everything a resident needs can be found within a short walk. Districts treated by transport planners as mere portals to somewhere else will become self-sufficient communities, each with their own shops, parks, schools and workplaces, within a 15-minute walk of everyone’s home.
Condé Nast Traveller magazine recalls that Anne Hidalgo was re-elected on a campaign promise of stronger climate action and improvements to quality of life, “In 20 years, Paris will still be Paris but in step with the times. We will get around predominantly by public transit, by bike, or on foot. Far from the era of car dominance, life will be calmer. Nature will take pride of place in the city, as it always should have,” she explained. “There will be lawns in place of concrete esplanades, and green spaces in every neighbourhood. We’ll be able to swim in the Seine, and we’ll continue to imagine and create the future with our skilled entrepreneurs, artisans, and artists”.
Instead of having a central business district, where most work and commercial activities are situated with housing further away from the centre according to price, the 15-minute city is an urban form where people can live, work and play within 15 minutes walking or cycling distance in each district. This would significantly reduce commuting time, over-reliance on cars and public transportation, and would lead to a less polluted city while improving social and economic vibrancy, as well as quality of life of the inhabitants.
Natalie Whittle explains that the concept of “la ville du quart d’heure”, developed by Sorbonne Professor Carlos Moreno, is one in which daily urban necessities are within a 15-minute reach on foot or by bike. Work, home, shops, entertainment, education and healthcare — in Moreno’s vision, should all be available within the same time a commuter might once have waited on a railway platform.
Monbiot ends: “This, I believe, is the radical shift that all towns and cities need. It would transform our sense of belonging, our community life, our health and our prospects of local employment, while greatly reducing pollution, noise and danger. Transport has always been about much more than transport. The way we travel helps determine the way we live. And at the moment, locked in our metal boxes, we do not live well”.