Listening to certain sections of Canterbury’s society, you would know that an absence of private vehicles on city streets is not merely a desirable, but a realisable one.
Indeed, many of this group are those most vehemently opposed to a new multi-storey car park in Station Road West and regard this as an unshakeable prophesy of our future lives.
Personally, I have no opinion on the car park: build it, don’t build it – I couldn’t give a toss.
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What I am interested in is how a car-less central Canterbury – or at least a less car Canterbury – could become a reality by 2050 (an arbitrary date I’ve chosen for no reason other than it’s a round number a generation henceforth).
It seems to me there that there may be three routes to achieving the car-less or less car vision:
- A widespread change in people’s attitude to driving private cars so that they choose other ways of getting around;
- Regulation, financial penalties or radical infrastructure policies to force people to alter their behaviour;
- Some piece of technology whose potential is as yet unknown, but which when it arrives will supersede the methods of personal transportation available to us today.
The first of these is the assumption that there will be something called “modal shift” whereby people abandon cars in favour of foot or bike.
Canterbury City Council is fond of believing this will happen when 4,000 homes are built at Mountfield Park to the south of the city.
If you’re a tad sceptical about modal shift’s potential, then you might believe that people cannot be left to their own devices and need to be controlled from above, that is by officialdom.
One commentator, for example, advocates the introduction of a congestion charge for Canterbury.
Others have said they want to see more roads closed to traffic so that essentially vehicles are banned from the whole of the old walled city as well as lower St Dunstan’s Street and North Lane up to the entrance to the car park.
This was essentially the plan when the Westgate Towers traffic trial was introduced in 2012. It was a disaster and close to being universally loathed – even though its aim was to reduce traffic in that part of the city. Equally, a congestion charge would only be popular with a small contingent of eco-fundamentalists.
I, on the other hand, have a view of human nature which believes that we are far better – not to mention far happier – responding to reward than the threat of punishment.
That said, perhaps the best way to reduce car use and thereby reduce pollution is for technology to present us with a method of personal transport which is equal to or superior to the private car. One idea is the driverless car or pod which runs on rails or is a kind of electric minicab you summon to take where wherever you need to go.
We know what technology is capable of and if it is effective, it can literally change the world around us.
The lesson, therefore, of aspiring to a Canterbury with as few private cars on the streets as possible should probably be this: don’t persuade yourself you can change people but give people the tools and the freedom of action to change themselves.