Could a car-less Canterbury become a reality by 2050?

A quiet Stour Street this morning - but for how long?

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.

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:

  1. A widespread change in people’s attitude to driving private cars so that they choose other ways of getting around;
  2. Regulation, financial penalties or radical infrastructure policies to force people to alter their behaviour;
  3. 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.
Military Road, Canterbury, one of the worst roads for pollution in the district

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.


  1. Hi Alex, just to let you know that during the Smart Eco-City Canterbury 2050 (the year you happened to choose!) symposium held at UKC a few months ago this was part of the presentations given as well as focused upon during workshops. The symposium was connected and resultant from the UN sustainability goals and was attended by over 80 people. I attended this and will contact you soon with details of someone you can speak with if you wish to look into this further.
    Best wishes,

  2. I know I’ve said this before but I’ve just jumped through hoops to allow me to drive in a pedestrianised area in Canterbury, as I can’t walk but am not yet in a wheelchair. I rely on taxis and lifts to get anywhere. I already can’t visit LOTS of Canterbury due to the pedestrianisation. There are hundreds like me, with mobility problems which are progressive, and which we are trying to avoid becoming wheelchair bound. Arthritis, MS, ME, vertigo, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s, hypermobility syndrome, EDS, I really could go on and on. There are hardly any seats in Canterbury. It’s like being in the sea, miles from shore, with only 1 minute of energy to tread water. Maybe people with no mobility issues could walk or use bikes but there are a whole host of us who need cars to get us to shops and streets which we can’t walk to. Or start a scheme of hireable seated Segways like the bike scheme in London. I am working on this.

  3. The Mountfield housing site was going to have a bus each way every six minutes to the bus station. The “fast bus route”(sic)has no route, as it stops at the Chaucer Hospital on Nackington road. For four years I have been trying to get information about how it goes beyond that point. Nobody including Cllrs and Mr C. Carmichael can supply any information. I do not believe this six minute promise. We were also told that the bus station cannot accept any more bus movements

    In spite of the delay to that consent being granted by the, so-called,city council, because of a judicial review, we still have no information.

    Other place like Brighton and Colchester, have electronic displays at bus stops telling you when and where buses are going and once on the bus, each stop is announced…. no such 1990’s technology here.

    We still have no proper bus service at Canterbury West Station,as a reminder of the Westgate traffic trial.

    Have the silent ward Cllr Tories forgotten there is an election next spring?

    So for the foreseeable future the car rules.

  4. Good three point analysis by Alex Claridge as to how British society may manage to kick our private motoring habit by 2050. I am more interested, however, in achieving a cleaner, greener Canterbury by 2025 at the latest. For this purpose we indeed need to encourage modal shift in and around the city. Many citizens probably cannot imagine how much nicer a place Canterbury will be to live in if we manage to deal with our endemic traffic congestion, and make walking and cycling more pleasant experiences. As part of the encouragement, therefore, the city and county councils will need to employ sticks as well offering carrots.

  5. I agree with Peter. It needs to happen much sooner. I was thinking this when attending the symposium I mentioned.

    I would like to add to the points made that Paint the Pavement, being successfully used in the USA (or initially Chalk the Streets as a trial) could be used for traffic calming and community building in residential areas which are being used as rat runs due to overflowing congestion. There are examples of PtP on YouTube. Not only is there a design painted on the street but interest and beauty is created around the area, encouraging people to slow down and even get out of their cars… or not bring them at all… to explore them. Permaculture can also be used, to create plantings that end up being more or less self maintaining, with perhaps a bench. Perhaps art and sculpture like they have in Spain and elsewhere. It is worth checking into.


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