Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Cars, cars, cars – rant warning!

Yesterday we went on an enjoyable little jaunt up to the grandmothers’ allotment. The allotment is on the outskirts of Brighton – a part of town where we have had some family connections over the years. It is where my mum grew up and where we had cousins when I was a child.

This part of Brighton lies to the north of the city – right on the edge of the Downs. When I was a child we used to play at the cricket pitch and ‘up the track’. When I was a teenager they built the Brighton by-pass – something they’d been planning to do for years. When I stand on that cricket pitch now I can hear the constant swishing noise of tyres on tarmac. It is still a beautiful spot – I saw a Sparrow hawk yesterday and we picked lots of blackberries. But the noise grates away at my sense of peace – chips at my sense of calm – lights a little flame under the anger in me and starts it bubbling.

Then, on the way home our bus had to head back south, into the city, along the main road from London. Buses are great for getting around most of our city as the council (in the face of many objections) put in loads of bus lanes over the last decade. But the lanes don’t cover the whole city. As we headed back home we found ourselves in an almost stationary line of traffic – inching along in the hot sun. Eventually we got off the bus as little cousin D (5) has been known to vomit all over buses and had gone rather quiet. We walked away – leaving the bus behind. Yes, with a five year old walking we were able to go faster than the bus!

As we walked home – crossing roads with cars bumper to bumper – music blaring and engines humming – I wondered when (WHEN!) will people start to realise that this car culture is not sustainable? Why does it not look mad to people – these streams of cars idling away in the sun? The people inside were missing out on a truly beautiful afternoon – the kind that makes Brighton sparkle. I can understand their desire to get to the sea – just as I wanted to spend some time at that quiet spot on the edge of the Downs. But, every individual choice to get in their car had led them to that slow, painful inching along the road. Presumably every one of those car drivers would have given me a good reason why they needed to get in their car and drive but, whatever their reasons, it just isn’t working any more. Or is it only me that feels that way?

You can reach Brighton by train from North, East and West. The fares aren’t cheap, it’s true, but car ownership costs people thousands a year. Most of the people I know who complain about how ‘impossible’ or ‘expensive’ public transport is don’t seem to look around them much. Isn’t this car culture ‘impossible’ now? Or shall we just keep making more room for the damn things until the whole country is tarmac? Isn’t it ‘expensive’ – your tax, insurance, maintenance, petrol? Not to mention what it is doing to our environment and our physical and mental health.

I guess it must be that I just don’t understand the appeal of car ownership. So maybe it’s pointless my trying to understand. I try not to get angry but sometimes it just bubbles over. If I didn’t love this place – the city where I live, with its sea and Downs and beautiful views – then maybe I wouldn’t care. But I do care. How did we get here? Is there a way out of this madness?


emma said...

I'm a non car owner, just because I've never lived in a place where one would be particularly useful (traffic jams, parking at the other end, small children who announce they've had enough 10 miles from the next M1 service station *shudder*)

A taxi driver said to me the other day that one of his regular customers reckons he saves £6000 a year by not running a car, walking most places and sometimes getting a bus or taxi. It's a hell of a lot of money.

another one, as we were diriving along, pointed to the parked cars on each side of the road and said "look at that. Thousands and thousands of pounds worth of car, just sitting there. It's crazy". Which, when you put it that way, it is.

Lisa G said...

I am also a non car owner and a non car driver for that matter. Several times over the years I have sometimes wanted the 'freedom' of being able to drive, but I haven't felt that for a while because the sheer number of cars and density of traffic drives me mad and as for 4WD in the city, don't get me started!!! The level of car use at the mo is crazy, there are families in my street of terraced houses with 3, 4 even 5 cars! All parked in the road, all effecting mine and my kids quality of life - I can feel my own rant starting.... I don't know what the answer is, but I do know I won't be contributing to the madness!

Helen said...

I'm a car driver. I couldn't do my job without one as I have to visit patients at home & using public transport would mean seeing significantly fewer people in a day. C also drives to work as the public transport options aren't good. What takes 20 minutes by car takes 1 hour by bus as it goes via everywhere. If my work had pool cars I could hire I could do one of my jobs without the car but couldn't get to my other office. C could do without the car if the bus route was more sensible. We live in a small country town & while the transport links are good to our nearest cities (Edinburgh & Glasgow) the local area public transport leaves a lot to be desired if you have to get anywhere for a particular time.

Its a catch 22 though because people have car because the public transport is rubbish & the public transport is rubbish because everyone uses their car so they say the existing buses are under used so they won't plough in any more money. Not sure what the way forward is really.

emma said...

My way forward on relocating to a new place has always been to draw circles on the map around any relevant work places. The circles indicate the maximum distance which will be a comfrotable cycle ride or walk.

I then look within the circle for places close to bus/train routes, parks, shops, other things people in the family value easy access to.

For a while I lived so close to a station that you could hear the platform annoucements. No need to go and wait ages for a late train, just pop across the road when the train is approaching :-b

I'm lucky that those circles have always included nice parts of town, not just dodgy ones :-)

Allie said...

I think that, maybe, people will have to start to consider spending more time on travelling - as our forbears did. Otherwise we will head towards gridlock and then we won't be going anywhere!

I take the bus to work and allow one hour for the journey. On a good day that is far 'too much' time but I allow extra in case of delays. It really isn't a bad thing to build in a bit of a cushion of time - it means that I find the journey relaxing. If I have plenty of time I get off the bus early and walk a bit. I have never yet been late to work in my current job (6 years). Time spent travelling on public transport doesn't have to be 'wasted' as, if you're not the driver, you can read or daydream to your heart's content!

That circle drawing idea is great, Emma. I too have lived right next to a station. I love the sound of trains!

Wobblymoo said...

I have no option but to use a car, we have no public transport that is any good round here. If I wanted to get a bus to town I would have to go at 10 am and wouldn't be able to return home until 3:15. Because we have a large car (needed for my sons electric chair) I cannot afford to use the train as I have already paid out for the car, I have to use it. I would dearly love to be able to be use it less and we do walk as much as possible.

Minnie said...

We live in hill billy land. Public transport is so expensive, so it's cheaper for us to run a car...even on £80 week income. it's £5 to the nearest town, then there's the home edd meetings....another £7.50 a go. Food is cheaper in town than the local over priced shop...by at least a third. It's just too far to walk...up hill and down dale sort of thing. I'm envious of places like Brighton where everything is "there"...sea, countryside, amenities, home ed stuff. You are so lucky.

Beth said...

It's so dependent on where one lives isn't it? **sigh** I don't like how reliant our global culture is on fossil fuels, but a better way doesn't seem easy to come by ....

I don't own a car, didn't learn to drive until age 35. Once a week at the very most I borrow my mother's car to do the shopping: in a town rife with public transport it is not possible to get to the grocery from our house via bus. Likewise, our doctor and dentist moved offices waaaay out, so no longer accessible by bus. Otherwise, the kids and I walk and bus and bike (me) absolutely everywhere. And my university gives students and staff free, limitless ride, bus-passes -- very nice!

Allie said...

I know we *are* lucky to live somewhere with everything so easy to get to. I guess that's why I get so frustrated that I'm surrounded by cars all the time! Clearly people who live in places with crappy public transport often need a car - equally, people who find public transport inaccessible need cars. But that can't account for all the people driving cars around this city.

I can feel another blog post coming on...

Sally said...

We're a bit in the middle of nowhere here. It's how we like it, but it does make transport an issue. DH takes the train to work (better than driving anyway because he can use the time to work instead of snarled up and it gains us 2 hours family time a day.)
We live 200 and 300 miles from our family members, by necessity of work (but used to live nearer 3-4000 miles away!)
There are about to be 6 of us, and I find it terrifying trying to travel through London, underground, and have on one occasion been separated from my kids and (thankfully) DH by being forced off a train at a stop to clear the doorway with the pushchair! A trip by train into Manchester (our nearest city) is a nightmare, with a few mitigating pleasures... and we rarely do it even by car!
~I lived years with kids without a car. No camping, no real holiday options, no visiting family. In the USA we couldn't even dump our trash without a car to put the relocation site permit in!!!
Prices are even more astronomical with 6 of us ... trains cost a bomb when booked weeks ahead, and there is no room for being spontaneous.
Meanwhile, the car sits out back largely unused ... sometimes we have to run it just to keep the battery charged up!
None of it by any means ideal!
Paying for the geo mobility of our times, I suppose.
Personally I don't like cars and am very concerned about how much worse it is getting.
Cars have taken away the freedom to roam that our children once had. They constitute one of the most limiting factors of modern life, as well as one of the most arguably freeing ones (however, not to even mention the evils of pollution!)
I dream of the sorts of residential streets they have in some countries, that give priority to children playing out, and restrict cars.
There is not much of a balance to find. The 'wonders' of mod cons! They promise so much liberation, but paying for them, living with the environmental fall out, and the health problems that result from not doing the jobs that they liberated us from ... all slowly killing our leisure (and us) anyway! Cars, in particular, are simultaneously poisoning and imprisoning us in ways we are so used to, the majority of us don't see them. You patently do.