Air quality has reached the top of the political agenda. The onus for solving the crisis has shifted from national government to their local counterparts. But it’s time now for us to recognise the only credible long-term solution – and that’s traffic reduction.
The volume of traffic on our roads has a huge negative impact on everyone who lives in the city. It’s a simple equation, there are too many cars chasing too little road space and that adds up to congestion. Multiply that by the higher emissions created by slow-moving traffic and it equals chronic levels of pollution – and it is this that is literally choking us to death.
We need to subtract the number of cars on our city’s roads if we’re ever to balance the equation. We should invest in public transport. For every one full bus, 75 cars are taken off the road. At the same time, we need to improve cycle and walking facilities and connect these up to buses and trains.
Interestingly, cycling didn’t take off in Holland because the Dutch are all fervent environmentalists, it happened because it was made easy and convenient. It’s this sort of joined-up, bigger picture thinking we need to adopt here. If you build it, they will come. And the time to start building is now. If we seriously want to improve the air we breathe, we need to look at how we plan and design our city around sustainable transport.
Let’s take the Preston Barracks redevelopment. What a great opportunity to improve the conditions on Lewes Road! Sadly, car parking spaces are expected to increase by a quarter – pouring more cars onto Lewes Road rather than fewer. Journeys will deteriorate for existing car users – which even at peak periods manage only an average occupancy of 1.15. Worse, it’ll slow down buses – the most sustainable form of mass transport inside the city.
All too often sustainable transport options come after the design has been signed off. And it’s so much harder to make it work well for everyone at this stage. It’s time to be invited to the table at the start of the process, putting transport at the heart of design.
The proposed redevelopment of Churchill Square is a prime opportunity to demonstrate good engagement. It’s a chance to design sustainable transport access right at the start of the venture, making it a stunning gateway to the city that integrates the whole environment offering open and easy access to pedestrians, buses, cycles and taxis. It’s an opportunity to build an iconic bus interchange in the heart of the city for those thousands of passengers that pass through Churchill Square every hour and to whom the shopping centre owes its economic success.
Same goes for the Black Rock waterfront project. Its success will hinge on its ability to disperse large groups of people quickly. We’ve proven time and again that when we get around the table early, we do things well. Bus priority lanes are great examples. We’re more than happy to do deals with developers to help make buses a viable alternative to cars for new residents. We’d love the chance to do more such deals.
We’re on the cusp of a new world. One in which for the first time in about half a century or more many young people are no longer aspiring to own a car. They don’t necessarily even have a driving licence. Let’s build the world they want to live in. One in which we’re not afraid to take the long view and where governments wholeheartedly support sustainable transport and where urban developments are all about community.
The technology to build the world we want is already here. Our newest vehicles – more than 80 of them by the end of the year – are nearly emissions free. We can speed up this process with scrappage schemes and more government grants such as the Big Lemon’s recent award for three electric buses.
But if all of this sounds too far off, in the meantime let’s do something about our highest polluting junction – the Clock Tower at the top of North Street. If we’re talking about the public realm, air quality, congestion and the sort of place we want to live in, then it all converges at the Clock Tower. We need to give priority to buses – they are critical to unblocking all our city’s roads. Only then, perhaps, will it be sooner rather than later that we can – literally – start to breathe easier about the quality of air on our streets.
This article first appeared in the Brighton Argus on Saturday September 2, 2017. Picture – courtesy of the Brighton Argus – is of Seven Dials.