Introduction To The Impact of the Mass Use of Motor Cars on Lifestyle and Land Use

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This document explains why building roads does not work

Written by: Kelvin McNulty of Glastonbury, UK

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The document you are about to read was written in 1974.

It is just as relevant now (1999) as it was then. The information it contains is timeless and relates to the physical space that is needed for us to rush around like we do (in the UK and other industrialised countries). This space is a function of how big human beings are, how fast we try to move, and the method we use to move.

If we were much smaller than we are, or walked more slowly, or faster, than we do, or if the gravity of the Earth was much stronger, or weaker, than it is, or if.... or if..... ...... then maybe (just maybe) things would be different.

Things are, however, as they are.

A car is as it is. There is talk of automating cars so they can run much closer together than now ("only a fool breaks the two second rule" - there are a lot of fools out there....) but this is only talk. It'll take years, if it is possible at all, and cannot solve the basic problem with cars: the space they occupy whether they are moving or not.

The document you are about to read suggests that the attempt to mechanise movement using cars is self defeating. It's probably possible for someone with a very thorough understanding of mathematics to prove that this is so, but it's complicated, because there are a lot of cases where cars really do seem to work. The problem comes when one tries to make cars work for everyone. As soon as we start trying to do that - to make a mass system of movement using private cars - the convenience breaks down and everything slows down to a walking pace - which is where it started: with us walking from one place to another with no need to park a metal shell at either end of the journey. I remember reading a research paper (should have kept a reference to it - I think it was from the Open Univeristy in Milton Keynes, UK) that actually demonstrated that traffic will always increase until the flow is slowed down to a walking pace. Then, and only then, are people deterred from getting into their cars.

I first wrote this paper for a major public inquiry that was held in Brighton into the plans to develop a marina there. When I first heard about the marina development I could not understand why there was so much fuss about the roads - that was several years before writing this paper, and before I understood how greedy cars are for space compared with other methods of travel.

The paper got a second airing at a hearing in the Isle of Wight into their local Structure Plan. It was dismissed by the Island Planning Officer in a few words. He said that I was using out of date information (the Buchanan Report). I was amazed that such an important and basic argument could be dismissed so easily. At that time I still did not know about the powerful vested interests of the motor, construction and oil industries that stand to gain so much money from road building and the enforced mass use of cars.

I have been prompted to put the paper on the Web because the message it contains still needs to be widely heard. Many more people now know that there are huge problems with cars and road buidling. The campaign of opposition to road building in the UK and other places was predicted in 1974 by an early campaigner, John Tyme, and it is no surprise to see it happen. There seems to be no other way to change things.

Just to know the basic flaw in mass car use - that the space that cars occupy when used en masse defeats their speed and flexibility - can help us to arrange things so that human activity is functional and fun - especially in urban areas.

A further reason to display this document on the Web on a Glastonbury web site is that a transport study is soon to be made of this area.

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