Monday, 14 September 2009

Streets for people? Hardly...

This Sunday (September 20th) sees Brighton celebrate Car Free Day. Well, so the council would have us believe, anyway.

As part of its annual contribution to European Mobility Week, Brighton and Hove City Council is to host events including rickshaw rides, live music (including the fantastic Brighton Gay Men's Chorus), an 'enchanted forest' with activities for kids, and so on.

It'll be a great afternoon - my 5-year-old loved it last year, and I'm sure he will this year too.

But it's hardly going to achieve its primary purpose (and that which the EU funding it attracts is all about): changing people's attitudes to everyday transport.

Indeed, by hosting the event for just five hours, on a Sunday, in streets that are either pedestrianised or semi-pedestrianised anyway (The Lanes, New Road, Jubilee Street, Jubilee Square and Bartholomews) it seems the council has gone out of its way to completely minimise the event's impact on car users - and ensure no one is forced to think about how they get around the city at all.

The Tory council's attitude to the idea of reducing car use in the town centre couldn't be more obvious if it tried: remember, this is the council that believes in concreting over green space to create car parking and building new underground car parks under whatever parks are left.

Perhaps they should take a leaf out of Groningen's book - the Dutch city that leads Europe on cycling and pedestrian journeys.

More than half the city's 180,000 residents travel every day along one of the city's 46 dedicated cycle routes. Cyclists and pedestrians have priority over cars in the centre.

By viewing the city centre as the resident's 'living room', jobs and business have been boosted.

Groningen's economic development has improved, just as cycle use has increased and car use decreased, particularly for those very businesses that one fought car restraint (but are now clamouring for more of it).

The inner city has become a successful mix of living, working and shopping. There are fewer road accidents, and life expectancy has risen.

Or, closer to home, the council could look to the Baker's Bottom area of Brighton, where residents held a car-free street party on Saturday (pictured): they got to meet the nighbours and enjoy a vision of what life could be like without the chaos of parked cars that usually blights the lives of those living in the area.

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