Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Pickle of Politicians

It seems to me that the Evidence-based policy making is what you tell other people they should be doing – but when it comes to the Government that happens to be in power it all seems to come down to “sound-bite policy” making.

Eric Pickles (communities Secretary)  wants Local Authorities to ensure their their parking rules aim to rejuvenate high streets, rather than raising revenue from ‘penalising’ drivers. Or as it was reported in the Telegraph – Eric Pickles attacks councils putting motorists off high streets.

Hum, I wonder what evidence this is based on?  Where will this extra parking come from? I see the problem in Cambridge as being one of congestion not car parking charges. In any case I prefer shopping for lots of stuff over the Internet. I get a better choice and price and it is a damn sight more convenient as I can do it in my pyjamas at the end of the day.

So I think that we need to understand what is cause and what is effect and what is the evidence to support the changes he wants to make. Do we really want to make City Centres more car friendly, surely that will just make them far less people-friendly and slow down all the traffic even more. It will also make it even more unpleasant and difficult for the residents around the city centre.

Apparently one concern is that out-of-town shopping centres  have also caused problems for city centres. That might just be because the cars are kept away from the shops – certainly the ones I have been to such as CMK (Milton Keynes) works because there are a load of shops and no cars. Also those out of town shopping areas tend to be near large roads and road networks. So will Mr Pickles (or the Rt. Hon.) also require that Councils build motorways direct into cities?

Perhaps we ought to close down the Internet as well.

Talking about research, well Transport for London found that the per visit spend of a cyclist was £21 versus that of a car of £41,  but the spend per week was £47 for a cyclist versus £56 for a car. People walking spent the most per week as it happens - £93. It also turns out that there is a switch from car use to other forms of transport. Other studies have shown that cyclists and walkers can end up spending more each month.

Actually I wouldn’t mind seeing the removal of speed cushions (another suggestion apparently)  – but the enforcement of speed limits is more important where there is a mix of pedestrians, cyclists and traffic I would have thought. So will the Police still say that enforcing speed limits is ‘unpractical’ where such traffic calming measures have been used and then removed?

I know that Cambridge isn’t representative of all places but the Police have had to step in as “parking battle erupts in Cambridge”.  We also have Cambridge residents with ‘oversold’ parking permits battling for parking bays.  They end up driving around for hours apparently! We also have illegal parking in disabled bays – which has to be a pretty selfish and low thing to do.

Strangely at the same time grants are available to “get employees out of their cars” for companies along the routes of the A14 and A10. So shoppers in cars are welcome but not workers! Mind you if you don’t drive to work then you lose the opportunity to make £20 a day renting out your driveway. Mind you the top places for renting out drives are Manchester and Edinburgh.

You’d think that if it was so bad there would be loads of complaints about traffic wardens – well in Cambridge there have only been 10 complaints in 2 years.  The problem is one of congestion making it easier to use sustainable transport does seem to be the answer. (This Post from David Hembrow explains what a pickle we have gotten into.)

I wonder how these plans to make City Centres more attractive to motorists will affect the road accident statistics for 2012 in Great Britain:  -  420 pedestrian deaths, 5,559 seriously injured pedestrians, 118 pedal cyclists killed and 3,222 cyclist seriously injured. Accidents like this reported on Oxford Street London – a popular place to shop.

At the same time we Mr Pickles wanting an easing of the restriction on motorists in City Centres we also have more restrictions being introduced including on-the-spot fines for tail-gating and lane-hogging coming into force. I am in favour of safer roads and the next time you are in are near a busy road check out how many vehicles tail-gate it is frightening, it makes me wonder why there aren’t more accidents. Police will also be able to offer Educational training which seems to me to be a better approach. I wonder when more driver monitoring will become acceptable. Certainly I would advocate it for the people who transgress.

Cut traffic Improve shopping

The trouble is whilst this approach might actually make the roads safer and reduce congestion by smoothing traffic flow and cutting accidents it is difficult to accept politically. It fails the sound bite test and yet we have monitoring of offenders?

Apparently the Minister for More Roads or Transport Minister as the Government call him, Norman Baker visited Cambridge for a tour and what looks like a photo-op and half-hearted reassurances that the Coalition was “positive” about cycling.

I seemed to remember a while back that Governments wanted joined-up thinking.  Well less of the sound-bite/photo-op, more consideration of the evidence and more joined up thinking please – or rather joined up policies from the different departments.

Did you know that “One in five strays no more than 500m from their car!” Phew what with Internet shopping and hyper-car dependency no wonder we have problems with obesity here in the UK. Half of seven-years olds are not getting enough exercise – roads for cars is not the answer – roads for bikes is.

Kids just wanna have fun

Be careful what you wish for – you might get it – “The world’s coolest car parks”.

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