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Car Sick: Solutions for Our Car-addicted Culture Kindle Edition
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The problem for transport dreamers, I mean thinkers, is always how we get from here to there via democratic processes. Lynn Sloman shows that change can be brought about by a lot of little steps over many years, perhaps a generation or more. But that has to be in the context of a change (even a reversal) in the preponderance of public attitudes, such as has already been achieved, for example, in regard to smoking and drink-driving. But the challenge is greater in the UK than in continental Europe because of the late start and deeply entrenched attitudes not only among the general public (think Clarkson) but in the government and civil service. The story of the author's encounter with senior officials at the Department for Transport, obsessed with large projects and the implications for UK Plc, is perhaps the most entertaining (if lamentable) passage in this highly readable book.
Car Sick is a valuable contribution to what promises to be a very long campaign. The combination of deep research and moderate language is particularly appealing: Lynn Sloman accepts a continuing role for cars and skilfully avoids the trap of polarisation. What we now need is a national debate with a view to re-orienting the public's perception of cars and car culture. Whether this can be managed without strife between pro-car and anti-car factions remains to be seen, but the risk will be minimised if this book is taken as the starting point.
I have two criticisms of this book, both related to cycling. Firstly, I thought that in its efforts to remain diplomatic, it was far too ready to flatter the UK's efforts in building cycling infrastructure. Compared with facilities that are taken for granted in certain european countries, the UK's offerings are pitiful. Lyn Sloman repeatedly makes the mistake of accepting our status quo.
Secondly, her recommendations for actions, although laudable in isolation, are never going to change things for the majority of people. The soft measures that she puts forward will fall flat due to the perception of danger that most people equate with cycling on our car-saturated roads. The book almost completely ignores or belittles the urgent need to campaign hard for real action and real money to be spent.
There are some very interesting facts presented, for example:
1. Research shows that road building and road widening has simply created more car traffic, but planners don't like to admit this.
2. Creating pedestrianised areas in town centres actually increases the volume of business for shops, rather than decreases it.
3. The high numbers of people using bicycles and public transport in Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands is not some cultural, geographic or cultural freak event - it is purely the result of a sustained 40 year period of planning and implementing transport improvements. It could be done anywhere.
Above all, this book makes a strong case for why we should reduce the volume of cars on our roads, not to make life difficult for people, but to make life less polluted, less stressful, more pleasant, more sociable, more healthy, more family friendly and more enjoyable.
I choose to read it out of my interest in better transport policy and urban design, and for me I found it contained a lot of 'truisms' and common sense. However, these were backed up with studies and well thought out, non-polarising arguments, which should hopefully make it more comprehensible and persuasive to the average motoring member of the public. Such an approach is particularly valuable at present as the debate has as partisan as ever (e.g. the Addison Lee cyclist bashing of late).
The stuff about urban sprawl, out of town shopping, and car-based suburbia I found rang home very true. With Rio+20 approaching I can't help but think that we have an opportunity to stop the developing world making the same mistake as we have in the West. Their growth gives them the opportunity to develop their cities in anyway they please, but this must not be in the style of the USA/post-war Britain. They can go for a dense, 'fingered' approach, built around public transport corridors and fast, safe, direct, uninterrupted walking and cycling routes.
Finally, I only have one complaint. That is her (somewhat bizarre) occasional tirades against civil engineers. As a civil engineer myself I'm fairly sure she doesn't fully understand what our profession is: i.e. solving transport problems, water problems etc. whatever method is best, not just through automatically pouring concrete. Talk to most transport civil engineers these days and they'll eat your ear off about road user charging etc., in the same way that water engineers when asked about flooding will go on about SUDS and stopping development on flood plains rather than about flood walls! However, I am willing to admit that she probably had bad experiences meeting some less enlightened colleagues in the industry / dinosaurs. Unfortunately they do still roam aplenty!
Most recent customer reviews
Great view of what could be and some of the reasons for it. Would love to see an updated version as some things have moved on.
An easy / interesting read.
As described. As useful as what was expected and suited it's purpose.Published on 12 Oct. 2014 by J
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