Disputes over parking spaces can easily turn violent in our car orientated culture, with good neighbours becoming sworn enemies. That is why a face-off between the Mayor and the Government over too many metal boxes and too little space to fit them in, is actually a major bust up.
The basic problem, which the Government have failed to grasp, is that if you have the right policies you can fit another 100,000 people a year into London, but you can’t fit another 100,000 cars. Business will suffer if we have more cars and Londoner’s health will take a hit as well.
The Mayor’s report on building new infrastructure by 2050 says that under the existing ‘tight’ rules and current levels of car ownership, we will need an area the size of Richmond Park to park all the new cars. If the Government get their way, we will be jamming cars onto lots of the land where we are hoping to build new houses, schools and businesses.
Of course, the other problem with having all these cars clogging up new developments in London is that people will then expect to drive them somewhere and that is when things get really silly. The Mayor is already predicting that traffic will grow by nearly a quarter in many areas of east London in the next fifteen years.
I’m not surprised, I recently worked out that just nine of the big developments which the Mayor has signed off, include parking for 12,000 vehicles. These are now being built. If you encourage more car ownership then you get more congestion and essential business traffic slows down.
The Government describe traffic growth as inevitable, but London shows it isn’t. Since 2000, London’s population has gone up by an average of 100,000 a year, but until recently, car traffic has dropped by 1% a year. That means less CO2 emissions and easier journeys for the millions who travel to work by bus.
This record of success is now starting to come apart as the Mayor’s policies of smoothing traffic flow encourage a few more drivers onto London’s roads. Getting rid of road works and changing traffic lights so that you reduced delays to cars and lorries, was the big policy idea when Boris was elected Mayor in 2008. It is a self-defeating approach which has led to recent increases in traffic and falls in journey time reliability.
We need more developments which are virtually car free, not fewer. We need parking for car club vehicles and people with disabilities, but public transport, walking and cycling need to be seen as the best ways to get around. That is the only future which works in a city as big and complex as London.
Those are the priorities which we should build into our new houses, shops and businesses, whether you live within inner London or outer London. A future based on buses and bikes is the only way to keep our roads moving.