I'm back from a week away on the Norfolk/ Suffolk border and as usual it has given me some thinking time.As usual, I have managed to get some reading in; this time "Street Smart" by Sam Schwartz, the former Chief Engineer of New York City, aka Gridlock Sam. Part autobiography and part traffic engineering manual, this highly accessible book shows how Schwartz realised the futility of building more roads to solve congestion and the need to enable multi-modal transport in order to free our towns and cities from the overuse of the private car. Schwartz uses his own experiences and plenty of international examples to make his points.
I also finished "The Prostitute State - How Britain's Democracy Has Been Bought", by Donnachadh McCarthy. Many people know McCarthy as a co-founder of Stop Killing Cyclists, but as a senior Liberal Democrat party officer, he saw first-hand how lobbying, big business interests and media barons have attacked UK democracy for their own (mainly financial) ends.
What have these books to do with a civil engineering blog? Well, Street Smart is kind of obvious, but the Prostitute State shows us that being in the grip of powerful corporations and media barons prevents our political leaders making the changes needed for a more sustainable (in the widest sense) country. This is pushing against the need for change realised by people such as Schwartz.
My trip away was car-based which makes me part of the problem, but as I have said a great deal, there is not the infrastructure to enable such a trip to be made by other means (at a cost to rival the car) and to see why we have this status quo, we simply follow the money as McCarthy demonstrates.
But, there is positivity out here. Despite the continued austerity in the UK (and the poor weather for half-term), the towns and villages we visited were still busy and it was nice to see people shopping in independents (which is something we can all do to keep money in local economies). There was an interesting contrast in the North Norfolk town of Cromer;
The top photo is of Church Street which is the main road through the town. There are plenty of shops there, but it is not a place to linger. Contrast with the bottom photo of High Street in the old town. The interesting thing is both streets don't allow parking at all. Church Street is restricted because of motor traffic flow reasons and High Street because of people traffic flow! (access to off-street premises and loading is still permitted)
For me, this is a small case in point of how we deal with our towns and cities. We have spent years rearranging our places for the movement of motor traffic. The movement of motor traffic is promoted and enabled because of the interests of the few as highlighted by McCarthy and so the cycle continues with places more congested with the gridlock highlighted by Schwartz.
Perhaps my links are tenuous and perhaps by bias is being confirmed, but I'd sooner wander around narrow, motor traffic streets than roads maximised for motor capacity (which is never enough) any day. Things are very complicated to unravel.