We must resist the domination of the car

Afternoon traffic on Corporation Street in Sheffield city centre
Afternoon traffic on Corporation Street in Sheffield city centre
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Robert Jackson is wrong on every account in his letter, No quick roads fix but fly-overs would help.

All the research shows that the more roads you build and the wider you make them with additional lanes, the more traffic expands to fill them: it produces a constant game of catch-up in which road surfacing firms are the only winners.

We also know from research findings that the car is bad for all our health, bad for the individuals who are driving rather than walking or cycling, and for the rest of us who are breathing in the exhaust fumes. Car pollution is not visible like the 1950s smogs, but the polluting effects are just as serious for the health of the whole community.

The problem is not that the council is anti-car, but that it is not sufficiently pro-public transport. The buses are badly coordinated and expensive. Frequently three buses trail one another on the main arteries into the city, like Abbeydale Road or Ecclesall Road, then there are none for a long cold waiting stretch. They are so expensive that I ‘treat’ my children and grandchildren to bus rides into town and back because the return journey is just too expensive compared to the car, parking included. How ludicrous is that, that a bus ride has become a treat.

Mr Jackson extolls American cities with flyovers. I don’t know which US cities he knows, but I have been to many of them and the most successful are those that have controlled their cars, expanded their public transport and opened up green spaces in the heart of their city. I lived a year in Portland, Oregon, regularly voted the most liveable US city.

The car is virtually absent from the downtown, which is served by a free bus service. The central square used to be a giant car park, but now it is a vibrant public space with culture and commerce thriving. This in a city whose downtown used to be skid row. The citizens of Portland voted to tear down the freeway and flyovers that dominated the river front and convert it into a linear park of several miles; this park now hosts festivals and other outdoor events, criss-crossed by paths and cycle ways, and is always busy with families enjoying what was once a noisy, fuming strip of tarmac. Conversely, cities like Los Angeles have pretty much abandoned their downtown area as the vested automobile interests long ago killed off the public transport system; but LA is one big parking lot, because the more freeways and flyovers that they built, the more traffic increased to clog them.

As long as cities are places to visit and not to drive through we must resist the domination of the car: it is literally killing us.

Mark Doel

Psalter Lane, Sheffield, S11