As a copywriter I can cover anything I like in this blog. It’s all about my ability to communicate ideas, whatever the subject. Bearing that in mind, it’s time for another diary post.
My husband and I do a lot of long distance walking. A ten mile walk is a mere stroll. Thirty seven and a half miles is our record so far, along an abandoned railway line running between Guildford and Shoreham-by-Sea.
Wending our way across the lovely Sussex plains, the Weald and the South Downs, we have loads of time and space to mull over the world as we know it and dream up ideas to make it better.
Last time, on a beautiful downland walk between Woodingdean and Shoreham, we took Britain’s transport system apart and reinvented it.
Combustion engine blues – Do cars really deliver freedom?
Before the combustion engine was invented, roads were for people, horses, carts, carriages and bicycles. Now they’re jam packed with vehicles. But imagine what it’d be like if someone clever had foreseen the future and thought twice about letting cars take over.
If I could go back in time I’d keep suburban and urban roads completely clear of vehicles. I’d build car parks around the fringes of towns, villages and cities, where people would leave their vehicles.
Small villages wouldn’t need a bus service. You could walk from your car. Bigger settlements would have buses running in a limited number of special lanes running from the car parks into the centre. But the old road networks, our roads and streets, would stay car-free for human beings to enjoy safely in perpetuity.
What about getting from town to town, city to city, village to village? In an ideal world that’s where a new road system would kick in, specially built to make inter-community travel fast, convenient and easy.
The result? The best of both worlds. Conurbations would be traffic-free, but it’d be really easy to get to the outskirts, pick up your car and drive longer distances. At the other end you’d park your car on the outskirts and walk, cycle or bus it to your final destination.
Why bother? Most of the time the so-called freedom of the road just means sitting in traffic jams and going slowly insane as our lives tick away. Cars ruin things. Kids can’t play out in the streets any more. Pets get run over. Cyclists take their lives in their hands. Our roads are smelly and noisy, polluted, crowded and dangerous. The streets we live in are cluttered with ugly metal boxes that intrude on our verges and pavements, block the light and make crossing a challenge.
Travel utopia – Making the railways work better
I’d change the railway ticket system too. At the moment we live with a legacy system. There’s a ridiculous number of ticket choices depending on where you travel, at what time of day, by which route, operator and season.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to grab a ticket from a machine on the way into a station, only paying when you get to your destination? And wouldn’t it be sensible to have a choice of just three ticket types instead of zillions of the buggers?
The railway thing is more practical. The infrastructure is already there, and only the systems behind it need to change. But sadly, banning cars from cities, towns and villages is an unrealistic ask.
What would your town be like without cars?
When I was little we all played out. In summer we’d leave home after breakfast to call for our friends, and we’d spend the day roaming the streets together. Yes, there were a few cars around. But plenty of ordinary people didn’t own one and multiple-car households simply didn’t exist. If a car came, we heard it from a safe distance and headed for the pavement until the danger had passed.
I remember my little bother Jonty and I walking home in the warm, dusty summer dusk, filthy, exhausted, excited and simply sparkling with happiness. Playing out helped us become independent from our parents, learn how the world worked on our own terms and enjoy an invaluable adult-free element of childhood full of creativity, laughter and close peer friendships. I’m still in touch with some of my friends from way back then.
I’d hate to be a child now, stuck indoors in ‘safety’, kept from the fresh air and the thrilling outside world because the roads outside our homes are so lethal it’s impossible to play out. For that reason alone, it’d be lovely to change our relationship with motor vehicles and let the sunshine back into our lives.
Like so many of our utopian visions, it isn’t going to happen. But we can always dream…