This interview appeared today in Venue Magazine, Bristol and Bath’s Weekly Magazine. Since they don’t post their content online, I am posting it here.
Joshua Hart: Talking ‘Bout a Velorution
Interview Darryl W Bullock
Joshua Hart arrived in Bristol two years ago, travelling from San Francisco by train and cargo ship rather than flying. He has just completed a Masters in Transport Planning at UWE, where his research showed that residents on streets with heavy car traffic have less than one quarter the number of local friends as those on a nearby quiet street.
Q: Why don’t people talk to their neighbours anymore?
A: Many residential streets have become inhospitable; you’re choked by fumes, the roar of traffic drowns out conversation, and children can’t play safely. If you don’t spend time on the street you don’t meet your neighbours. We are so terrified of our kids being run down that we drive them around, keep them inside the house or in the back garden. This has serious health impacts: we are the most obese, inactive generation ever.
Q: Why have cars become such a threat to our neighbourhoods?
A: The number of cars in the UK has increased more than 1000% since 1950; this has had a major impact on our quality of life, our communities and our social lives. For many of us cars might seem essential, but their side effects are proving to be more harmful than smoking. Social norms change though – one day driving a car in the city may be like lighting a cigarette in a pub.
Q: Just how many vehicles use Muller Road (the heavy traffic street in the study) each day?
A: Over 20,000, and residents expressed a great deal of frustration with the environment that results. One couple have a 4-year old girl suffering from upper respiratory disease, and they are desperately trying to move her to a healthier environment. Several people have been killed or injured on the street in recent years. If current transport policies continue, more and more residential streets will become like Muller Road. Simply put, we cannot all expect to drive everywhere and still have a livable city.
Bristolians are increasingly frustrated with transport, both the side-effects of traffic and the lack of viable alternatives. Many feel that the Council is failing to address this crisis. Indeed, they seem to be heading in the wrong direction: removing cycle lanes on Lower Ashley Rd and threatening the Bristol-Bath Path, the flagship of sustainable Bristol travel. If they’re serious about a Cycling City, they’ll have to do better than this.
Q: The research is based on a previous study conducted in San Francisco. How do Bristol streets compare with those back home?
A: Bristol and San Francisco are both beautiful cities, but many of their best bits are being spoiled by traffic. Over 100,000 Bristolians live in areas where air pollution fails to meet government health standards. Average rush hour speed is 16mph, the slowest in the UK, with more of us than ever sitting in traffic growing obese, wasting fuel, and spewing carbon into our atmosphere. Another 5.7 million cars are expected on UK roads by 2031. It has got to stop.
Q: Is there any hope for the future?
A: Holland was in a similar situation in the 1970’s; traffic was increasing, children were being killed and injured, communities were being torn apart and pollution was unbearable. People demanded change and cities were re-designed to prioritise public transport, walking and cycling. Many residential streets in Holland have become home zones where cars are allowed, but pedestrians have priority. When I went to Groningen last spring, families were cycling around the city centre. It was quiet, people were socialising, and the air was clean. The word that comes to mind is civilised. Why can’t Bristol be like that?
Q: What can ordinary people do about this?
A: People can drive less, walk and cycle more. You see the city in a different way when you ride a bike. I challenge everyone who doesn’t cycle yet to get hold of a decent bike, pump up the tires and head out on the cycle path. It really is so much fun! We could have a whole network of continuous, high-quality cycle expressways throughout Bristol if we wanted it. People can also talk to their neighbours about having a street party or getting a home zone in their street, and write to their MP and Councillors to support a 20mph limit in residential areas.