Cars are killing us – so how can we wean ourselves off them?

"Well, this all looks pretty healthy to me." Air pollution hovers above a Chinese freeway. Image: Getty.

Road traffic accidents are the number one cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds. If no action is taken, it is predicted that road traffic will kill as many as 1.9m people worldwide per year by 2030. Add to this the negative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, air and noise pollution, chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes and rising levels of obesity, and a future full of cars looks bleak indeed.

These are the concerns underpinning European Mobility Week – an annual campaign, which began in 2002 – to promote sustainable forms of urban transport. This year, more than 1,700 local authorities from 42 different countries play host to a range of public events to support the uptake of sustainable and active travel: bicycle masses, talks and seminars about green mobility patterns, walk-to-school initiatives and many others.

Over the past few decades, most cities around the globe have been shaped by the car. The majority of our public spaces have been transformed into endless flows of traffic, to better accommodate our dependence on this form of transport. As the number of people living in urban areas continues to grow, so too will the number of cars on the roads. There is a serious risk that this type of car-centred urbanisation will become unsustainable, and damage living standards for all.


As a result, governments are becoming increasingly committed to controlling the number of conventionally-fuelled cars on the roads. To complete the transition from a heavily car-dominated society to a resource-efficient one, cities will need to achieve a more equal “modal share” – that is, city-dwellers need to be encouraged to take up alternative modes of transport in greater numbers. As a part of this effort, hundreds of cities in Europe and around the world – from Barcelona, to Brussels, to Istanbul – will encourage motorists to give up their automobiles for 24 hours, typically by closing their central streets to cars, as part of World Car-Free Day.

Moving on

About half of all car trips in countries like the UK, the Netherlands, and the US are fewer than five miles long. Replacing cars with other modes of transport for these short journeys would be a colossal step in the right direction. To this end, policy-makers, transport planners and traffic engineers have a variety of stick and carrot measures to make car use undesirable or unnecessary.

The stick measures are often regulatory; designed to force people to reduce car usage. These mechanisms range from congestion charges, toll roads, parking levies, traffic calming and road restrictions to fuel taxes, vehicle excise duty and even expensive car ownership permits.

The carrots are often soft measures, which give car users the options they need to be able to change their travel behaviour on a voluntary basis. One example is to make additions and improvements to alternative infrastructure, such as bus and rail services. But they can also include things such as the provision of cycle routes, pedestrianisation, priority bus lanes and other special rights-of-way.

Hybrid public transport modes and cheaper fares also help. So do initiatives for buying alternatively-fuelled cars and tools or information to help people practice smarter and more fuel-efficient driving, which makes the most of advanced vehicle technologies when car use cannot be avoided. The sharing economy has stepped in, too, with ride sharing apps and websites like BlaBlaCar and iThumb and more than 900 dedicated public bicycle programmes worldwide.

Events like car-free days are important reminders of the steps that need to be taken to ensure safe and sustainable urban development. We need to use all these tools, and more, to meet the travel needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to enjoy liveable cities.The Conversation

Alexandros Nikitas is a lecturer in transport at the University of Huddersfield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.