Cars are bad for your social life (not just the planet)

At the end of January, Greater Manchester Public Transport Executive hosted a talk by Josh Hart, a researcher from the University of the West of England whose recent work has updated Donald Appleyard’s San Francisco work on the social impacts of car traffic.
The report, which measured the effects of living on streets with low, medium or high levels of road traffic, confirms that cars have major impacts on human society and health, as well as our environment.
Hart’s study, which is available to download in full or summary from the Living Streets website, found that people living on busy roads have fewer local friendships and acquaintances. They don’t talk as often to their neighbours, and are put off using their front rooms and gardens by noise and pollution. As a result, they’re less likely to know people who live around them, and therefore have fewer people to turn to when they’re sick or lonely, with implications for issues such as childcare and non-government support for the elderly. Fear of accidents also dissuades people from cycling, walking and jogging, contributing to the obesity epidemic and general poor fitness throughout the British population.
One young couple with children, living on a road with daily traffic of over 21,000 cars, were quoted as saying that “The street is quite anonymous, we only know our immediate neighbours.”
People on busy streets, Hart found, also felt less sense of responsibility for their neighbours and surroundings, leading to greater problems with litter and less willingness to get involved in activities such as Neighbourhood Watch or projects to green urban streets.
And, despite claims by the car-driving middle-classes of Manchester’s left that their privilege-protecting opposition to the TIF bid was actually aimed at preserving the rights of working-class car users, it is of course the less well-off (who are much less likely to drive) who suffer most from the effects of traffic – as Hart’s study amply demonstrates.
People living on busy roads are likely to have lower incomes and are less able to move away. The repercussions of this, according to the research, include poor health and worse school results for children. Noise and air pollution can lead to heart attacks, respiratory illness and strokes, and reduce attention levels in children, which reduces their ability to concentrate in lessons and, it has been suggested by some surveys, is even serious enough to cause higher rates of road deaths due to inattention.
Children from lower-income families are also more likely to be killed by cars – whether because of tiredness, or because they have nowhere safe to play. According to a Bristol Quality of Life report cited by Hart, for every one child killed or seriously injured by a car in Clifton, an affluent area of Bristol, 24 are killed or hurt in lower-income neighbourhoods like Easton.
But, says Hart, many European cities are far exceeding Britain’s record at cutting traffic. UK councils, he says, don’t have the political will to reduce car use. Measures such as prioritising pedestrians and cyclists in road planning, cutting speeds and access with bollards and pedestrianised areas, and creating residential areas where housing are cheaper because land isn’t used up by parking spaces are sacrificed to continued cult of the car.
As the results of the TIF referendum show, although the British public claims that it wants better air quality, improved safety and healthier environments, it is still suckered by aggressive corporate campaigns, and politicians whose priorities don’t include bike lanes and traffic controls will continue to get away with their failure to act responsibly.


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Below the surface...
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