Images above: Grove Park Rd in spring; Cameron Kerr
By Cameron Kerr
Residents are losing their minds over a ‘car-free Chiswick’, but for some under 30s, that’s the norm.
In case you missed it: Covid 19 turned TfL’s motto from ‘every journey matters’ to ‘are you sure your journey really matters?’. Because a Boris Bus has become a potential biohazard, the government is realising that active transport – walking, cycling and running – will be key to getting us around town without having heart palpitations every time someone goes to sneeze.
So Downing Street allocated a large sum of money to help councils rapidly make our habitat more people and bike friendly. To make use of the funds, Hounslow Council is fast-tracking plans to cut off rat-runs in south Chiswick between the A316 and the A4. The end result might be that residential streets in Chiswick become largely car-free. It suggests that even residents would be discouraged from driving around the local roads.
Naturally in a politically engaged community, a petition was formed and soon it was the talk of the town. But I couldn’t help thinking … why?
So for context, I am one of the under 30 year olds that was woefully underrepresented in the initial consultations by the council and well – my entire life has been car free. The same goes for practically all my friends. Sure, some of our parents have cars – we’ve been in them often as passengers – but I can count on one hand the number of local people my age I know who own one. I also can’t think of a single person in that group who is likely to buy one any time soon.
Why would we? Most places in Chiswick are a walking distance of 30 minutes maximum. Pre-Covid, TfL with all it’s flaws provided a bus or tube stop within a short walk of most destinations further afield. Kids used to commute on public transport as far as five miles to get to my secondary school. My teenage years and twenties have been spent on foot, buses and tube trains. Oh, and occasionally when we all went out and got quite drunk, the push of a button on our phone summoned a magic genie in a Prius, and they would whisk us helpfully home. From Whetherspoons door, to front door.
Now post-Covid nobody is going anywhere anyway, though we all keep dreaming about some holiday, somewhere … I’ve heard you plotting as you walk around these streets. So I am somewhat confident that getting around Chiswick car-free is completely doable.
Before you accuse me of being stuck in my youthful ways, I understand there are exceptions. Large family shopping trips weigh as much as the Tesla’s they are ferried home in. People have accessibility needs that don’t allow for a podcast-power-walk, and those Ubers need to be able to drop you off at your house in order to be a practical alternative.
So yes, the plans may require modification and exemptions. Also, no, walking and getting buses everywhere isn’t always fun. There has been many a cold rainy winter’s night where I have envied those passing by in their heated private boxes.
But here’s the thing: In current circumstances, when everyone gets their own heated metal box that seats five, there is something else that children get as well as a ride to school – nitrogen dioxide. Straight into the lungs.
Even with the rise of electric cars, the energy and resources required to convert every private vehicle from petrol/diesel to electric would produce so many emissions that it would cancel out the advantage clean vehicles provide. To solve climate change, we have to have less vehicles on the road to begin with.
Because we are on an overheating island in the vastness of the universe. Someone I spoke to born in the 60s joked that he wouldn’t be around to see the worst of it. I quickly reminded him that his children would, and so would his grandchildren. Felt like it’s been a bit hot recently?
With fewer cars on the remaining artery roads, there will be more space for those who really need them to get around. Private-hire vehicles, and in years to come, driverless taxis will provide the door-to-door convenience of the car. If you think the latter sounds like a pipe dream, so ten years ago was the genie with the Prius.
The challenges we face mean we have to rapidly evolve the way we live and think smart. For anything else, we literally do not have the time. Near forty degree peak summer temperatures used to be a European thing, now it’s a British one. Dangerous large-scale wildfires, these days you find them near Manchester, not just Marbella.
‘What happens when everyone starts driving again?’ is the wrong question. The question is: ‘how do we make sure a lot of us never do with the same frequency again?’.
A petrolhead I know commented that under these new measures, you may as well not own a car in Chiswick and, yes. That is kind of the point.
Cameron Kerr is a resident of Grove Park in his early 20’s