Let’s move Guernsey from a car centred society to a people centred one

January 31st, 2008 by Living Streets Guernsey

In September 2007 STEPS Living Streets held a meeting about car free lifestyles. We featured many of our members who managed to shop, get to work, and socialise without the use of a car.

We tend to forget that it’s only 50 years ago that we all got around perfectly well by bike, on foot or by bus. And yet today driving is considered the norm. We have become so addicted to our cars that other options aren’t even considered. The result is that Guernsey is becoming saturated with vehicles – so much so that walking and cycling has become unpleasant and sometimes dangerous. Pedestrians are becoming an endangered species.

Rush hour traffic heading into St Peter Port on 1 July 2008 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

In Dr. David Jeffs’s 2005 health report he called for measures to curb the use of cars for the sake of the island’s health. His report showed that between 1971 and 2001 the island’s population rose by 16%, households by 40% and cars by 118%. He asked whether we were going to wait until gridlock before doing anything.

Why does a small island like Guernsey find it so difficult to sort out its traffic problem?

In her book “Car Sick,” the author, Lynn Sloman, travelled the world to seek solutions for our car addicted society. She talks about the 40:40:20 rule. She found that 40% of the car trips made by the average person could have been made by bike, foot or public transport. The only reason for driving was habit. Another 40% would be difficult without a car and 20% would be impossible.

We don’t need to get rid of our cars altogether but we need to change the way we think about travel. We need to encourage islanders out of their cars for journeys where there is a good alternative.

It should be easy for Guernsey to tackle that first 40% of our journeys. We have an excellent, cheap, bus service which covers most of the island. I use my bus to go to Town, to my dentist in St. Martin’s, to the airport, to meetings at Frossard House and to the Bridge. I arrange my appointments around the bus timetable, not the other way around.

The bus is ideal for shopping in Town. It drops you closer to your destination and you don’t have to spend ages looking for a car parking place. You also don’t have to keep clock watching in case you overstay your parking slot. I can never understand why Town traders make such a fuss about taking away 30 minute parking slots. Surely they would prefer us to stay for several hours – rather than just nip in for half an hour? They should be supporting the bus service rather than constantly calling for more car parking. My bus comes in via Trinity Square so I often get off and walk down through Mill Street into Town. The bus timetable doesn’t suit everyone, but many more islanders who work a 9– 5 type day and who live on (or near) the major routes into Town could easily commute by bus. It’s stress free, you can use your mobile, read a book and talk to other passengers.

It’s ridiculous that 50 sole occupancy cars should clog up our roads when one bus driver could get everyone to their destination. Less traffic would mean less need for car parks and more opportunities to develop gardens, seating, alfresco dining, pedestrian walkways, places for islanders to meet and children to play. Just think what we could do if we reclaimed our piers.

Copenhagen is often used as an example of a city that did just that. Over 30 years it has changed from a car dominated centre to a vibrant pedestrian friendly city. It did this by taking away 2 – 3% of the parking every year. At the same time a network of cycle lanes was introduced. Now roughly a third of people cycle to work.

Remember the fuss when Pat Mellor tried to take away some long term parking in North Beach car park? We need people with courage and vision – where are they? And we need islanders who will be prepared to consider alternatives rather than reaching for their car keys.

Will the increase in petrol and diesel charges and our growing awareness of needing to reduce our carbon footprint lead to more islanders turning to cycling? 50 years ago it was the most important means of transport. Cycling is one of the quickest ways of getting around – it’s cheap and it keeps you fit.

When Ken Livingstone introduced the Congestion Charge in London in February 2003 there was a fall of 14% in traffic. Many former car drivers turned to cycling. The number of cyclists in central London went up by a fifth. London has demonstrated that if you get more cyclists on the roads, other road users will both expect them and learn to interact safely with them.

In Guernsey the volume of cars on the road and the attitude of many motorists towards cyclists have discouraged islanders from using their bikes. We need more respect between road users and accept that street space has to be shared.

Rush hour traffic heads to the St Peter Port waterfront on 23 June 2005 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Isn’t it also time to invest in more cycle routes?  STEPS recently highlighted possible green lane cycle routes from Pitronnerie Road to the new St. Sampson’s High School site.  Just imagine the benefits for students living in St. Peter Port – a safe route directly through to the school.

So what about the oldest form of transport – walking?   It’s often quicker to walk and certainly healthier.  We all know that we are supposed to do 30 minutes of exercise five days a week to keep fit. The easiest way is to build it into our everyday lives – like the journey to work or school.   All over the UK thousands of parents and teachers in Primary Schools have set up “walking buses” to get children to walk to school.  In a school in Liverpool there are three buses which together have cut the number of children being driven to school by one third. Where is the will in Guernsey to try to reduce the impact of the school run?

In the 1950s most of us walked to school.   Distances haven’t changed; the weather is milder.  What has changed is the volume of traffic.

Rush hour traffic on John Street in St Peter Port (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Parents perceive it to be too dangerous to let their children walk.  But, like the example of cyclists in London, the more we walk the more likely it is that motorists will watch out for us.  More pedestrians could lead to more investment to improve the walking environment – better pavements, more crossings, and better lit zebras at night – all the things that STEPS has been campaigning for.  Surely walking is a viable alternative for those first 40% journeys?

Lynn Sloman’s book features many individual people who have minimised or cut their car use entirely.  In Wales a group of local residents have set up an informal car club.  The club started with just one car and a few “mates” and has grown now to three cars and 25 people.  Car clubs offer an excellent way to have occasional use of a car without the cost of buying and running one.

Dial-a-ride or bus-taxis could also be useful in Guernsey – particularly for picking up elderly or disabled islanders.  A couple of years ago, in Northern Cyprus, I came across a bus-taxi.  You booked it in advance like a taxi but you shared it with other people who were going in approximately the same direction.  Many islanders hate driving at night so I think this could be particularly useful given our lack of evening bus services.

There are islanders who lead happy fulfilling lives without owning a car.   It is possible to be less car-dependent.  If we did this, our island would be cleaner, safer, more peaceful and healthier.

Rush hour traffic on Les Banques on 1 July 2008 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Let’s move Guernsey away from a car-centred society to a people-centred one.  We all have a responsibility to do our bit – you, me, businesses and government.  Let’s make 2009 the year when we take the first step.


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