May 22nd, 2012 by Pat Wisher
A new Government is now in place in Guernsey, a new Environment Department and a commitment to bring back another Integrated Road Transport/Traffic Strategy within a year.
This time it seems that the strategy must accommodate the fact that cars are essential to modern life.
No one has ever said that cars are not useful – sometimes they are necessary (for example to transport an elderly relative) – but cars are rarely essential unless one’s job requires use of a vehicle on a daily basis. Indeed, there are many islanders who live fulfilling lives in Guernsey without the need to own a car. There are also many who have never learned to drive.
Car free islanders manage very well by using the bus service, car sharing with their family, walking, cycling, motorbiking or using taxis. They may have also made the decision to live close to their work in order to alleviate the need for a car. We all have choices.
The problem in Guernsey is that islanders have become addicted to their cars and with addiction comes health issues – like the looming obesity problem.
There is also the perception that anyone travelling by bus is a loser and someone walking (or bussing) to a supermarket with a shopping trolley is a “bag lady”. And yet we all use suitcases on wheels to go on holiday and many islanders (including businessmen) use the bus to go to and from the airport.
Bus use to the airport is interesting – is it because we have paid parking at the airport? Paid parking does make people think about how they spend their money. These islanders are choosing to take the bus rather than drive. Running a car is already expensive. No one who owns a car and uses it on a daily basis to drive to and from work can be said to be poor – not even the shop worker who is constantly mentioned in paid parking debates.
Car addiction brings with it the call for even more car parks – particularly in St. Peter Port. Guernsey already suffers from too much traffic congestion and too much pollution. More car parks would result in even more cars pouring into Town. The longer the Guernsey Environment Department fails to tackle these issues, the worse the quality of life in Guernsey becomes.
Car emissions account for 25.1% of Guernsey’s greenhouse gases. The car culture has led to front gardens being turned into car parks (resulting in flooding problems) and everyone now “expects” to find a parking space wherever they go.
It is maintained that islanders don’t shop in Town because of the lack of parking. However, it could be more to do with cheaper prices available on the internet. St. Peter Port traders could encourage shoppers to come to Town by bus – after all it is rare that you buy anything which is too heavy to carry back on a bus.
What about commuters? Is it really essential for everyone to not only drive to work but also to drive to work on their own? It would only need 1 in 5 commuters to change their habit to make a real difference to the traffic congestion on all the roads into Town. There are other (greener – and less stressful) choices – walking, bicycling, catching the bus or car sharing.
The Guernsey bus winter timetable shows 60 buses travelling into St. Peter Port between 7 am and 9 am from all parts of the island – that’s 3,000 seats. If we could fill those 3,000 seats it would make a difference. The summer timetable is even better.
Whereas the bus service isn’t perfect (and could do with enhancement in several areas) it is a viable option for many commuters. The round island route (7/7A) for instance is an ideal route for commuters from Torteval, Forest, St. Martin, and in the north from The Bridge into Town. The bus routes were devised so that the majority of islanders would be within 400 metres of their nearest bus stop.
There are many examples all over the world (e.g. Copenhagen) where car traffic congestion and pollution have been reduced resulting in vibrant town centres – places where people are put before traffic.
Think of the benefits of fewer cars on the road during peak times. There would be fewer traffic jams (therefore less stress), shorter journey times, buses arriving on time, and less pollution for cyclists and pedestrians.
We all need to do our bit – small changes to our lifestyle could mean a big difference to our traffic problems. So next time you reach for your car keys ask yourself – is my car really essential for this journey?
For more information on this subject I recommend “Car Sick – Solutions for our Car addicted Culture” by Lynn Sloman.
Pat Wisher is Secretary of Living Streets Guernsey.