It’s hard to ignore the growing unease surrounding vehicle pollution since the VW emissions scandal was uncovered. Two things have become clear in the wake of it all. One, is that vehicles are producing far more toxic emissions on the road than we realised, due to car manufacturers gaming emissions tests. The second is that while we were focussing on Co2 emissions we took our eye off Nox or Nitrous Oxide emissions, which are more harmful to human health than Co2, and it turns out there is a lot more of it in the air than we realised. Indeed, it has now been shown that as a result of far higher emissions of Nox, huge numbers of areas in our towns and cities are exposed to pollution levels far above legal limits.
“The analysis of the most recent government data exposes how dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution (created by nitrous oxide) are not limited to large metropolitan centres but threaten the health of children and young people in towns and cities from Newcastle to Plymouth.”
The Guardian 4 April 2017
One wonders if this is going to be a watershed moment, if the time for worshipping at the altar of the car will soon be at an end. The actions of various big city mayors across Europe and beyond, enacting hard demand management measures against the car, would seem to suggest so. These are measures of the kind one might associate with those regularly forced on citizens in China to try and keep the air breathable. Yet it is now happening in western capitals in Europe and look set to be introduced in London too.
So it is with a mixture of sadness and not a little anger, that in light of all this, we should see this astonishingly inappropriate new pledge for the local elections by our incumbent politicians:
It’s hard to understate just how backwards and out of touch you have to be to believe that turning the A10 in East Cambridgeshire into our very own version of the A14 is any kind of solution to any kind of issue. Leaving aside the total lack of environmental awareness. Indeed, a local blogger who is a Policy Analyst for the Campaign for Better Transport has already looked in some detail at the possible objectives and outcomes of widening the A10 and found precious little sense or benefits.
Of course, we are relatively lucky, today, to be able to enjoy fresh unpolluted air most of the time, but it would be complacent and irresponsible in the extreme to ignore how we might already be affected by dangerous emissions like so much of the rest of the country. Yes, Ely is not London, which is the sort of response we regularly receive in discussion on this topic. This makes no sense as a response, because it suggests that we can allow ourselves to simply carry on expanding the road space, filling it with more and more vehicles, until we ARE as polluted as London. Ely is such a compact centre that already fills up with cars on market days and weekends, thanks in no small part to the current administration’s open arms policy towards cars.
We accept that Ely is growing and is set to grow again significantly with the eventual addition of 3,000 houses at North Ely, which will of course create further transport demands. Indeed, it can only bring more cars to the area. What our politicians have simply got to get out of their heads (the current administration in particular) is the idea that more cars must automatically mean we must provide more space for them. So that as our towns and cities grow, we must be perpetually building more roads until every car can travel unhindered at all times. This will never happen. European nations and cities understand this – I particularly recommend Ghent in Belgium!
No, always seeking to make space for cars will ONLY encourage them to be used at every opportunity and to pollute our air at every opportunity – for the trip to the shops, the journey to work, to school or the trip to the leisure centre. Cambridge has shown us that growing your local population and reducing car use are not mutually exclusive goals. More houses and more people inevitably means more cars but this does not mean we cannot reduce car USAGE. This we can do like many other places with careful and enlightened transport planning and policy. It makes little sense therefore, to dramatically increase the numbers of vehicles being USED on the road by spending precious public funds on filling the trunk road that encircles much of the city with ever more cars. Remember also that the spread of Ely has now reached and crossed over the existing A10, bringing people and pedestrians and cyclists in to regular direct contact with the road. The last thing we need to be doing is making the A10 in to an impassable, deafening pollution highway, forming a barrier between the city and the growing developments to the west like Lancaster Way, the new retail park and the pending leisure centre.
Rather than more road building, Ely Cycle Campaign believe we should be putting our resources in to making Ely a fully interconnected city from north to south, east to west and to its surrounding villages, with park and ride facilities for those who need to drive from further out. Park and Ride will be viable – unlike previously – once we have another 3000+ vehicles in Ely alone, courtesy of the north Ely development, and put the relevant incentives in place. That does mean charging to park in the centre, which can pay for Park and Ride facilities encouraging drivers to leave their cars at the gates, so to speak. We know how much nicer Ely City Centre is when the High Street is closed on a Saturday. It could be even better if we could address the choking mess of cars on Newnham Road and around Waitrose and the Paradise Centre on Thursdays and at weekends. At the moment, far too many people drive to the centre who would not need to, given the right facilities and encouragement, and good pedestrian and cycle routes. The underpass under the A10, the development and upgrading of the paths around and through the city and beyond, that we have co-operated with authorities to see built since our inception, are the right way to go and we are grateful for this progress. But there’s a lot more to do and a lot more money needed! Ely is a beautiful city to walk and cycle around – mostly – but we are threatening this with the current local administration’s zeal for car worship, be it the ‘bring your car, tell your friends’ parking policy, or what now appears as a new drive to lay more tarmac. We can see the case for the bypass as the best of the available options for solving the problems at the station area, but it would be a massive mistake – unnecessary, expensive and now we are seeing, incredibly damaging to our health – to push for another major new road building project involving the A10.
At the local elections, please use your vote and use it carefully!