The theory of Peak Car is a signifiant one for those who wish cities to be designed for people, not motor vehicles. If car use is declining – and official stats from US and UK bear this out, and it’s not just because of the recession – there is less need to build expensive ‘white elephant’ highways for motor vehicles and more need to build wider pavements and instal bike lanes built to Dutch-standards.
BikeBiz.com has reported on Peak Car previously, citing transport experts such as Phil Goodwin, professor of Transport Policy at the University of the West of England. He has been raising the profile of Peak Car theory in the academic and transport press. Professor Goodwin is the transport academic retained to write up the report on the parliamentary inquiry on cycling, due to be staged in April 2013.
In today’s newspaper the theory of Peak Car is part of the ‘cities for cycling’ coverage. Transport correspondent Philip Pank writes:
"Years of falling traffic volumes suggest that car use has passed its peak and may have entered a long era of decline, a growing body of officials from the Department for Transport and London’s City Hall believe.
"The implications for how cities are designed and streets are used are enormous if car use really has passed its tipping point. Supporters of “Peak-Car” theory see a future in which the inner cities are given over to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport, and café culture replaces car culture."
The distance travelled by car peaked in 2006 in the UK and has fallen by 8 percent in a decade. The number of cars in London peaked in 1990 and has fallen by 37 per cent since 2000.
Professor Goodwin said:
“The trends started changing before the recession, and given the right policies they can continue after. It gives us the choice to change. With less traffic pressure we can improve the reliability of buses, the safety of cycling and the comfort of walking — and have pavement cafés and more attractive shopping centres.”
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “In principle, Peak Car does give planners much more freedom to think about what kind of cities they want.
“I am not sure that policymakers have got to grips with this yet. We can promote cycling and take road space for cycling and people will use it.”
But, despite the growing evidence for Peak Car, UK politicians and planner continue to throw millions of pounds of public money at road "improvement" schemes, providing for traffic volumes that may not be there in the future, and neglecting building for the type of cities that will be likely in the future (cities where car use is dramatically curtailed thanks to health, congestion, pollution, and climate change reasons).
The Government is today to start the second reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which if successful, would make it easy for planners to bulldoze through new road schemes, shopping malls, and other developments fiercely opposed by locals and environmental groups.
Alister Scott, Professor of Spatial Planning and Governance, at Birmingham City University said the bill "represents a missed opportunity to help develop planning as a core component of the growth agenda ensuring a focus towards sustainable development. Instead we see a well-rehearsed fix set within more top down control of development matters which raises more questions than it answers."
"As a planner I am very concerned at how political short termism is hijacking the planning system and ignoring the excellent examples out there in the real world of growth and development. Such interventions are dangerous distractions and have the ability to derail some real progress that is being made. The lack of appreciation of the environment and community as assets for development reflects a continuing and dangerous one dimensional view of economic growth, whilst the vesting of some essentially local decisions with the Secretary of State highlights the impending death of localism."