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Could Coldhams Lane campaign kickstart a traffic-free Cambridge?

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Coldhams Lane during lockdown. Picture: Jeremy Peters
Coldhams Lane during lockdown. Picture: Jeremy Peters

Over the last few months I’ve seen Coldhams Lane turn into playgrounds and performance spaces, writes Seb Peters - kids were playing, people were working out, a young man was practising the trumpet (much to the relief of whoever he lived with, I have to assume). Our neighbourhood has been cleaner and quieter than anytime in recent memory, and I’m loath to let it slip away. I think this is a good moment to talk about something that a lot of us probably recognise, but not all of us want to contend with: the truly egregious wastefulness of a city built around cars.

It would be quite easy to look at everything we’re about to discuss and sum it all up as cars = bad, but it’s about much more than the cars themselves. Often when talking about the issues with cars we talk about accidents or air pollution, and overlook some others that are hidden in plain sight.

On average, cars are 70 per cent empty – most cars that fill our streets usually only have one occupant (the driver), and take up a lot of space on a road. A bus, on the other hand, takes up roughly three times the amount of space and, on average, transports 30 times the number of people; a bicycle carries that one person for a fraction of the space.

Our cities are built for cars, not people – in our current infrastructure, cars are king. Houses with spacious driveways are aspirational, businesses prize car parks above much else, and much like the cantankerous conquerors of old, cars don’t care whether their rule is rightful or not.

Common pushback against a reduction in privately owned automobiles is that buses always run late, or there isn’t a convenient enough route, or bikes are dangerous or it’s not a nice walk or something else – these are all excuses, yes, but they are all based in truth that stems from one systemic issue: car dependency. Privately owned cars are a roadblock (both literally and figuratively) to revolutionising the way we move around in cities. With fewer cars on the road, it would be possible to cede more space to pedestrians, prioritise efficient and affordable public transport, create a wider, safer, more expansive network of cycle lanes, and improve the quality of our air.

A modal filter on Bridge Street
A modal filter on Bridge Street

Radical systemic change won’t happen overnight, and especially not if we leave it to some theoretical other person. Real, actionable change starts from the bottom up in our communities: residents of Coldhams Lane – a ‘C-road’ with 17,000 vehicles per day – are campaigning for a modal filter to be installed to make it safer, quieter and healthier.

The Cambridge Eastern Access project and the government’s new ‘cycling and walking revolution’ are more opportunities to make a significant stand against prolonging car dependency in Romsey and surrounding areas.

Let’s see how this develops, and start thinking about how to improve health in your own community.

- Thanks to Paula Downes for the video.

Seb Peters (40189709)
Seb Peters (40189709)

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