Changing and challenging our reliance on cars
Here I explore how our attitudes towards, and reliance on, the car are changing based on some lessons we’ve learned from one of our recent projects.
Cars are an accepted part of our city transport networks. They offer fantastic personal freedom, convenience and comfort, as well as flexibility to run our frantic and busy lives.
Undoubtedly, they also cause tremendous harm. Congestion costs the economy money, causes frustration and pollutes our air. Huge tracts of land are devoted to car parking. Yet cars spend the majority of their time stationary, taking up valuable space in our cities. Just imagine if we replaced our car parks with parkland – how green our cities would be!
As a nation of car drivers and car owners, we are in flux. Advances in technology – electric and automated vehicles – have the potential to significantly change the way we use and think about cars. Society is seeing a trend towards subscription and away from ownership: look to streaming services for music and film as an example. Are people prepared to subscribe to car services instead of buying their own car and having it sit expensively idle outside their houses or workplaces for much of the time?
City centre locations are great places to encourage change. We are civil and structural engineers for the iconic Urban Splash Park Hill development in Sheffield. Listed this year in The Times ‘Coolest Places to Live’, Park Hill is a great example of the creation of a place where people want to work and live. Our work there has shown that the demand for car parking among residents of Europe’s largest listed building is less than we had predicted when we first looked at the project in 2010. We can demonstrate that car use among the residents of the first phase of development is very low, which is testament to Park Hill’s excellent location close to Sheffield city centre and right next to the railway and tram stations. But, at the moment, owning cars continues to be reasonably popular, even though most people aren’t using them every day. We are looking at ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’ to encourage cultural change and ensure that parking doesn’t become an unsightly problem as the remaining phases of Park Hill are developed.
By making positive steps to accelerate the momentum of dwindling car ownership, we will avoid building huge car parks and will be able to create better, healthier cities for the people who live and work there.
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