in which a war is declared on the motorist by that renowned lefty pinko environmentalist …erm… Ernest Marples

Continuing my filing — the long list of pages bookmarked for future reading and tagging. The 1963 Buchanan Report, Traffic in Towns, is generally treated as an object of derision these days. Architects and urban designers (and bloggers) display it ironically on their shelves and delight in its kitsch — the jetpacks and monorails, and the almost complete destruction of our cities in favour of tower blocks, urban motorways and pedestrian subways — at the same time as blaming its authors for giving us those urban motorways and our ugly traffic choked cities. But, easy though it is to place it as such from half a century on, I'm not sure the Buchanan Report was at all as simple as this motorway manifesto interpretation. We can't help looking at it with our hindsight, and trying to find the world that we got in the instructions for the world that we should have.

What Buchanan actually seemed to be saying is: if you really wanted to accommodate universal car ownership comfortably in compact British cities, these are the radical things you would have to do, and you might not always want to do such radical things. Indeed, people point to the most absurd of the report's drawings — of his idea for the Oxford Street motorway with grade separated shopping terraces — as evidence of where everything went wrong, forgetting that those proposals never became reality. The one thing Buchanan definitely was saying is that traffic and towns will never really coexist comfortably: that the options were smashing through the cities with motorways or draconian traffic restraint, and that in reality we had to decide on a position somewhere between the two. As it turned out, both options proved far more unpopular than was predicted in 1963, so we only ever did just enough of each to upset people without ever solving the problem of traffic and towns. The world that we have is actually much the same as the one that Buchanan was trying to help us avoid: unrestrained traffic in old cities inadequately designed for it.

At least, that was where I was placing Buchanan, and this piece from Minister of Transport Ernest Marples — corrupt director of a road construction firm and the man perhaps most responsible for maiming the railways and building the motorways: not a man you could accuse of being anti-car — presenting the Report to the House (as part of a series of reports, including Beeching's, which "provide a solid and factual basis to develop a transport system adapted to modern Britain") seems to support it.

… Our towns and cities simply cannot absorb that amount of traffic without radical replanning, but the danger is that in providing facilities for everybody, to motor freely in our city centres we might destroy the urban environment and dominate the urban scene with the roads and car parks, filling stations, and so on. And we must not forget the trucks and other commercial vehicles our society has become geared to. They certainly contribute to the congestion, but they provide services we would find it very difficult to do without. They are, in fact, an essential part of modern town life.

Colin Buchanan's case studies lead him to two conclusions. First, in the smaller towns it would be possible, at a cost, to reconcile good environment and maximum car usage. Secondly, in the large towns and cities and the great conurbations there is no prospect whatever of catering for all the cars which might ultimately want to go into them. I cannot stress that enough. The situation in our big cities simply cannot be dealt with by spending more and more money on bigger and better roads and motorways and providing more parking spaces.

I am very glad to see, from a Gallup poll in the Sunday Telegraph, that the motorist is really grasping this point. There were two questions, in particular, I should like to bring to the attention of the House. The first was, "Do you agree that some limitation on the use of cars in the larger towns will be necessary in the future?" The answer was "Yes" from 86 per cent. of the drivers. The second question I should like to bring to the attention of the House was, "Would you accept some limitation on the use of cars if this meant that the congestion would be eased and you could use a car to full advantage at other times?" Again, it was 80 per cent. who answered "Yes".
… Could we make better use of private cars? There is absolutely no future in one-man one-car commuting in our big cities. …

… The result for any particular place will depend upon its circumstances, on the choice it makes on the balance between traffic, on the one hand, and environment, on the other hand, and on costs. These decisions cannot be imposed by the Government. Each community will have to decide for itself. By "each community" I do not necessarily mean each local authority. I mean, perhaps each conurbation, but certainly each large community. York, for example, is different from Sheffield. Chester is different from Liverpool …

I now come to the most important contribution of all. It is not the Government, it is not the local authorities; it is all of you; as individuals. The traffic management measures that we must have to see us though the next 10 years will inevitably require some restriction of our freedom and individual self-discipline. How far such things are effective might well dictate how far we shall need more sophisticated restraints???like charging for the use of congested road space. Buchanan himself says: "Conditions???in the next ten years or so, will demand an almost heroic act of self-discipline from the public. It is not only road safety that is involved but everything to do with the sane and civilised use of motor vehicles. Motor manufacturers, parents and teachers will have major parts to play but the main burden of responsibility will rest with drivers"." He goes on say that we need a sixth sense, a sense of "motorised responsibility" appropriate to a society in the process of acquiring mobility on a scale unknown to previous generations.
Of course, we might consider that there could be just the slightest possibility that the corrupt car loving Marples wasn't being entirely sincere about the inevitable need to restrain traffic. But I suspect again that the temptation to believe that has much to do with hindsight…

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