Time to put cars in their place – underground

Steve Webb Westway sketch resize

Source: Steve Webb / Webb Yates

The economy needs some big infrastructure projects. How about burying a few roads, asks Steve Webb

We have long been told that pollution causes thousands of premature deaths in cities. King’s College London estimates the annual number in London is 4,300 annually, but who are these people? Without their specific stories, the dry numbers are difficult to get emotional about.

The recent publicity surrounding the incredibly brave and tenacious mother of Ella Kissi-Debrah’s successful fight to get pollution stated on her death certificate threw rare light on the real plights of millions of people living close to busy main roads. As well as the widespread death and debilitation caused by traffic pollution, the dehumanising effect of noise, danger and just simple obstruction to walking is the principal downside of living in a big city.

But the car is here to stay. In 20 years petrol cars will start to become rare, but there will be millions of electric cars. In an only slightly more distant future, self-driven taxis will ferry people around. Logistical algorithms will control swarms of self-driven vehicles to suit the daily patterns of workers and leisure seekers. Small pod cars will carry multiple passengers on multi-stop journey routes derived instantaneously to suit individual destinations and traffic conditions. The traffic computer will direct cars through any roads that avoid congestion. There will be no more traffic lights, highly choreographed traffic will ceaselessly filter through crossroads in both directions without a single collision. Buses and tubes will be obsolete. But electric cars are not noiseless, they are not pollution-free and they can certainly run people over, so what can we do?

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