Dateline  Newcastle upon Tyne - Tuesday 16th July, 2024 17:10


by Tim Jones, 25th August, 2017

So, by 2030, there will be no new petrol or diesel cars allowed on British roads. That's to combat the rising pollution from traffic.

The science is simple: hydrocarbon fuels combine with oxygen to produce power in expanding gasses, but make carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, water, nitrous oxide, and, soot particles as a result.

The main source of concern is carbon dioxide. This gas enters the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. The typical petrol car makes 258 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre.[1] That's 144 litres of CO2.[2]

The next most alarming by-product of road vehicles is the pesky particulates. These are tiny, microscopic, grains of carbon, invisible to the eye, that enter our windpipe and lungs. This affects our health by aggravating asthma, increasing the likelihood of lung cancer, and greater risk of heart disease. Particulates are reckoned to reduce life expectancy of all exposed populations.[3]

No surprise, then, that our government wants to do something to reduce the risks. Also, no surprise that the action is cast so far into the future as to not endanger any of today's politicians, whilst making them seem caring and concerned. Pish!

What about Parking?

Car ParkWhere shall we put our car?
If you look at old pictures of towns in the 1920s you'll see cars parked on all main streets, in every available nook and cranny. Streets that were designed for horse and cart transport now had to accommodate the motor car. What did our clever politicians and city fathers do? They invented the car park.

Ease all that congestion, make the main streets passable once more, and provide a neat all in one solution to the increase in car ownership.

Leaving your car on popular streets was punished by high charges, parking meters, and traffic wardens with their sticky tickets.

Soon, town planners required new office buildings, retail parks, and entertainment complexes to provide a minimum number of car spaces.

Have a look at Google Maps for an aerial view of how much land is occupied by parking spaces. Often, this is more that the size of the facility it serves.

By demanding that developers provide empty space for cars, the towns and cities removed a lot of the requirement for off-street parking from the civic burden. The planners sold it as a necessary price to pay in attracting customers or workers to the newly built locations.

The average parking place for a car is 30.7 square metres (330 square feet). The average UK semi-detached house offers around 100 square metres over two floors. You only need a couple of parking spaces to build a modern house, so that parking space at the supermarket could be worth £50,000 to a developer.

For every parking space there is the additional requirement for access routes to and from as well as space to manoeuvre. It all adds up.

Nothing is free. You may not pay to park at the supermarket or cinema, but the cost is factored into the goods or services you buy. As a tax payer, shopper, or resident, we pay for our parking in hidden ways.

Density Decreases with Car Use

Cylinder Car ParkParking Spiral.
As parking space increases, new buildings become further apart, reducing density and extending towns and cities well beyond what was envisaged just a few decades ago.

The solution in town centres is to build upwards, provide rooftop parking, or burrow beneath the surface to keep up with demand.

As car parks become more spacious, the inconvenience increases. We no longer have door to door transport, but have to walk further at the other end. At airports, we often ride on buses from the car park to the terminal building, so vast is the space given over to the inactive motor car.

Our once leisurely town centres have now become choked with stationary cars, waiting to gain access to and from parking spaces. Our towns and cities are traffic congested feeders for the car park.

Doing Nothing is an Expensive Business

Standing TrafficGridlock at the Metrocentre.
In what other sphere of life are we charged so much for inactivity?

We spend a small fortune in buying or leasing the car in the first place, then have to spend more in tax, maintenance, insurance, not to mention twice taxed fuel to persuade the thing to move. Once on the road we trundle off to the shops, join a traffic jam for the parking space, then carefully tuck our pride and joy in a white lined rectangle before abandoning it for an hour or so.

As I said, those "free" car parks don't come free at all. We all pay to use the prime land so our cars can do nothing. The very essence of the car, its ability to transport us from here to there, is denied. It is no longer a car it is a shiny metal box going nowhere.

Let's suppose we run a business. It is a modest affair so that on a good day 200 cars per hour bring people to our store. If we assume that the visits average 40 minutes then the minimum we could provide is 134 parking spaces. Each space, as we have seen, occupies 30.7 square metres, so that's 4,114 square metres just for the spaces. Adding another third for access and manoeuvring space gives us 5,485 square metres to accommodate those visitors. If we experience a really good day when more than the 200 car loads of shoppers want to visit per hour we are stuffed. Our car park is already full.

So, our acre and a third of car space will not be enough for future proofing our little business. Let's say land is worth £40,000 per acre (typical of land for sale in a business park in Tyne and Wear) our sometimes inadequate car park would cost £53,320 to buy before any site preparation and maintenance for use as a car park. Public liability insurance is not cheap either. But just on the cost of the land alone, to recoup the outlay over a year, given 200 cars per hour over eight hours, for six days per week, means that each car should pay 11p per visit. We are most unlikely to have 200 cars per hour all day long, so the price would have to increase to reflect this.

The real cost per customer for our little business is likely to be around £1.20 per visit, so this has to be factored into our prices in an already cut-throat environment. The only solution is to increase volume, but that will require a bigger car park. Oh dear.

The End of Life Cost

Pile of CarsEven the broken ones take up space.
Every day the car showrooms, packed with new wiz-bang models, try to snare your hard earned money.

Your battered old roadster is tired, it's time for a change. Move up to a modern model with the latest self parking, lane disciplined, road reading, automatic sofa.

Maybe your old car had a terminal bash or a catastrophic mechanical failure. Rust knows no bounds when it comes to motor cars.

When the motor car reaches the end of the road it ends up piled up with others occupying more land for inactivity.

There is only so much that can be re-used. On the whole, the broken, worn out, cars are destined to be stripped, crushed then melted down for tin cans or even more cars. The waste in terms of land, human effort, energy, and, resources continues long after the car has ceased to be a useful machine.

From the moment it emerged from the factory, having consumed a king's ransom to manufacture, the car does nothing but waste the time, energy, and money of its owners, hog expensive land wherever it goes, or rests, until in its death throes costs yet more money to store then dismantle before being rendered into molten metal.

Is There a Future?

Fuel FillerFuelling for disaster.
Man's, and to a lesser extent woman's, twentieth century love affair with the motor car must come to an end. It costs too much in resources, wealth, and global doom. It kills people in the here and now as well as storing up death and disease for the future.

Maybe the outlook lies in more efficient, possibly electric, self operating vehicles, to call on you, whisk you to the shops, the railway station. or other destination, then pick up another passenger for onward transport elsewhere. A sort of automatic taxi model of personal transport.

The need to own a transport pod will vanish. It will soon be as outmoded as chariots seem to us today.

As the efficiency increases along with more utilisation, there will be fewer vehicles overall, and as their progress will be properly regulated, they will be subject to far less delay and congestion.

Perhaps most obvious, will be the freeing up of all that land now used for car parks.

Of course, we should be concerned about the polluting carbon dioxide, but perhaps we would be better off seeing the motor car itself as the pollutant of our space and well being, rather than just the guff it spews for so little of its lifetime.

[1] Transportation and Air Quality Average Annual Emissions and Fuel Consumption for Passenger Cars and Light Trucks United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2nd December, 2016.
[2] Volume of gases, How much does a kg of CO2 weigh? University of Missouri-St. Louis, 19th November, 2008.
[3] World Health Organisation Health Effects of Particulate Matter WHO, Europe Regional Office, 10th October, 2013.

Timothy Pickford-Jones

Timothy is a mature northerner with a background in electronics and public transport, who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.

As well as having a keen eye on the political scene, he is a photographer, with an interest in architecture and history. Timothy has been active on the web since the mid 1990s, having curated the Timmonet site from its inception.

Since retiring from full time work, Timothy has found time for travel, creativity, and maintaining his lifelong interest in the arts.

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