Dreaming of utopia and freedom on the unopen road to nowhere
'Every time I learn something new it pushes some old stuff out of my brain!' So exclaimed Homer Simpson in desperation. And how right he was.
There in The Times was the headline: 'Revamp for Milton Keynes will drive out cars'. As Peter Blake might have said: 'Milton Keynes without cars? That's like Christianity without the cross.'
Or perhaps it is something even more sinister than that - the first move in a programme of government mind-bending designed to have us all walking to work by 2012. After all, just the day before, there had been an Op-Ed piece in the same newspaper demanding (for the 450th time in popular journalism) that 'the West break its addiction to oil'. But now this - Motown UK, the city of 200 roundabouts, under threat from an irresistible force!
Sure enough, there were all the hallmarks of a sustainability killing. There was the bearded vegetarian councillor rabbiting on about getting people to live in the centre and 'give the town a heart'. There was a commentator who commonly gets the bends if he goes outside the Circle Line, welcoming 'the reversal of a town predicated on the American model, which puts the car on a pedestal'. There was the fearless local newspaper editor who, from his wealth of local knowledge, came up with a list of the concerns of Milton Keynes man, including 'hospitals, schools and parking'. And, last of all, there was the schoolteacher who saw her journey to work extending from five minutes to an hour if she could no longer use her car.
This last comment was the only one that really got down to the facts. It addressed the real war that is going on in England. Not the hypothetical war against terrorism, and not the sad little war against tall buildings, pronounced won by Sir John Keegan last week - but the totally factitious, completely unnecessary, deadly-earnest government-backed war against motoring that has been going on since 1997. A war that is being fought out day and night, with bus lanes, red routes, park-'n'-rides, painted roads, bollarded pavements, speed cameras, pseudo-scientific government announcements, speed bumps and advertising. All of it dedicated to suppressing the universal truth that, just as most people prefer to own their own homes, so do most people prefer private transport to public transport, even to the point of being taxed until the pips squeak in order to keep it.
This would seem to be a simple enough message to present to government. The edition of The Times with the news about the coming demobilisation of Milton Keynes, for example, made it clear enough by carrying no less than eight advertisements for new cars, totalling 264 column centimetres, as against a miserable 27 column centimetres for the Milton Keynes story.
But somehow the message either does not get through - or perhaps it gets through only too well. For the government knows, as all drivers know, that all cars are getaway cars. Means of escape that multiply the radius of action of the individual by a factor of hundreds. Cars open up the countryside to city-dwellers, demonstrating its emptiness and availability to those who would otherwise swallow the lie that it has no room in it for anyone but wildlife wardens.
Cars can be as cheap and frugal as imaginable.
They can suppress their toxic emissions. They can be noiseless. They can be small or large, fast or slow, petrol or electric, or both, or neither. The only important things they need are fuel, roads, parking places, and the certainty that they can remain under the control of individuals who can travel in them where they will. That is what private transport means.