Smarter Cambridge Transport

Where’s the parking strategy for Cambridge?

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP)’s Making Connections consultation is hugely important. It puts forward – once more – options for charging people more to drive into the city in order to fund a large expansion of bus services, and free up space in Cambridge for walking and cycling. But there is something missing.

Increasing the cost of driving will certainly put off some people from driving into the city. But others will start driving into the city again, because they can afford to and value the faster journey times. It will become a richer person’s privilege to drive in the city. You may think that is flat out wrong, or you may see it is an acceptable trade-off to get better bus services for everyone; but congestion will build back up again. London is not congestion-free despite the £15/day charge. Singapore does not rely only on a congestion charge; it no longer issues new permits for people to own a vehicle.

Copenhagen has long pursued a strategy of reducing availability and increasing costs of parking – for residents and visitors. It is working: the Danish capital is regularly ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the world. GCP cannot regulate car ownership, but it can reduce the number of car parking spaces.

We too need a plan for a phased reduction in parking capacity, starting with the Grand Arcade car park. The City Council is resistant because this car park alone brought in £2 million in 2018/19 – nearly 25% of what it received from Council Tax! But it is also the cause of congestion that holds up buses. The car park is rarely full, so the council could re-purpose one or two levels with little loss of parking revenue. Possible new uses for some of the space include cycle parking, a rooftop restaurant, an underground farm, a skate park, a metro station and grid-balancing batteries.

This would be one step in a wider strategy to gradually reduce the number of on- and off-street parking spaces for residents and visitors. It would create more space long-term for walking, cycling and buses, and to make Cambridge a low-carbon city that anyone can get into and around easily … without a car.

This article (slightly amended) was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 17 November 2021.

Edward Leigh

Edward Leigh is the leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, chair and independent co-opted member of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, chair of the South Petersfield Residents Association, business owner, consultant, and occasional blogger about making the world and Cambridge a better place to live.

1 comment

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  • >  It will become a richer person’s privilege to drive in the city.

    Or it will better reflect the actual cost of driving. Owning a car is not cheap so I’d argue that driving in general is already a “richer person’s privilege”. Besides why should one be entitled to driving into a city given the associated negative impact it causes. As long as you can get there by the public transport in a reasonable amount of time there should be no need for bringing a car there in the majority of the cases (e.g. commuting).

    Many people die because many people want to drive, in particular in towns and cities with dense population density. The drivers do not pay for causing issues such as congestion, noise, accidents, pollution, road damage, inconvenience caused to pedestrians, delays caused to public transport and emergency vehicles, or deaths. These costs are passed on to the society as a whole while the negative effects are directly experienced by those who live, work or happen to be around motor vehicles.

    So if one can afford having a car then they should pay for all those negative effects that using it causes and not just the running costs. While the cars are still around the proceeds should be used to improve and lower the cost of the public transport which is at present typically used by the poorer in the society who cannot afford owning a car.

    > but congestion will build back up again. London is not congestion-free despite the £15/day charge. 

    London may not be congestion free but the introduction of congestion charge greatly reduced car journeys – after just one year following its introduction by nearly a third! I would say that’s an impressive reduction within such a short time, and crucially a net decrease not increase.

    Incidentally, I was in London on Tuesday. I arrived by train at 11am and was there until 5pm. I walked between Liverpool Street Station, St Paul’s and Temple, and was surprised how little motorised trafic there was there. The streets were virtually empty, just buses, taxis and occasional delivery vans. The pavements were more busy than roads. I was very pleasantly surprised. It was so noticeable, almost unreal. Totally unlike what I witness when I visit Cambridge. I know, a random visit but this rare experience of traffic free streets left a lasting impression in my memory. I wish every city was like this – cars free.