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.