Welcome to Issue 39

The Traffic Conundrum

There have been several developments which are causes for concern recently but the issue that is most frequently referred to when I speak to residents of the town is traffic. We all know about the traffic jams that are a regular feature during holiday periods but this winter I have observed how the ‘flow’ of traffic in the town centre has become almost constant throughout the day and throughout the year. One resident who lives in a flat on Newbegin testified to this and told me how the whole flat shakes every time a bus or lorry goes past. Living with this constant noise and trembling cannot be conducive to good health.

I have also observed how very few of the cars passing through our main streets actually stop in the town centre. The shops are largely empty as residents take to their vehicles to shop either at Tesco or out of town, whilst visitors are usually making their way to the seaside or the Leisure Centre. Our main streets have been transformed into busy highways to be passed through as quickly as possible. When I see old photos of Newbegin and the Market Place with perhaps one horse and cart in the frame I think how pleasant it must have been for townsfolk to come together, do their shopping and have a chat without the constant sounds of engines and the danger of being knocked over when crossing the street.

The trend only seems set to continue as the Council plans to fill every spare space in the town with more housing while simultaneously witnessing the closure of our hospital, Post Office, Banks and other services. This will undoubtedly result in even greater volumes of traffic with more residents resulting in more vehicles and with no option but to travel out of town for basic services.

The problem of traffic congestion is by no means confined to Hornsea, of course, and in many other towns and cities around the country the problems are even more severe. The rise and rise of the automobile has been made possible by the liquid gold that is oil. In the hundred and fifty years since its discovery we have made spectacular progress, not just in transport but in every aspect of our lives, with technological advances beyond our wildest dreams. The world’s population has rocketed from around 1 billion to 7 billion and rising. In the West we enjoy levels of material comfort and freedom to travel as never before.

However, there is an extremely heavy price being paid for this oil bonanza of which traffic congestion is only a minor part. Within the space of a century or so, in an orgy of consumption, we have burned 135 billion tonnes of a resource which took millions of years to form. This has permitted us to fill our oceans with plastic and nuclear waste, destroy two thirds of the world’s forests, contaminate and impoverish our soils, send species into extinction at a rate 10,000 times faster than the norm, build nuclear weapons and bombs which have caused wide scale devastation, fill the air, land, rivers and seas with noxious gases and chemicals and even change our climate. As we have developed machinery to do most of the hard work for us we have lost our connection with the natural world upon which we depend for our survival, believing that we can manipulate and abuse her as we wish to suit our own ends.

We are raping and pillaging the Earth at the expense of our children and grandchildren as well as other species. We have the choice of changing our ways and reducing our footprint to a sustainable level (which in this country means less than a third of current levels) or we can carry on as we are and wait until Nature herself halts us in our tracks. The latter is likely to be far more painful but at the moment it appears to be  our preferred option. I believe that forsaking some of our modern comforts and conveniences in order to live sustainably can actually bring some immediate benefits. Choosing to walk or cycle rather than drive, for example, can be less stressful, cheaper and help us to be fitter and healthier. We have it within our power to make the world a happier and healthier place for all if only we could start to live within our means and end the war on the environment.

Three months ago when my ailing van had to be sent to the knacker’s yard I decided not to replace it. As well as being relieved of worries about insurance, tax, MOTs, repairs, breakdowns, accidents and – yes – traffic jams, more importantly, I feel as though I have taken a big step towards making peace with the planet. Unfortunately I appear to be among a very tiny minority of people who are prepared to take this step or even a smaller step such as cutting back on car usage, flying or consumption of other environmentally damaging products. I suspect that the majority assume that those of us who walk or cycle do so either because we can’t afford a car or because we are slightly mad.

Perhaps they are right in the sense that it may be madness to believe that we are capable of voluntarily turning around our current trajectory to live in harmony with nature, but if so then I prefer to accept my own insanity and keep swimming against the tide rather than being swept along by the wave of collective insanity that is planet destruction. Maybe the next time someone has a moan to me about the traffic congestion I will pluck up the courage to say what I really believe, which is that unless we all come to our senses we’re heading for gridlock and meltdown! If, on the other hand, enough of us take personal responsibility and resolve to live lightly on the Earth then we can solve not only our traffic problems but a whole host of others as well.

Ed

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