Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. Not Owning a Car

Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. Not Owning a Car

Article excerpt

On two occasions, sainted members of my family have offered me a car for nothing. Both times, I turned them down -- and not out of selflessness or for green reasons.

I said no because I knew it would mean me sitting still in a metal box for hundreds more hours every year. If I were the only driver in London, I'd have accepted the free cars in a second. Even if I could have been transported back to 1970s London -- when in my memory the streets were largely empty -- I'd have said yes.

But driving in London -- and in British cities, generally -- has now got so popular that it's become a victim of its own success. If Top Gear or The Grand Tour were really honest, they wouldn't show Jeremy Clarkson racing a squadron of jets through the California desert. They would film him sitting stationary on the M40, stranded halfway between his Holland Park flat and his Chipping Norton house.

As recently as 2012, the average speed on London's streets was 19.33 mph, falling to 8.98 mph in central London. This year, those figures have dropped to 16.5 mph in London as a whole and 7.4 mph in the centre. At those levels, I can get anywhere in central London quicker on my bike. A recent study showed there are even clogged sections on the M25 where a bike would be quicker than a car.

Oh, the joys of not driving! Or, to be more precise, the joys of not owning a car. There's a huge difference between not being able to drive and not owning a car. Not being able to drive leaves you trapped, and dependent on the mercy of qualified drivers. …

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