Episode 108: Traffication with Paul Donald
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Sarah Goodyear: Do you like birdsong? I do. This is some tape I got in a field in France this spring. You have to listen closely, but what you’re hearing are things like the corn bunting, the European goldfinch and the zitting cisticola. But it isn’t always easy to hear birds. Even in the ridiculously bucolic French countryside where I spent the month of April, I couldn’t get away from the deafening sound of cars. The birds can’t get away from that sound either.
Sarah: This is The War on Cars. I’m Sarah Goodyear, in for my co-hosts Aaron Naparstek and Doug Gordon. We talk a lot on this podcast about the effect of cars and roads on people. We don’t often talk about the effect on non-human animals. Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about it unless maybe we passed the corpse of a roadkill deer or groundhog on our commute or an excursion into the countryside. In his groundbreaking book, Traffication: How Cars Destroy Nature and What We Can Do about It, scientist and researcher Paul Donald synthesizes dozens of studies to help us understand what cars and roads do to living things.
Sarah: The book documents the profound and pervasive effects of our automobile dependence on animals from insects to snails to swallows to bears. Paul makes the case that cars ruin more than cities—they also ruin the countryside by fragmenting habitat and creating a neverending barrage of threats and stressors for animals of all kinds. Or as he puts it, if unspoiled nature is a citadel, then the car is the siege engine that has breached its walls and allowed the invading hordes access to its inner sanctums. The danger posed by the car to nature, he suggests, is existential. I talked with Paul Donald about his book, why he coined the term “Traffication,” and what he thinks we can do about it.
Sarah: Paul Donald, welcome to The War on Cars. I’m so excited to have you here. This is really a great book that I am hoping a lot of people are gonna read.
Paul Donald: Thank you very much indeed, Sarah. It’s a great pleasure to be on the program.
Sarah: You’ve written this book, Traffication. Tell us maybe a little bit about what your professional background is and how you came to write this book.
Paul Donald: Well, I’m a conservation scientist. I’ve been working in conservation research for over 30 years now, and I’ve worked on issues such as climate change, such as habitat loss, such as the threats to species posed by things like invasive species or overhunting and so forth. I’ve worked on all these different threats, and it’s always astonished me how conservationists, conservation scientists and conservation practitioners, are unaware of this other massive threat to our wildlife, which is the burgeoning of road traffic.
Paul Donald: And I guess that if there’s a reason why I’m kind of particularly sensitive to this is I grew up in a carless household. My parents have never driven. They’ve always had a sort of rather intense dislike of the car. And I don’t have their kind of moral fiber, and I started driving almost as soon as I was old enough. But I’ve always had this kind of residual sense of guilt about it. And then in about the late 1990s, some scientific research started to come out of various places—a couple of studies in the States, a couple of studies in the Netherlands—which showed that roads aren’t just narrow bands of collision risk for a few animals that happened to cross over them, but they actually reduce populations of animals for very considerable distances on either side—a mile, two miles even. Some of this research has suggested that numbers of birds, mammals, insects, amphibians are greatly reduced within up to two miles of a road.
Paul Donald: Now if you look at a country like the UK where I live, that’s pretty much the entire country. Pretty much the entire country is within two miles of a road. So while all these people were working on issues like climate change, agricultural intensification, habitat loss to try and explain this massive decline in biodiversity that we’ve had over the last 30 years, nobody’s been looking at this other thing, this issue of roads. And I’ve seen this literature grow and grow, more and more people studying this issue, all of the results showing that actually here there’s a massive problem that impacts on biodiversity in many, many different ways, but no one’s tried to pull it all together and synthesize it to kind of make it a thing. And that’s what this book attempts to do.
Sarah: You actually refer to traffication, the spread of roads and cars, as “conservation’s blind spot,” which really hit me because we on The War on Cars, we often talk about car blindness, how people literally sort of can’t see cars because they’re so much part of our environments that we’ve—we’re blind to them, right?
Paul Donald: Yeah. Yeah.
Sarah: It is a real blind spot. What do you think accounts for that?
Paul Donald: Well, I think partly it’s because it has crept up on us so slowly. If you look at the rate of change in the number of vehicles on our roads, the billions of vehicle miles that they drive each year, it’s kind of been about one percent per year—in the UK at least, and I suspect probably in the States, too. One to two percent per year. And I think that we simply haven’t noticed it. A one or two percent change you don’t notice on a year-by-year basis, and I think it’s kind of crept up on us without us even realizing how much things have changed.
Paul Donald: If we could wave a magic wand and go back 50 years, I think we’d be astonished by how few vehicles we saw on the roads. We would see a very different world. Another part of the reason is that we all sort of know that driving is bad for the environment. We see dead animals on the roads and, you know, we can see the smog of pollution that sits over our cities, but we’re kind of directly responsible ourselves for that. We can’t blame anyone else for it. It’s always quite difficult to point the finger of blame at yourself, isn’t it? So there might be a sort of self-blinding issue to this as well.
Sarah: From a moral perspective, I think that people, they have to drive, right? This society is set up in such a way that many, many car trips, while many are discretionary—and you talk about that in your book, and I want to get to that—many of them are not discretionary because of the way our transportation systems have been set up. This is particularly true in North America. So you have to do this thing, it creates a moral quandary, and you kind of have to turn off the part of your brain that’s assessing that in order to go about your daily life, right?
Paul Donald: That’s very true, and what I sort of argue in the book is not that we should stop using cars, simply that we should moderate our use of them, that we should drive in different ways, that we should do more things that reduce the impacts of our driving on the environment. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that you stop using cars. If you had read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which was a kind of a revelation of the impacts that agricultural chemicals were having on my life back in the 1950s and ’60s, the book didn’t end with a call that they’d be banned. Simply called the damage that they caused be better recognized, and that their use be better controlled and moderated.
Paul Donald: And I think that a detrafficated world is not a world without cars. Now you’re absolutely right that some of the journeys that we make, it would be very difficult to make in any other ways. Our public transport system has been run down as the growth of private car ownership has increased. But that’s not true of most of our journeys. Most of our journeys, most of the journeys that we make in the UK anyway, are less than eight miles. And there are surely things that we can do to—alternatives that we can have to traveling such tiny distances other than simply jumping in the car.
Paul Donald: But I think we’re kind of blind to many of these issues. I’ve seen—it’s been quite interesting. On Twitter, there’s been some people sort of—the book isn’t out yet, so no one actually knows what’s in it, but some people say, “Oh, I guess this is just another anti-car polemic. What do they expect us to do? Go back to using horses?” And I read that several times, and it’s very interesting, isn’t it? It’s almost like the use of the car is so ingrained that people can only think of the alternative as being a horse.
Paul Donald: And not a bicycle or a bus or train or a tram.
Sarah: Or walking.
Paul Donald: Or walking. [laughs]
Sarah: [laughs] Yeah.
Paul Donald: Yeah, the dreaded walking.
Sarah: The dreaded walking. So let’s go back. One of the most fascinating things in the book for me is the origin story of what I guess is called deadlisting, which is the practice of counting road-killed animals. And you talk about a couple in the United States of America, the Stoners.
Paul Donald: The Stoners, yeah. Yeah, Dayton and Lillian Stoner. I got rather fond of them as I was researching this book. I kind of used their initial journey as a thread that runs through the book. So they lived in Iowa City, and Dayton was a zoology professor, and his wife Lillian was an ornithologist. I get the impression they were kind of rather staid, conservative characters, but the story kind of starts really with a journey that they made in 1925, a two-day journey each way from Iowa City to a research station in Iowa. And then they kind of came back a month or so later.
Paul Donald: And it was an utterly unextraordinary journey, apart from the fact that, rather than just driving by the roadkill that they saw, they decided to stop and identify each little corpse and count them along the way. And they published their findings in an article in the journal Science in 1926. And that was the first scientific article ever published on the environmental toll of road traffic. And it sparked an interesting surge in interest in counting dead things. It’s been called deadlisting, this kind of passion, this craze. And it’s—if you think about it, it’s actually quite a nice easy way to get to publication is if you’re driving along a quiet country road anyway with nothing else to do, just counting the things that you see dead on the road along the way is kind of quite an easy way to collect data, and then you just kind of write a list, then you say, “I started here and I finished here and this is a list of the things I saw.”
Paul Donald: But there’s a huge great sort of swell of these publications. And I suspect what this was was that roadkill appeared rather suddenly at about that time, sort of early- to mid-1920s, as speeds were creeping up, as numbers of vehicles were growing and as road surfaces were improving. And I suspect that’s kind of when roadkill started to become a noticeable part of daily travel.
Sarah: And what was it that the Stoners saw along the roadside then?
Paul Donald: Well, the most extraordinary thing to me is that the commonest species they recorded by far was red-headed woodpecker, which is today really quite a rare species. And you wouldn’t necessarily think that woodpeckers would be the most frequently recorded roadkill. In fact, I think the second most frequently recorded species that they found was another species of woodpecker, the flicker. But woodpeckers clearly were—these species of woodpeckers were clearly feeding either on wooden posts along the roadside maybe, or they were trying to catch ants on the roadside or whatever it was. But anyway, those were the most frequently recorded species. Now I think you’d have to drive a very, very long way in the States now to see a roadkilled red-headed woodpecker, because they’re really quite a scarce species now. Now whether that’s because of roadkill or for other reasons, we don’t know.
Sarah: And that’s part of the problem, right, of looking at the way that roads have affected wildlife populations is that it’s a very complex set of variables and conditions. You talk a lot about the correlations between the spread of roads and the decline of various populations, but proving causation obviously is a whole other thing. But what’s interesting to me is that you very quickly move beyond the obvious gross phenomenon of roadkill to the more subtle and nuanced effects that traffic has on environment, and that roads have as they are built through the countryside. And really, I think the key part of your book is about noise.
Paul Donald: It’s not unsurprising that people aren’t really aware that traffic noise might be a problem to wildlife because most people aren’t aware of how serious a health problem it is to people. It’s a massively serious health problem. Road traffic noise probably kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year, and it’s nothing to do with the damage it does to your ears, it’s the fact that your body, your subconscious body, your subconscious mind detects traffic noise as a threat, and what it does is it squirts stress hormones into your bloodstream.
Paul Donald: People who live near roads suffer all sorts of health problems at much higher levels: cognitive performance, various forms of cancers, stress, cardiac diseases and so forth than people who live away from roads. It’s a massively strong effect, and there’s more and more papers being published every year that draw this link. There’s also a huge amount of recent research that draws a really strong link between the road traffic noise and all forms of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.
Paul Donald: Now wildlife senses roads in pretty much the same way—as a stressor. And the great majority of species—not all species, but the great majority of species are very adversely impacted by traffic noise to the extent that they will just abandon areas near roads. And this can happen at much lower levels of noise than damages ourselves. Certain birds, for example, can’t tolerate noise pollution louder than about 35 to 40 decibels, which is kind of what you’d hear in an average public library. And what this means is this kind of invisible pollutant is stripping wildlife for miles around even fairly minor roads. And I think this is probably not the only, but possibly the single most significant impact—certainly on vertebrates: mammals, birds and amphibians—of all of the many environmental problems that cars cause.
Sarah: And you talk about the effect on the heart rate of bears.
Paul Donald: Mmm! [laughs]
Paul Donald: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s also some really interesting ways that traffic noise influences things. So yes, people have attached heart monitors to bears, and they find that the bear’s heartbeats increase as they approach roads. Birds and frogs change the way they sing. Birds and frogs that are able to survive near roads raise the pitch of their voice—they start shouting. But what that means is that the quality of the song that they’re giving is reduced, so they may be trying to make themselves heard over the clamor of noise, but the song that they produce is having less effect. It’s having less attractive effects on the females that they’re trying to attract, and less of a deterrent effect on the rival males that they’re trying to threaten. So there’s all sorts of ways that we’re only really just discovering in the last 10 or 20 years that road traffic noise can fundamentally undermine a whole range of ecological processes.
Sarah: The shouting of the birds. You know, it’s interesting because I live here in the center of New York City, and one of the most common birds that we have is the house sparrow. And they have such a piercing cheep.
Sarah: And I’ve thought about that. Oh my God, it’s shouting to be heard. I’ve thought well, maybe one of the reasons sparrows are so successful is that their song is this just laserlike cheep that just drills into your ear.
Paul Donald: That’s absolutely the case. There’s been quite a lot of research that shows that species of birds that are able to raise the pitch and volume of their songs in the presence of road traffic do better on average than species that can’t. The species that can’t just tend to disappear. They’re just kind of effectively wiped out of the area.
Sarah: But during COVID, as you know, some researchers did some very interesting research to show how quickly that can change.
Paul Donald: Yeah, that’s right. Yes. Another species of sparrow, the white-crowned sparrow, there’s a very long—interesting, long-running study from San Francisco, and that’s shown that white-crowned sparrows nesting in San Francisco have much higher-pitched and louder songs than those nesting just over the Golden Gate Bridge in rural Marin County. And these aren’t just sort of little subtle differences that you can only tell by recording them and plotting them out on a piece of paper. They sound incredibly different, even to the human ear. You would know whether it was an urban sparrow or a rural sparrow.
Paul Donald: But what happened during the COVID lockdowns—and it’s really interesting, a study that’s led by a scientist called Elizabeth Derryberry—they found that the urban sparrows, as soon as the traffic volume dropped on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge in urban San Francisco, the sparrows there immediately reverted to their natural song. They started singing exactly the same as the birds in rural Marin County. So clearly, they don’t want to be singing this high-pitched shouting song, they want to be singing their natural song.
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Sarah: You get into all the different strategies that wildlife use to cope with roads. You say there are four categories: the blind crossers, the pausers, the speeders and the avoiders. And each one of those has its disadvantages and advantages, but none of them is free of significant cost. So let’s talk a little bit about blind crossers, because I think that here is where some of the most invisible toll is taken, and things that we’ve seen—declines in insect populations, amphibian populations, that have potentially catastrophic repercussions for ecosystems are happening under the surface. And I think you make a pretty good argument that a big part of the reason that all these insects are gone from our ecosystem could be roads.
Paul Donald: Yeah, I’m absolutely certain it is. So blind crossers are animals that kind of don’t appear to see roads at all. They just fly or slither or run or walk or whatever across them as if they weren’t there. They have no instinctive avoidance strategy. They don’t sense roads as a danger. And I think quite a lot of insects fall into that category. And it’s certainly the case that there is evidence that the number of insects that we encounter on roads, thinking particularly about the ones you scrape off your windshield, has dropped massively.
Paul Donald: Now whether it’s a bit like what we were talking about before with the red-headed woodpecker, whether those numbers have declined because of collisions with cars, or whether the cars are just monitoring a decline that’s been caused by something else, we don’t know. But there is a growing body of evidence that suggests for insects, you know, the fundamental building blocks of most of our ecosystems, that ozone pollution, much of which comes from cars, could be a massive, massive problem, wiping out insect populations over huge areas.
Paul Donald: This issue about how animals cross roads is a really interesting one, I think. So you have the blind crossers which just kind of blunder across. You have the pausers, the ones that sort of maybe stop at the side of the road and wait ’til they think it’s safe and then keep moving. You have the speeders, which when they get to a road, they just kind of get across it as quickly as possible and, you know, they get hit or they don’t get hit. And then you get the avoiders. These are the things that won’t cross roads at any time, and I suspect that when we know a little bit more about how different animals respond we’ll find that the avoiders comprise the majority of species, that most animals are probably avoiders, particularly when it comes to bigger, wider, busier roads.
Paul Donald: And you might think, “Well, that makes them kind of safe. If they’re not gonna cross the road then they’re not gonna get flattened.” But in fact, they may be the worst-affected group because what’s happening if you can’t cross a road, you’re kind of locked into an island. You’re surrounded on all sides by tarmac. And we know that that has profound implications on the survival probability of the population that’s trapped in these little tarmac world islands. I mean, millions and millions of these islands. We’ve completely cookie cut our countryside to pieces, to tiny pieces with roads. And if you’re a snail that can’t possibly cross a road any time, even the smallest country road, you no longer have one population in a country, you have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of tiny little isolated populations. And there’s all sorts of problems that that brings, not least how they respond to climate change.
Sarah: And the genetic diversity is really dramatically affected, and that obviously in most cases, I would imagine, reduces the viability of a given species in a given environment.
Paul Donald: Completely. Absolutely it does. There’s a lot of evidence showing that it can happen very quickly, that populations of animals that are sort of separated by a major road, they start to do two things. They start to drift apart genetically, so the populations on each side become less similar to each other genetically, but what also happens is they become less diverse internally, so there’s less variation within each population. And we know that a loss of genetic variation within populations is a major prediction of how likely that population is to survive, particularly how well it can cope with novel threats.
Sarah: And there’s a really striking example that you give in the book. You talk about cliff swallows, and the way that their wings have evolved in one region, and it shows how animals are actively evolving in their struggle to survive these conditions. Maybe—maybe you could explain that cliff swallow research.
Paul Donald: That’s a really interesting story. So this was a long-term study of cliff swallows, I think in Nebraska, although don’t quote me on that. And the researchers, they’re a husband and wife team called the Browns, notice that the creation of a whole lot of new roads in the area or this spread of roads offered these birds quite a good opportunity. As the name implies, they’re kind of associated with rock faces, and road bridges and culverts under roads and so forth offer them a nesting opportunity. So a lot of these birds have moved into these areas. But what that, of course, does is it brings them into close contact with traffic during the breeding season and a lot of them get killed.
Paul Donald: The fascinating thing is that what the Browns did right from the start of their studies, they collected all the dead birds they found on the road and measured them. And they were measuring all the live birds in the population at the same time. And what they found was that it was the longer-winged birds that were more vulnerable to being roadkilled than the shorter-winged birds. And the reason they proposed for this is that we know that in birds, having a short, rounded wing is correlated with agility. So hawks, which hunt birds through kind of stealth and ambush, have short, rounded wings because it makes them very, very maneuverable. But what the Browns found was that they—it was the longer winged birds, the less maneuverable birds that were being preferentially killed on the roads, and that over time, the average wing length of the entire population shrank. So this is kind of Darwinian natural selection in action over a few decades, driven by the extremely potent force of roadkill.
Sarah: You quote British historian and journalist Bryan Appleyard. He talks about the vehicle being the Anthropocene’s battering ram.
Paul Donald: You could say that this issue of car traffic has kind of happened quickly in the sense that if you were to go back just a hundred years, which is a kind of blink of an eye, there would be almost no cars on the road. Or you could argue that it’s happened very slowly because it’s only increased by one or two percent each year. In our human terms, we see the latter. We experience the latter, and so we barely notice the change. We don’t realize that the number of vehicle miles on our roads has more than doubled in the last 30 years. There’s an interesting kind of blindness to this. Now the reason I called the book Traffication, which is a bit of a contrived word, is that there actually isn’t any word in our language that describes the phenomenon. There’s no single simple term that describes the growth in vehicle numbers, the growth in vehicle speeds, the growth in the length and the width of our road networks, the extent to which road vehicles permeate our lives. There isn’t a word for it. It’s one of the biggest changes in human society ever, and we haven’t got a word for it. And I think that partly explains this road blindness that we have, because if you haven’t got a word for a problem, how can you even start to talk about it?
Sarah: You raised the analogy, as many people do, of smoking, and how they are passive victims. But in the case of traffication, it’s harder to see that when it’s just happening all the time. It’s not a cloud of smoke that blows into your face, it’s the air that you live in and breathe with every breath, every day.
Paul Donald: The issue of passive driving is quite an interesting one, because you’re right that we kind of are all victims to this, but the ones who are the biggest victims, if you like, are the people who don’t drive because they’re paying the penalty without getting any of the benefits. And there is quite a lot of research now that shows that the risks of passive driving actually fall most on those sectors of society that have the lowest per capita car ownership rates. So property—because of the effects of noise and pollution, nobody wants to live near busy roads, so property prices tend to be low, so it tends to be less-affluent people who move into those areas, who are less able to afford a car and have lower rates of car ownership. They’re the ones picking up the health tab for those of us who drive big cars and live in nice rural areas.
Sarah: Right. That’s the way in which, I guess you could say, the market is reflecting the reality that we don’t want to admit that the places where we allow cars to run unchecked are terrible places that we know that we don’t want to be, we don’t want to live. And the market reflects that, but we don’t want to admit it in other ways.
Paul Donald: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. And of course, traffication is backed by very powerful political and economic forces—the oil industry, clearly. The motor industry. It’s a little bit like the cigarette companies put up a long sort of fighting retreat once the evidence became incontrovertible that smoking causes a whole range of illnesses. It took many, many years for smoking—well, it’s clearly not still banned, but it’s much more restricted than it used to be. And if you take the case of leaded petrol, for example, people knew when leaded petrol was first put on the market in the 1920s, people have known for centuries that lead is incredibly toxic, and yet it still took 60 years before the first country, which was Japan, banned its use. So these are very powerful market forces that are pushing this pollution on us.
Sarah: When we talk about climate change, we often talk about the effects on different animals, and the whole idea of charismatic fauna—that a polar bear is something that people can get excited about, can get sad about, can relate to in some way. And even the plight of such charismatic fauna as polar bears or human beings is not enough to stop the forces of traffication. How could a moth or a snail or a salamander possibly get enough interest from people when we can’t even be moved by the fact that human beings are being killed? [laughs]
Paul Donald: Yeah, that’s true. And I think the mood is changing. I think that traffication has a way to go yet, but I think that public opinion is starting to move, particularly in the cities. So we see now a lot of areas where people are trying to detrafficate—even though they’re not using that word—cities for all sorts of reasons, for road safety reasons, for health reasons, for aesthetic reasons, for visual reasons and so forth. So the tide is starting to turn against the car, in cities at least. What just really surprises me is that the conservationists seem to be the only ones who are not at this detraffication party. So you have all these, you know, mums for lungs, sustainable—sustrans, sustainable transport, transport and environment, quiet parks, dark skies movements, all pushing to curb the environmental impacts of traffication, but not the conservation organizations. And that’s seems like it’s such a wasted opportunity to me that the conservationists could be pushing at the door with a whole load of new supporters and allies, pushing at a door that’s already half open.
Sarah: My guess is that a lot of people—in the United States, anyway—who are associated with the major conservation organizations live lives in which they use their cars daily, and they often use their cars to go to exactly the places that they say they want to conserve. But if you think about traffication fully, you’ll realize that by going to that place in your car, you are part of the problem. And maybe that’s just too much for people to hold in their mind. They can understand that it—that cars are bad in cities, but I keep a car in the city so that I can go out to the countryside and experience the beauty of nature. And for them to think as I drive down that country road, I’m destroying an ecosystem with every inch that I travel, [laughs] is that just too much for people to think about?
Paul Donald: Yes, I think it’s an interesting one. I mean, it’s a bit of a dilemma because conservationists know that people need to experience wildlife for them to feel moved to protect it. So in a sense, you could argue that the car is a great thing because it gets people out into nature so they can appreciate it more, so they’re more likely to want to do something to protect it. But you’re right that every trip is another tiny nail in the coffin of the environment. And it’s very difficult to know where to draw the line, really. And, you know, I come back to the point I made earlier that insofar as I make any recommendations in this book, I’m trying just simply to present the facts, not to present an agenda, the book is not a polemic against the car. It’s a call that we recognize the problems for wildlife and for the environment that our driving causes, and seek to moderate them as much as we possibly can. And there are many things we can do that most drivers won’t even notice, let alone care about.
Sarah: There were times when I put down this book, I felt so dispirited, I felt so sad. I felt such grief, frankly, for the world that, within my lifetime, has been increasingly drowned out and obliterated by traffication. But you do come to some thoughts about how to cope with it in the end. You know, you didn’t say we need to unbuild these roads that have cookie cuttered the English countryside into tiny islands that are unsustainable. You didn’t go that far. [laughs]
Paul Donald: Hmm.
Sarah: But you did have some concrete recommendations. The thing that you said that really moved me is you said: the right to drive is secondary to a right not to be harmed by the driving of others.
Paul Donald: Mm-hmm.
Sarah: And maybe that’s sort of the foundation of how to go forward. But talk about what you do see as potential—if not solutions, at least mitigations of this catastrophic situation.
Paul Donald: I think there are loads of things that can be done. A point that I repeat throughout the book—perhaps to ad nauseam some readers might think, but—is this simple truth about the environmental impacts of traffication, which is that pretty much all the damage you cause by driving: roadkill, noise pollution, light pollution, exhaust pollution, particulate pollution, fragmentation, all those problems, pretty much all of those problems increase exponentially with vehicle speed. And I think that the simplest thing, the best way to start reducing the problems of traffication is to keep a lid on vehicle speed.
Paul Donald: And people will say, “Oh, we can’t go tootling around at 20 miles an hour like we did in the 1920s.” But actually, computer models show that if we did start tootling around at 20 miles an hour like we did in the 1920s, in cities at least, our journey times would fall because most of the journey time is congestion caused by people going more than 20 miles an hour, braking and so forth. So there are simple solutions, and 20-mile-an-hour zones are becoming more and more frequent. I don’t think we need draconian measures like giving people a ration of miles they can use each year or anything like that. I just think we need to rebalance the world a bit.
Paul Donald: For example, if a road passes through a particularly sensitive national park or nature reserve, reduce speeds. And it doesn’t need to be all year ’round. The value of those parks may be seasonal. It may be that, you know, they’re important for their nesting birds, in which case you only need to take measures during the breeding season of those nesting birds. There’s lots of smart ways we can reduce our driving such that it wouldn’t really impact on people so much, but could reduce by a high proportion all the damage that we’re causing. And I’m sure there’ll be those out there who will say reducing car use is a Luddite technophobe sort of backward-looking thing. It’s the exact opposite. It’s using the latest technology in the smartest possible ways. It’s seeing the combustion of Jurassic plant life in a combustion chamber invented by Victorians not as an icon of modernity, but as a tarnished anachronism. And that’s where we need to start, I think.
Sarah: That’s it for this episode of The War on Cars. Thanks so much for listening, and thanks to our Patreon supporters for making this podcast possible. If you want to support The War on Cars, go to TheWaronCars.org, Click “Support Us” and enlist today. Starting at just $3 a month, you’ll get access to exclusive bonus content, ad-free episodes and we’ll send you stickers.
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Sarah: This episode was produced and edited by me. Our theme music is by Nathaniel Goodyear. I’m Sarah Goodyear, and on behalf of my co-hosts, Doug Gordon and Aaron Naparstek, this is The War on Cars.
[ice cream truck driving past, drowning out birds]