Orders of the Day — Traffic Congestion (Large Cities)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1959.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Humphrey Atkins Mr Humphrey Atkins , Merton and Morden 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

It is always pleasant to participate in a debate in which party feeling does not enter at all and in which everyone who contributes is trying to solve the problem without the differences of party feeling.

I am very glad to find myself in complete agreement with the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) about the three points which he put forward as being essential if we are to solve this difficult problem of traffic congestion in our large cities. A good part of the hon. Gentleman's speech was devoted to road construction and improvement. Of course, he is quite right to say that in many places improved roads are urgently needed. Thanks to my right hon. Friend, they are, of course, being provided.

I do not propose to spend any time on the provision of new roads and the improvement of existing ones, which is a long-term and costly business. I propose to deal with one or two immediate and less costly methods of solving the problem, and, like every other speaker so far this afternoon, I shall be talking about London because I live in London and represent a constituency on its outskirts. Indeed, I do not know very much about any other city.

In his speech my right hon. Friend said that we must make the best use of what we have got. Of course, that is absolutely correct. It is equally correct to say that we do not do so at the moment. Apparently there is still in this country the idea that the roads are there for anybody to use and that anyone can do whatever he likes with them. If people decide to leave a lump of machinery as big as a house in the middle of the road it is all right. It is not all right.

The object of a highway is to enable people to pass and repass on their lawful occasions, and that fact should be in the front of our minds when we are considering traffic congestion. There are still too many roads in our cities, and in London particularly, which have been provided with a carriageway 40 ft. wide on which the effective width for the passage and repassage of people is only about 24 ft. or less. Therefore, I very much welcome what the Government have done in the past two years about the problem of parking, and, in particular, I welcome the initiative which they have taken for the introduction of parking meter schemes.

As my right hon. Friend said, these schemes have proved successful and are now accepted by the public generally. It is interesting to note how the pattern in the experience of other cities abroad has been repeated in London. In whatever part of the world it has been suggested that parking meters should be introduced there has always been an enormous amount of opposition to the proposal and a great outcry raised about it, as was raised here. Then, almost at once, as soon as the scheme is in operation people realise what a good thing it is. Exactly the same kind of thing has happened here as happened everywhere where this system has been adopted as a new thing.

Both my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said they hoped that the introduction of new schemes would be speeded up. So do I, but I want to point out the danger in speeding them up too much. Meters make it easier for the short-term parker who wants to leave his car for up to two hours but more difficult for the long-term parker who wants to leave his car all day. That is a good thing because it helps to even the flow of traffic and discourages people arriving in the morning rush hour and leaving in the evening rush hour. It encourages people who want to come into the area in the middle of the day to see a dentist, or for a business appointment or for any other reason, but there must always be a large number of people who have to come in during the morning rush hour and have to go out in the evening rush hour.

If we push ahead too quickly with schemes which discourage those people from being able to park their cars and do not at the same time make provision for them to put their cars somewhere they will be forced to use public transport. That would not be a good thing because the public transport system in London is grossly overloaded at peak hours. I have had occasion before to call attention in the House to the appalling conditions on the Underground and the conditions under which my constituents travel daily to and from London. That is not improving very much. I am well aware that the figures published in the Report of the British Transport Commission show a reduction in the total number of passengers travelling, but in that Report the Commission says: A feature which these average figures do not reveal is the intensification of daily peak demands which is due to a worse distribution of passengers. Generally, a decline in off-peak traffics has been accompanied by an intensification in the daily peak. If we go too fast with these schemes and neglect proper provision for people to park their cars all day we shall add to the already difficult conditions in public transport at peak hours, and I do not think we ought to do that. My right hon. Friend said that at the moment the balance seems to be slightly the other way. There are garages available for all-day parking which are not full, but if we go too much the other way, and drive all-day parking off the streets without providing other places for people to leave their cars, we shall have great difficulty in the public transport services. The two developments must go hand in hand.

I wish to make four suggestions about an improvement in the flow of traffic and an improvement in the car parking situation generally. My first suggestion has been made already by everyone who has spoken in the debate, and no doubt will be referred to by every other hon. Member who takes part in it, because it is so well known. That is the provision of off-street parks, particularly directed to all-day parking. Short-term parking can be dealt with, but garages and car parks must be provided off the streets for the all-day parker.

My second suggestion is in line with that. It is not easy to find places in which to build garages. It is not easy to find more places for off-street car parks, but, at the same time, there is a lot of commercial building going on. As commercial buildings are erected I should like to see them provided with space for cars to be parked, probably underneath the buildings, so that those who work there can park their cars. It is obviously not possible to lay down a rule that a new commercial building must contain car-parking space, but I suggest that those seeking permission to erect such a building should be asked to show cause why parking provisions cannot be made.

Another point in connection with commercial buildings is that, as far as possible, they should all have what I might call an access bay where cars can draw up outside the building without remaining in the main stream of traffic. That would assist the general flow of traffic. I illustrate what I mean by referring to the office of my right hon. Friend which has such a bay outside in Berkeley Square where his motor car may wait for him and not obstruct the flow of traffic round the square. It would be a good thing to provide such a bay wherever possible for a new building.

The third point has already been made by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. There are many streets which at peak traffic hours are extremely busy, but which at other times are very much less busy. Some are affected by a "No Waiting" restriction notice, but that notice permits vehicles to stop for twenty minutes to load or to unload. So we have the state of affairs at the busiest times of the day in which vehicles are stopping to load and unload, and, as a result, the available width of the carriageway is reduced. I know that proposals have been put forward by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee to prevent this happening in a number of selected streets and there was a public inquiry at the beginning of last year. I think it was shown that the case for this restriction had not been proved in that instance. It seems to me that this should be kept very much in mind because there may be other cases where not such great hardship would be caused to the people with businesses and shops abutting on the streets, but where a considerable contribution could be made to the smooth flow of traffic.

My final suggestion concerns enforcement. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall spoke about this matter. It is quite useless for the Minister to make regulations, or for the House to pass Acts preventing people doing things without seeing that those things are not done. Everyone is familiar with the state of affairs in which there are "No Waiting "restrictions in streets, yet all down those streets, on both sides, cars are parked and three or four lorries are doubly parked. This morning on my way to a Committee I came through Albemarle Street, which, in my judgment, is wide enough for five cars abreast. There is unilateral parking there and cars were parked on both sides with lorries outside the rows of cars. In that street, which is wide enough for five cars abreast, there remained room for only one line of traffic. That is an absurd situation. We must do something drastic about it.

I do not blame the police for not taking stronger measures about that. There are too few of them and they have too much to do. I think it time that we gave serious consideration to the establishment of traffic constabulary, or traffic wardens, a force of men with limited duties and limited powers who would be charged with the duty of seeing that the traffic regulations—particularly the parking regulations—are complied with. I do not see any great objection to haying a force of men with limited responsibility like that. We have park keepers who have limited responsibility, and we have patrols at school crossings with limited powers. All those people do a good job.

In order to relieve the police we ought to consider very seriously the establishment of a body of men such as I have suggested. I do not think that recruitment would be difficult. The hours of work would be much easier than those of the police—the men would not need to be available for 24 hours a day. Nor would the physical standards be so severe. I have in mind a body of men similar to those who join, say, the Corps of Commissionaires. They could provide valuable help in putting an end to this abuse of the law.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the vigour of his approach and on all the work that he is doing. If he continues as he has started, and if he adopts these and other suggestions that will no doubt be put in the course of the debate, it should help to produce more order out of what, too often, is chaos.