Monday, 26 March 2012

A Streetcar Named Desire

For me one of the key aspects that make city live-able and a place that exists as a home and cultural and social space rather than just a location is the ease of travel to and around the conurbation.  In Nottingham we're very lucky to have one of the few municipally owned bus companies still in existence (NCT) along with a tram system, currently being extended with two new lines.  This has resulted in the City being voted the best for public transport and the bus service being similar recognised many times.  I'm a passionate advocate of public transport, walking and cycling and try to avoid using the car wherever possible.  In fact I didn't learn to drive until I was nearly 25 but then I didn't need to having grown up in London and then been to University in York - two places where it's better not to have a car at all.

One reason for a company to locate in or remain in a city is the ease by which their goods can reach or leave their location and how easy it is for their staff to get to the workplace.  But more important to me is how this "transport experience" feels for the people who live and work there.  Lots of my colleagues at work commute by car for an hour or more (I used to have a boss who drove from Kidderminster every day to Nottingham - the thick end of 90mins each way) which I find totally abhorrent - I love the fact that I can ride my bike and it takes me about 30mins to do the journey - great exercise integrated into my day, cheap and better for the environment.  In fact on the rare days that I have to drive I often find that it takes longer than biking or getting the bus. 

I'm in two minds about how to approach the transport issue if I do go to America.  I'd be reticent to hire a car unless totally unavoidable - I really want to experience the Greyhound and Amtrak systems firsthand (more on which in another post) but at the same time I recognise that the majority of people in the cities that I am likely to visit are going to be large users of their cars so I should try to replicate this as much as possible.  

I'm really intrigued by the data to be found at Walk Score - just the sort of geeky stats and social anthropology that turns me on!  And I see that we've now got some UK data too here.  I'm not sure how useful some of that data is as my street is classified as only average walkability when I know that you can (for example) walk and buy all the ingredients for a top-notch Sunday roast (mainly courtesy of J T Beedham).  On the American site I like the contrast between Portland and Jacksonville.  I was interested to see that Los Angeles has a rating of 'Somewhat Walkable' - my perception of those huge highways in permanent gridlock where no-one walks obviously aren't quite accurate. 

Fundamentally: how easy it is to get around, get to work and to socialise without a car are a key determinant for me of where I chose to live and work.  I'll be interested to see if this is the same in any of the places I hope to visit. 

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