'You can’t just ‘stop traffic’. Traffic is all of us, conducting our lives'

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By Douglas Kruger

Ever argued back with your car radio?

Last week, we were told about a study that found Jersey air quality to be dangerous.

I care about clean air as much as the next Islander. We were even given a reasonable suggestion: Turn off your engine if you are idling outside a school. Got it. Will do.

Yet several things about that feature bothered me.

For starters, I’m not convinced that the premise is true, and here’s why: I’ve lived in the perpetual dustbowl that is Johannesburg; a landlocked city not built along any riverway. Johannesburg is surrounded by a ridge that renders it a geographic depression, and it is one of the least windy cities on the planet. Nearly six million of its residents live in near poverty and burn wood for warmth. I’m familiar with poor air.

Now, however, I live in a small island, surrounded by strong ocean breezes and regular rain. Much of it is covered in foliage, and the footprint of our city is comparatively small. If air pollution is an issue here – even a ‘danger’ – I’m going to need more convincing.

There are reasons for my suspicion.

We are told that an attempt was made to measure the problem, but that the results were inconclusive. Forgive my cynicism, but is this government-speak for: ‘We couldn’t get the scary outcomes we wanted’?

I generally trust our government – we’re blessed with a good one – yet there is a documented trend among Western nations to chase ever smaller scare-metrics, catastrophising over progressively pettier issues. As we become safer, ironically, our discourse over trivialities also grows increasingly hysterical. Also, I’m old enough to remember: ‘Died with Covid,’ as opposed to ‘of it’.

Let’s go on. On the one hand, we are assured that we have dangerous levels of air pollution. On the other, we know that these findings were explicitly not based on local measurements. This renders the real-time index published online by World Air Quality Index incredibly suspicious. (By the way, their site also advises: ‘For very useful health advices of Beijing Doctor Richard Saint Cyr MD, check myhealthbeijing.com blog.’).

So, if not by sensors, how were these findings arrived at? I’m going to take a stab in the dark: they were made in the abstract.

Correct me if I’m wrong. But I think they were achieved by a committee sitting in an office. Their formula went something like this: ‘Jersey has x number of cars, over x amount of land. Therefore, Jersey must be a pollution hotspot.’ If you happen to live in a landlocked European city – or Johannesburg – that approach may even work. But in the context of our windswept island?

Actually, that’s not even the part that had me arguing with my radio. It was the glib suggestion that, to solve the problem, we must ‘stop traffic’.

I imagine it must be fun to sit in a government office and make plans. It’s all so abstract and detached.

‘Traffic’ is not real. It’s just a nuisance word, which can be erased at will with no cost. You just ‘stop’ it.

Yet venture into reality, and one quickly discovers that traffic is us. And the costs of stopping us conducting our lives are very real. Have we learned nothing from shutting down the world economy for two years? Cost-of-living crisis, anyone?

Traffic, it turns out, is a mum trying to get her child to a doctor’s appointment. A young man going to a job interview. The delivery of groceries to a store, and then a granny buying those groceries. To conceive of it as just some pesky abstraction that can be decreed away shows a phenomenal detachment from reality. It’s weirdly anti-human.

So, then, on a practical level, where do we go from here?

I propose we begin with the truth. Do we genuinely have a problem? Let’s not air fixes before we’ve proven the danger to be real. And I’m not buying a real-time source published out of Beijing, when we ourselves couldn’t replicate it.

If legitimate measurements indicate we are in great peril, so be it. But if they indicate that levels are acceptable, for pity’s sake, let it go.

There is no moral imperative to continually chase scare-metrics. And it hurts people. You know how our youth suffer from poor mental health and continually believe the world is crumbling to oblivion around them? Well, say this sentence out loud, and say it over the radio: ‘The air you breathe each day is dangerous.’ Think there might be a link?

Next, when evaluating standards of good or bad, may I propose choosing a more credible authority?

Jersey’s air was deemed ‘dangerous’, but according to whose standards? The World Health Organisation.

This, as you’ll recall, is the same bunch who for decades had best-practice protocols in place to deal with the possibility of a global pandemic… then immediately abandoned those protocols to follow the untested, radical, and ultimately counterproductive lockdowns recommended by the Communist government of China, the same group currently demanding ideological purity and actively ethnically cleansing their own population. Them. They’re the ones arbitrating what is ‘good for us’.

I propose that any arbiter of medical issues should be based in Jersey. And we should trust only one who is explicitly aware of the Johns Hopkins meta-study, which found that lockdowns did little to no good medically, but much harm socially. Then we’ll know we’re dealing with honest players.

And what if, after all that, the air genuinely is harmful? Well, then offer us a different solution. Stopping traffic is untenable. It’s arrogant. Come back with better ideas.

I’ll spot you the first two:

One: There are currently no school buses servicing the three kilometres between my home and my child’s school. There is no underground train or overground rail system. Fix that and scores of cars disappear from the morning run.

Two: Improved traffic flow equals less time spent idling. Solving that should be the real goal.

When I leave my building in the morning (and begin arguing with the radio), it takes ten minutes’ slow idling just to circle my own complex, before I even start heading in the right direction. And if you come into town from St Brelade, how long do you idle on that inadequate single lane heading East? Additional lanes can be built below, above, or sweeping out to sea, and they can be done with an eye for beauty. I don’t for one second believe we are incapable of it.

There are global experts who specialise in solving congestion. Get them in. Get traffic flowing. Reduce the total time cars run each morning from 30 minutes to five. That’s good for the air and good for people.

But merely ‘stop traffic’? I have a response for that. And it’s the same one I aimed at my radio.

  • Douglas Kruger is the author of 12 non-fiction books and one novel. He is an award-winning speaker and holds a degree in Philosophy. Meet him at douglaskruger.com.

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