Michael McCarthy: Car-free towns are impossible without railways

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The Independent Online

Vauban is what doctors speaking of disease in an improbable patient – TB in a wealthy European, say – sometimes refer to as an end-of-spectrum case. It shows what is unlikely, but possible – modern living minus the automobile – and it is thus at the other end of the spectrum from Los Angeles, where social existence is entirely predicated on having four wheels.

Does it prove we can live without the car? Yes and No. It shows it can be done in a tightly-knit, specifically urban community, where personal motor transport can be in effect "designed out", especially if there is a solid constituency of citizens with a strong commitment to environmental values, as has always been the case in Germany.

On a wider scale, actually doing without motor vehicles is much more problematic, especially in the countryside. For most rural communities in Britain, for example, the car is an absolute essential, not least as so many of them are hard if not impossible to reach by public transport. It is arguable that no greater environmental damage was done to the fabric of life in this country after the War than by the slashing of the national railway network recommended by Richard Beeching, the portly, self-satisfied industrialist whose 1963 report led to the closure of thousands of rural stations and hundreds of branch lines, leaving myriad British villages and small towns ultimately car-dependent.