New Internationalist

How To Counter The Car Culture.

Issue 195

new internationalist
issue 195 - May 1989

Back to the garage:
How to counter the car culture.

Cut the car space

Illustration: Korky Paul In some cities, streets have been closed to cars. In Florence, Italy, the heart of the city has been turned into a pedestrian mall from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm. In Holland, streets have been redesigned so that all users get equal shares. Cars aren't banned but they are slowed down and made to integrate with other users, so life is safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Another method is to cut down on parking spaces. There is usually a direct relationship between the number of parking spaces and the dominance of the car. So US cities like Phoenix, which are very car-dependent, have five times more parking spaces than European cities like Vienna and Brussels which are much less controlled by the car. Certain cities have two-tier parking charges with cheaper rates for those who want to shop for a few hours - and crushing rates for those who drive to work and park for the day.


Boost the bike

Illustration: Korky Paul Bicycles are enjoying a revival in the West - and no wonder. They are efficient, cheap and quick - especially in car-clogged inner cities. Europe has led the way: the Netherlands has 9,000 miles of bicycle paths. Cities in North America and Australasia are following suit. Ottawa has a series of connected bike paths that allow civil servants to avoid cars while pedalling safely to work. In Fremantle, Western Australia a new network of safe cycling routes increased the number of cyclists by 12 per cent in one year.

Linking bike use to public transport can reduce pollution and save energy. A 1980 Chicago Area Transportation Study found that the average bike-and-ride commuter could save around two gallons of fuel a day. Bike-and-ride is so popular in Japan that train stations are jammed with bikes. Demand for bike-parking is growing by 20 per cent a year. In the city of Kasukabe, cranes are use to park as many as 1,500 bicycles in a 1 2-storey parking garage.


Stop the sprawl

Illustration: Korky Paul We need to bring jobs and people together to reduce the need for long-distance commuting. This is no easy task since suburbs are well established in most Western countries and development continues to spread out from the periphery - often onto valuable food-producing land. One way is to tighten zoning regulations to restrict the sprawling suburbs. Cities like Toronto are forcing private developers to build low-cost, inner-city housing in return for commercial building rights. Another approach is to force homes to be built closer to public transport.


Rescue the rickshaw

Illustration: Korky Paul Many Third World governments equate cars with progress and development - and treat pedal-power with disdain. In Bangladesh's capital Dhaka, the city Government says pedicabs are unsafe and is banning them from the city, even though more than 100,000 people earn a living from them.

Groups like the Canadian agency, Inter Pares, believe such vehicles should be encouraged. In Bangladesh, for example, some five million people work in the rickshaw industry. But the traditional rickshaws are an engineering disaster: built for six-foot Europeans instead of the average five-foot Bangladeshis. So Inter-Pares has supported a redesign. The result is a 'tric-shaw', which is much easier to drive, steer and brake. A credit fund provides cheap loans to organized groups of landless peasants to buy the rickshaws. The co-operatives supported by Inter Pares now produce 500 'tric-shaws' yearly.


Educate car-owners

Illustration: Korky Paul Automobile associations usually act as pressure groups on behalf of car-owners. But they could be much more useful if they also helped educate their members. In Switzerland, for example, the Association Suisse des Transports (AST) offers all the usual breakdown and insurance services to motorists. But half the club's 70,000 members are cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users. Cyclists can get Europe-wide accident insurance. And non-car-drivers can get insurance to cover legal costs if they are accident victims.

'We favour people over any particular form of transport,' says staffer Bruno Pernet. AST lobbies strongly on behalf of pedestrians and stresses that cars should be used sparingly and in combination with other forms of transport. Bicycles, which AST calls 'silent, non-polluting, cheap and healthy' are at the top of the list. The group is also a strong advocate of public transport, especially railways which it calls 'quick, comfortable and better for the environment than the car'.


Make drivers pay

Illustration: Korky Paul The more it costs, the less people will drive. Hong Kong, for example, penalizes drivers who use the centre of the city, A computer-based system tracks car movements into the downtown core. About 5,000 cars (mostly Government-owned) are billed monthly according to when, and how often, they venture into congested areas. Charges vary with time and location - it's cheaper to drive down a main street at 3:00 am than during morning rush hour. Hong Kong has the highest vehicle density in the world at 280 vehicles per kilometre of road.

Singapore penalizes the solitary driver. Drivers of cars with fewer than four people pay a monthly fee of $50 if they enter the city during the morning rush hour. Since the system was introduced in 1975, downtown traffic speeds have increased by 20 per cent and accidents have fallen by 25 per cent.


Suburbs to cities

Illustration: Korky Paul How do we deal with the vast suburbs which already exist - particularly in North America? There are lots of exciting ideas around - including turning suburban shopping malls into city centres, Parking lots can be filled in with shops and homes and bus routes can be created to and from the new 'centre', In the US, some designers have already built new towns based on old-fashioned principles. The architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Syberk have designed nine new towns across the US using a traditional grid pattern with shops, offices and homes spreading out from a commercial town centre. The more compact the development the less cars are needed to get around.


Support public transport

Illustration: Korky Paul People often drive cars because public transport won't do the job. This is generally because it has been systematically underfunded and underdeveloped. Car ownership, by contrast, has been promoted heavily by the automobile and oil companies and the necessary infrastructure (parking facilities, expressways, bridges, interchanges) have been heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Drivers in the US receive an estimated $300 billion a year in Government subsidies for road repair, policing and health services.

People will use public transport if it is quick, convenient, reliable and affordable. Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago was a city on the skids. Then, under pressure from the Citizens for Better Transit lobby group, plans to build a proposed new freeway were scrapped. Instead the city passed a $450 million plan to upgrade its ageing bus fleet and build a light rapid transit railway. Downtown traffic has dropped dramatically and new development has sprung up along the rail route.

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