Large Cities are Done with Cars

Good Street from Streetmix

North Americans love cars and that love is literally killing us, and I don’t mean through car exhaust I mean by directly killing people. Over 60 people were needlessly killed by drivers in Toronto in 2018. This is obviously the fault of careless driving, but it’s also the result of a hundred years of pro-car policies (this includes everything from subsidies to the oil industry to high speed limits), which cities outside of North America are reversing.

It’s clear to urban planners and people who live in cities that the age of the car is coming to an end. This is really good life-saving news! Over at Outside there’s a piece comparing New York to how other cities are leading the charge to a pro-person transportation network.

London
New Yorkers suffer from a bad case of exceptionalism; “This isn’t [insert lesser city here]!,” we cry whenever someone proposes a new idea. “That shit ain’t gonna fly in this town.” And yes, some of these other cities are somewhat diminutive compared to our mighty metropolis of over eight million people. But you can’t say that about London, a fellow global power that’s equally huge in population and cultural and commercial clout. Sure, they’ve got their car-addled road ragers just like we do, but they’ve also got cycling superhighways, motor-vehicle-congestion pricing, and soon, an ultra-low emission zone. Here in New York, the best we’ve come up with so far is “Gridlock Alert Days,” which is basically a handful of days a year we politely ask people not to drive.
Tokyo
In New York City, space is at a premium, and this is some of the most expensive real estate in the country—yet we give away much of our curb space for private vehicle storage. This glut of cars has a seriously negative impact on our quality of life. Yet if I owned fifteen cars I could park them all out on the street for free, and while some might say I was simply exercising my rights as an American, what it really makes me is an asshole. But in Tokyo (another gigantic global power city), you can’t even buy a car without showing proof that you’ve secured a parking space for it—and you can’t fake it either, because overnight parking is illegal.


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Oysters Are Saving New York’s Waters

ocean shore

There are many fans of oysters who eat them for their failure; however, I’m a fan of oysters because of what they eat. Back in 2011 we looked at the idea of using oysters to clean waters while harbouring other species – with the bonus impact that the oysters then get served at local restaurants. Since 2011 the concept has grown around New York City so much so that the oysters have basically saved the city from some effects of climate change. Go oysters!

Then, the oysters begin doing what oysters do — which, it turns out, is quite a lot. Oysters are natural water filters; each one cleans 30 to 50 gallons of water a day. They also provide food and shelter for all sorts of marine creatures, supporting biodiversity. “Oyster reefs provide great marine habitat, similar to coral reefs, with nooks and crannies to protect juvenile fish, and are active food for some species. They help to create a thriving ecosystem,” Wachtel says.

But the biggest draw for many coastal states such as New York, especially in an era of rising sea temperatures and eviscerating hurricanes, is that oysters can provide natural breakwaters. Oyster reefs can protect against a hurricane’s wave velocity, which can destroy a city’s infrastructure. The New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery has partnered with Billion Oyster Project to install oysters on its $74 million Living Breakwaters Project, which aims to reduce and reverse erosion and damage from storm waves, improve the ecosystem health of Raritan Bay and encourage environmentally conscious stewardship of nearshore waters.

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Providing Bike Lanes is Better than Providing Parking

In North America riding a bicycle in the cities built for cars can be stressful. Because these cities are designed for cars it’s hard to get anywhere quickly and New York witnessed this first hand. Instead of adding more vehicle lanes and continuing the problem they decided to remove parking and add bike lanes. As a result they saw fewer crashes on their streets while increasing economic activity. Plus, in New York the bike lanes allowed car traffic to floe better because the streets also permitted safer turning.

Here’s the description of the video above:

When Janette Sadik-Khan was hired as chief transportation official for New York City in 2007, she took a page out of Denmark’s playbook and created America’s first parking-protected bike lane, right in the middle of downtown Manhattan.

A parking protected bike lane created a buffer between the traffic of cars, trucks and buses and cyclists. But it also eliminated parking spots.

The protected lanes didn’t just make the streets safer for those on bikes; they also improved traffic flow for vehicles and spurred increased retail sales for businesses nearby.

Courts vs. Climate Change

books

New York City launched a lawsuit against some of the larger polluters on the planet to cover the costs the city faces due to climate change (projected to be over $20 billion USD). A decade ago this case would likely have been thrown out, today with the effects of climate change so overt this case stands a winning chance. There have also been a lot of other cases brought to courts around the world that have acted on issues surrounding climate change. The New Republic recently ran a great article outlining why courts are caring about the climate and what the law has done about it.

Some of these lawsuits have succeeded in other countries. In 2015, the Dutch government was forced to lower the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in response to a class action lawsuit from its citizens. A judge in Ireland recently ruled that citizens have a constitutional right to a safe climate and environment. And last month, a climate liability lawsuit against Germany’s largest power company was allowed to move forward. “Judicial decisions around the world show that many courts have the authority, and the willingness, to hold governments to account for climate change,” said Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. He cited a 2007 lawsuit that forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. “Similar litigation all over the world will continue to push governments and corporations to address the most pressing environmental challenge of our times.”

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In New York, Bikes Have Totally Victory Over the Car

NYC Streets Metamorphosis from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

New York City might be famous for its cabs, but in the future it might be famous for its bikes. The city has seen a big push for sustainable and fast transit in the last decade and everyone agrees: bike lanes are the solution. The city’s commitment to supporting bikes through infrastructure as made the streets faster, cleaner, safer, and more productive.

With luck, the cultural influence of New York will impact cities like Toronto (where ignoramuses claim all we need is more space for drivers) and other places where more bike lanes are needed.

We succeeded in building as many bike lanes after the bikelash as before it. The number of riders doubled from 2007 to 2013, representing a fourfold increase measured over a decade. We launched Citi Bike in the final months of our time in office. The system is in the process of doubling in size and has surpassed 25 million rides in less than three years, part of a quadrupling in bike ridership citywide since 2000. New York now has more than 1,000 miles of bike lanes, and Bicycling magazine named us the nation’s best biking city for the first time ever.

None of the bike-lane opponents’ predictions has come to pass. City streets have never been safer, more economically thriving, or offered more transportation options than they do today. My successor as Transportation commissioner is greatly expanding the network of bike paths and doubling the size of the city’s bike-share system.

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