More people live and work in cities than ever before in the history of humanity, as a result the transportation pressures on these urban centres as equally increased. In North America, the last century focused on making cities for cars instead of for people and as more population density increases in cities the urban design can’t keep pace. Making cities for cars has led to a really problematic situation. We know the future of cities is in human-scale design instead of car-scale design and the transition has been hard. In the USA cyclist fatalities have increased by 25% and pedestrian deaths by 45% since 2010.
The solution for safer cities exists and places are already implementing better design practices. You can make an impact today by getting rid of your car or just driving less.
Strategies vary from one city to another. Boston, for example, has reduced the city speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 mph. Washington, D.C. is improving 36 intersections that pose threats to pedestrians and enacting more bicycle-friendly policies. These cities still have far to go, but they are moving in the right direction.
There are many more options. Manufacturers can make vehicles less threatening to pedestrians and bicyclists by reducing the height of front bumpers. And cities can make streets safer with a combination of speed limit reductions, traffic calming measures, “road diets” for neighborhoods that limit traffic speed and volume, and better education for all road users.
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.
The video above The Guardian explores the costs of subsidizing cars in cities and looks at alternatives to car-focussed design. In the UK Nottingham raised the price of parking to reflect the actual land costs. They then took that increased revenue to spend it on public transportation, which is a more effect way to move people in urban spaces. Which brings us to an important aspect of the video: argue for more efficient transit instead of arguing against the car. Car drivers get really defensive when you tell them they are traffic. It also turns out that in Nottingham the cost of parking didn’t negatively impact business at all.
Having multiple forms of transportation improves how people navigate the world. When people are provided with mobility options they will more likely leave behind a car. It turns out that not only is that good for people it’s also good for the finances of cities. If you’re sick of high taxes then start electing politicians that want to get rid of monolithic car culture.
Investing in walkable cities, whether through allocating funds to repaint pedestrian walkways or building affordable housing close to downtowns, also attracts diverse populations and creates jobs. According to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, 63 percent of millennials and 42 percent of boomers would like to live in a place where they don’t need a car. And according to the National Association of Realtors, 62 percent of millennials prefer to live in a walkable community where a car is optional. If cities seem less automobile-dependent, chances are they are more appealing to a range of ages.
Walking also costs the city very little, unlike cars and even public transit. According to Speck’s book, if a resident takes a bus ride, it may cost them $1 but costs the city $1.50 in bus operation. If a resident decides to drive, it costs the city $9.20 in services like policing and ambulances. When a resident walks, the cost to the city is a penny.
The urban heating effect is a very real threat to how we cool our cities. The concentration of cement and machinery generates and stores a lot of heat that natural systems can’t see cool. Unless we purposefully design our cities to incorporate natural cooling techniques. The video above explores three ways that cities can start to cool their local environments.