Berlin wants to support its local businesses by banning cars, and historically this has worked well for other cities. Cities the world over are converting streets built for cars into places that people can enjoy to help their local economies. Berlin joins in on this people-friendly trend and the results already look friendly. The city wants to go a step further and use some of the land cars suck up for relaxing areas for people – why park a car where you can just have a park?
This summer, the German capital has announced plans to pedestrianize some vital central streets starting in October. One experiment will ban cars from the main section of Friedrichstrasse, a long, store-filled thoroughfare that, before World War II, was considered the city’s main shopping street. Another will test daily closures on Tauentzienstrasse, another key retail street, with a view toward going permanently car-free in 2020.
At Tauentzienstrasse, the street is wide enough for a more radical makeover. If it’s fully closed for good, it could accommodate cafés and what Germans call “lying meadows”—lawns intended for lounging and sunbathing—in its median. Such changes probably make as much sense commercially as they do environmentally. While some stores may worry that restricted vehicle access could deter shoppers, in the age of online shopping, it pays to make the location of your store pleasant enough to lure people who simply want to hang out.
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 amount of people who want to drive to work is dropping while the people wanting to take transit is increasing. This is happening despite of 100 years of car-focused urban planing in North America. Companies are finding that if they want to attract smart and talented people then they need to locate themselves along transit lines and not highways. This is a very good sign for a future where getting around is more efficient than today’s selfish car culture.
So instead of having 97 percent of McDonald’s corporate employees commuting to work with each of them alone in a car, Malec says, “right now, we have I think around 90 percent of our folks are arriving in a nonautomobile fashion.”
Chicago isn’t the only region experiencing this business boom along transit lines. From Seattle to St. Louis and Minneapolis to Atlanta, studies show that companies are relocating to be near transit lines, as they seek to attract workers, especially millennials, who prefer living in more urban areas and increasingly don’t want the long, driving commutes of their parents’ generation.
“Talent is choosing to ride transit,” says Audrey Wennink, director of transportation at Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council, a regional nonprofit research and advocacy organization on urban issues, and co-author of a new study indicating that more and more businesses want to be located close to rail and bus stations.
Oslo’s transition from car-focussed to people focussed transportation is well underway and is causing ripples around the world. Other cities are noting how the scandinavian city works with locals to get them out of their cars and onto the streets. Last year we saw how they started to ban cars downtown and it benefited everyone. Oslo is now full tilt into supporting bicycles by providing infrastructure to encourage cycling in hopes to get people out of cars and fully packed trams. If Oslo can support year-round cycling then there’s no reason other northern cities can’t do the same.
In addition to population pressures, environmental concerns are also driving the city’s newfound commitment to bikes. Norway may be famous for its pristine fjords and forests—it doesn’t take long for Aas and I ride to hit Oslo’s thick pine-tree edge as we ride along the water—but air quality in its cities can be remarkably poor, thanks to winter temperature inversions. According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, air pollution causes 185 premature deaths in Oslo alone each year. Transport accounts for more than 60 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Replacing more car trips with bikes would help clean that up, and in other cities too. This is why Norway is endeavoring nationally to reduce car use and fossil fuel consumption, with huge incentives for electric vehicles and a nearly $1 billion investment in bike highways around the country.
The video above demonstrates how communities can transition from an unhealthy, vehicle focused, urban design to a healthy pedestrian design. Regular readers of this site know that streets designed for people are better for communities by making cities healthier and economically more productive. Cars are an clunky way to move people in cities so much so Oslo is banning cars, and other cities are making similar efforts around improving transportation. We know what we need to do to reduce needless deaths at the hands of car drivers, all we need is the political will.
If you’re in Toronto today then you can meet at city hall at 5:45pm to call on local councillors to stop pedestrian deaths.