The future is 15 minutes away and it’s high time we get there. With the climate crisis in full swing we need to rethink unsustainable lifestyles and restructure unsustainable urban design into sustainable living. The concept of the 15 minutes city has gained popularity and captures the core idea of what we need to do. Even if we don’t build 15 minute cities it is abundantly clear that we need to move away from low density high energy suburban development. In the car-dominated USA they are looking into ways to increase livability of communities by decreasing car dependency.
Some proponents of new urban developments imagine a future where cars are obsolete. It is just as feasible, however, to implement city designs that allow for vehicle use without becoming dependent on it. In Utah, plans for a new 15-minute-city include 40,000 parking spots, all inside or underground, out of view from pedestrians. This leaves space available for wider paths, outdoor dining, and greenways that enhance community. Without having to make space for cars, all city amenities are within close proximity and enjoyable to walk between.
Federal legislation is also contributing to a growing acceptance of alternatives to car-centric transportation systems. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee highway bill increases pedestrian safety provisions and increases funding to bike sharing and mass transit. Unfortunately, it falls short of addressing the heart of the issue (cars). In fact, it grants $220 billion to highway development programs. It also fails to include any provisions for metro system carbon emission targets.
Japan’s well respected car industry sells cars the world over, but at home it’s a different story. Car ownership is low in Japan for obvious reasons like having a good public transit system and high speed trains for intercity travel. In the capital city of Tokyo car ownership is amongst the lowest in the world thanks to the cost of owning a car itself. Tokyo’s lack of cars all comes down to refusing to buckle to the influence of large automobile companies.
Yet the much bigger reason for Tokyo’s high quality of life is that Japan does not subsidize car ownership in the way other countries do. In fact, owning a car in Tokyo is rather difficult. For one thing, cars are far more enthusiastically inspected than in America or most of Europe. Cars must be checked by officials every two years to ensure that they are still compliant, and have not been modified. That is true in Britain too, but the cost is higher than what a Ministry of Transport test costs. Even a well-maintained car can cost 100,000 yen to inspect (or around $850). On cars that are older than 10 years, the fees escalate dramatically, which helps to explain why so many Japanese sell their cars relatively quickly, and so many of them end up in East Africa or Southeast Asia. On top of that there is an annual automobile tax of up to 50,000 yen, as well as a 5 percent tax on the purchase. And then gasoline is taxed too, meaning it costs around 160 yen per liter, or about $6 a gallon, less than in much of Europe, but more than Americans accept. Read more.
Drivers know all too well that parking lots are hot, uncomfortable, and are never the right size. In France larger parking lots will now require shading in the form of solar panels, making the large swaths of asphalt a little more comfortable. The solar panels are projected to provide the equivalent of 10 nuclear power plants.
Imagine if a law like this was passed in North America – we wouldn’t need any other source of energy!
Starting July 1, 2023, smaller carparks that have between 80 and 400 spaces will have five years to be in compliance with the new measures. Carparks with more than 400 spaces have a shorter timeline: They will need to comply with the new measures within three years of this date, and at least half of the surface area of the parking lot will need to be covered in solar panels.
It’s clear to anyone who has to buy a car because they live in low-density suburban communities that cars are expensive and kill the environment (and people). This awareness of the dangers of the automobile is growing and people are turning to e-bikes. Anecdotally we see places which have encouraged bicycling have cleaner air, healthier people, and that riders of the bikes use their cars way less.
Researchers decided to take a look to see if this is true. And it sure it! A meta analysis reveals that pedal assisted e-bikes (PAEB) are wonderful and your life will be better if you get one (and ditch a stupid car!).
Overall, it appears that the uptake of PAEB leads to a modal shift such that overall car use is decreased. PAEB use is associated with lower emissions compared to cars, but requires physical effort that classifies use of a PAEB as moderate intensity physical activity. Cost appears to be prohibitive, thus sharing or rental programs, and subsidies may be beneficial. Several additional barriers related to lack of infrastructure were also noted. Importantly, violations, injuries, and crashes appear to be similar between PAEB users and traditional bicycle users. PAEB offer an opportunity to improve health and mobility in an eco-friendly manner compared to cars. Infrastructure and policies are needed to support this modal shift. There is an immediate need to clearly define PAEBs, and to ensure regulations are similar between PAEB and traditional bicycles. Future research is needed to better understand long-term behaviour change with regards to commuting, and to identify the effect of implementing better infrastructure and policies on PAEB uptake.
Car drivers take up way more road space than they need since the size of their vehicles are disproportionate to their usefulness. Smart countries aim to limit the number of single occupant vehicles on the road for this reason and to ensure that all people can easily get from one place to the next. Traffic is so bad in some places that countries, like France, are now paying people to give up on their car.
France is working hard to push urban drivers out of cars and towards smaller and more environmentally responsible forms of transportation. In large cities like Paris, reduction in traffic from a switch to bicycles and scooters is perhaps just as important to many residents as the environmental effects.
We recently covered the case of anelectric bicycle company that is switching from vans to cargo e-bikesto increase the number of electric bikes it could deliver each day. The company’s delivery vans were simply too slow in Paris traffic, and switching to cargo e-bikes will help ramp up deliveries by using smaller, quicker, and more efficient vehicles.