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Author Topic: City Curbs on Cars: Now Accelerating  (Read 3415 times)
« on: August 31, 2008, 12:38:27 pm »

City Curbs on Cars: Now Accelerating
For Release Sunday, August 31, 2008
© 2008 Washington Post Writers Group

 By Neal Peirce

For close to a century, the automobile has so boldly seized Americans’ imagination — sparking the economy, paving the continent, designing our neighborhoods — that even the thought of curbing its dominion seems unnatural.

But check what’s happening right now:

High gasoline prices are prompting millions of us to think again about how often, and how far, we drive our cars. Recent months have seen total vehicle miles driven nationally fall off sharply– a radical reversal of decades of increase.

Across the country, there’s pressure to reclaim city streets for the city’s own people. Fueling this pressure is the alarm raised over high accident and death tolls from pedestrians struck by autos and trucks.

The “Complete Streets” movement — urging city and neighborhood streets be made as welcoming and safe for pedestrians and cyclists as they are for autos — is gaining attention, now backed up by legislation pending in Congress.

Public transit use is enjoying a banner year across the country.

A vanguard of cities is banning cars from their public parks.

There’s increased effort — lead cities range from Seattle to Buffalo, Toronto to New Haven — to tear down ugly motorways that divide neighborhoods and occupy valuable space near city centers. (Demolition of a Milwaukee freeway in 2003 helped unify the city’s downtown area and sparked hundreds of millions of dollars of new development).

Bike stations — quick ways to rent a bike, cruise around a downtown — are being proposed across the country.

A new “Walk Score” website (www.walkscore.com) lets users type in their home address and discover its “walkability” score — from 0 (”must have car”) to 100 (”walker’s paradise”).

A few cities are starting to charge true market costs for parking on public streets. Example: fees of up to $40 for four hours near the new baseball stadium in Washington, D.C.

The Nation’s Capital is, in fact, emerging as an epicenter of restraint on cars. One-way streets — virtual “freeways” through cities — are a first target. Already portions of Constitution Avenue N.E. have been transformed from a reversible commuter artery back to a quiet side street. Concerned about high pedestrian injury levels, the city may soon increase penalties — from $50 to $500 — for a vehicle encroaching on a crosswalk.

Some commuters are grumbling about Washington’s moves; a spokesman for AAA calls the Distict of Columbia “the most anti-car city in the country.” But city officials say they’re just intent on reclaiming Washington city streets for the people who live there, creating a walkable, bikable, transit-oriented metropolis.

In a parallel move, Washington’s Office of Planning wants to revise post-World War II zoning regulations — similar across the country — that require new buildings to provide ample off-street parking. Such city rules are totally outmoded, says parking reform advocate Donald Shoup. They inhibit smart compact development and drive up the cost of housing.

What made America such an incredibly pro-auto nation in the first place? Our wide open spaces, love of personal freedom explain a lot. But our streets, like those of all the world, were chiefly for pedestrians before the automobile emerged.

A new book by Peter Norton — Fighting Traffic — The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City — recounts a concerted early 20th century campaign by auto makers and their allies to redefine city streets as motor throughways, with pedestrians “safely” relegated to sidewalks.

Unsatisfied with their initial success, automakers campaigned for more street space and Herbert Hoover, an engineer and future president, to convene a 1928 conference on traffic. It obligingly demanded more “floor space” for trucks and cars.

In 1939 came General Motors’ Futurama exhibit at the World’s Fair in New York. It depicted a world literally planned around motor vehicles. Superhighways (as wide as 14 lanes) would dominate the cities they passed over. The impression on the public was profound.

So are today’s auto-curbing efforts simply wisps in the wind? Possible– but not likely. Our once world-dominating automakers are tetering economically. “Peak oil,” mounting energy scarcity, climate change are realities.

Of course autos and trucks won’t disappear; they’re a key to modern nations’ economies. But one senses a new genie out of the bottle — a demand for streets, urban and town roadways that enhance peoples’ lives, restraining motor vehicles, not eliminating them. Every agenda from health (better air, less obesity) to aesthetics, energy-saving transit to quality of life, demands it.

And just think that our population will grow by 100 million by 2040 or so. Do we have the stunning amounts of steel, asphalt, public space to accommodate them as we’ve been living? We’re dangerously behind maintaining the vast but overtaxed roadways we have. Realism says this century simply can’t be a repeat of the heavily motorized 20th.

For reprints of Neal Peirce’s column, please contact Washington Post Permissions, c/o PARS International Corp., WPPermissions@parsintl.com, fax 212-221-9195. For newspaper syndication sales, Washington Post Writers Group, 202-334-5375, wpwgsales@washpost.com.

Neal Peirce’s e-mail is npeirce@citistates.com

This entry was written by Curtis Johnson, posted on August 28, 2008 at 10:25 pm, filed under Neal Peirce, Neal Peirce column. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
Ed W
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« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2008, 01:27:53 pm »

If I recall right, the average commute in Tulsa is about 5 miles.  That's far below the figures for most large cities, and it indicates that alternative transportation is a real possibility for many here.  Not all, of course.

Congestion is a major problem in other cities.  San Francisco wanted to install bike lanes and narrow their streets, but the plan is stalled due to the lack of an environmental impact assessment.   New York looked at the possibility of a congestion pricing scheme similar to London's where it brought about a genuine reduction in downtown traffic.  But for the time being, congestion pricing isn't politically feasible.  

But I think that street closures on weekends would work in Tulsa.  It may be a way to draw people into re-discovering downtown in particular since closed streets there would have little impact on businesses.  And we could have rolling street closures where one would be closed on this weekend, and an another closed on the next one.  I'd like to see the fun when 71st Street is closed at Memorial some weekend.


May you live in interesting times.
« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2008, 01:53:01 pm »

One thinks of "Chamber of Commerce Weather" when reading about the "Walkability Ratings" and use of bicycles for commuting.  

If you have ever ridden a motorcycle or bicycle in Hot, Cold, wet or icy conditions you soon realize that if you are required to dress in natural fibers in a dress, suit and tie or other more formal atire, your form of transportation is limited during the non Chamber of Commerce perfect weather days.  This includes ones hair-do as well.  

Chamber of Commerce weather days are when the temp is around 69-75 degrees, a mild breeze, clear skys with lower than 30% humidity.  

Belive the automobile manufactures used the Features and Benefits list to sell their cars.  Air Conditioning was a big feature that allowed the windows to remain closed thus avoiding messing up ones hair while providing less humidity while in transit.

While walking, or riding a bike motorized or self propelled is enjoyable on a nice spring or fall evening, riding one when the tempeture is above 85 degrees with 80+% humidity can be another story.  Try the same when it is 33 degrees and raining or colder outdoors, at least then one can add more clothes to keep dry and warm, but still are exposed to the elements.

Goes back to the reason there are more motorcycles sold in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, than in Oklahoma and Texas.  Heat and humidity seem to be the enemy of non-airconditioned travel in many parts of the United States.  

Now count and add up the total number of days when the weather is nice enough to allow for travel with no airconditioning or heat source.
« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2008, 04:33:13 pm »

Amp, we did without A/C in cars for some 50 years or so. Are you saying today people are so accustomed to being pampered that we can't live the way our parents and grandparents did?

Could be true considering that 34% of Americans now are so fat that a 2 block walk would be dangerous to their health. I have neighbors who drive two blocks to the convenience store for cigarettes. Grandma took the elevator downstairs, walked to the Woolworths downtown a couple blocks away and never owned a car. As for me I would welcome fewer cars, expressways and parking lots. As for cycles, when I was younger nothing kept me from riding my Honda except snow and ice. I had a little sports car for those conditions. I suspect bicyclists today are similar. Certainly heat was no factor.

Double the cost of fuel and watch life change for the better. There will be birthing pains but in the long run we'll be a better society.
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« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2008, 06:21:34 pm »

Its not a matter of everyone riding bikes. Scooters, walking, and different forms of mass transit can also be thrown in the mix along with less cars.

Having narrower, tree lined, streets helps with the heat and sun. Plus we are not talking about people commuting on bikes from the suburbs. You could ride your bike to a nearby bus station then ride the bus, then get back on your bike for the last bit for longer routes. Otherwise its most likely a quick, couple mile bike ride at most.  

Scooters are a great option for warmer climates and short commutes. Some climes may be more suitable for biking, or different times of the year. But I can see for places like Tulsa, that scooters become a viable, inexpensive, cost saving alternative.

Encouraging areas of the city to be more dense and pedestrian friendly is also helpful. The commutes are not as long whether your biking, walking, or whatever, and you can then more easily coordinate with mass transit.

Its truly impossible to talk about this issue by putting one subject in isolation. Rising energy costs and even national/economic security, costs of roads, mass transit, different types and mixes of transit, parking, street and sidewalk design, building placement, mixed uses, and yes climate, etc. all should be considered and addressed simultaneously.

« Last Edit: August 31, 2008, 06:24:26 pm by TheArtist » Logged

"When you only have two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other."-Chinese proverb. "Arts a staple. Like bread or wine or a warm coat in winter. Those who think it is a luxury have only a fragment of a mind. Mans spirit grows hungry for art in the same way h
Ed W
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« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2008, 07:06:35 pm »

I didn't suggest that bike commuting or walking was for everyone.  And I'm well acquainted with the reasons people don't try to get back and forth under their own power.  It's to hot.  It's too cold.  It's too windy.  It's too wet.  It's always 'too' something.  As yet, gas isn't too expensive.

Over the last 4 weeks, I drove to work 4 times and bicycled to work 16 times.  Yes, it's hot.  And in the winter it's cold.  I'm not superhuman and I'm close to retirement.  I'm just a guy going to work and back.

But as Artist pointed out, none of this is a one-size-fits-all solution.  We're going to need more mass transit, walking, multi-mode transport, and maybe even (gasp!) light rail.  I think we'll see fewer private automobiles on the roads, more scooters and motorcycles, and maybe, just maybe, some buses.  

One thing I've found intriguing are the electric assist bicycles, some of them capable of 30 mph.


May you live in interesting times.
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