Looking to a future with less cars

From the city of Muenster, Germany (h/t Richard Florida):

Amount of space taken up by cars, bikes and buses

Bicycle90 sq. m for 71 people to park their bikes.
Car – 1000 sq. m for 72 people to park their care (avg. occupancy of 1.2 people per car).
Bus – 30 sq m for the bus.

Too much of our public policy is based on expanding highways and increasing available parking. But without the ability or the funds to widen our city streets, we’re condeming ourselves to a future of gridlock. So remember that making biking and public transportation more attractive won’t just help the environment, it will also ease congestion for those of us that are still forced to use cars.


  1. Ian

    From Futurama:

    Leela: Did you drive much in the 20th century Fry?
    Fry: Nope. No one in New York drove. There was too much traffic.

  2. Jordan M

    Discussion going on at NYT w/ some very smart urbanists/architects: http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/12/carless-in-america/

    European cities in general typically have enough density support such actions but how do we retrofit the sprawl that exists currently? Not just the suburbia you see in somewhere like Cary but further out in the rural urban fringe (such as where I live in Bumfuck)? That’s really the major question.

  3. Chris

    You honestly can’t hope to fix all suburban or rural areas. Hell, a lot of people want that quiet lifestyle even if it means relying on an expensive car.

    However, we can make some good progress with some suburban areas by relaxing restrictions on density and requirements for parking. Once an area is sufficiently dense it makes more economic sense to extend bus routes and perhaps lay some train tracks.

    Another thing we can stop doing is building suburban neighborhoods with those serpentine roads that have only one or two exits. Walking or biking out of those areas to a train or bus stop would be hellishly and unnecessarily long. What we need are grids and more grids.

  4. Jordan M

    I don’t think we can fix all suburban and especially rural areas but those places contain the people that will be left behind; the ones buying the cars and (probably more expensive) gas that they probably can’t afford on top of other financial burdens of working class.

    As pointed out on another blog when discussing the Nano in India (will need to find the article), the problem isn’t the car itself it’s giving people 1) incentives to leave cars behind and/or 2) creating cars that’s are more fuel-efficient. If cities and their outlying suburbs can be ‘fixed’ then that at least takes care of one major source of pollution (sitting in traffic or the people who drive 1 mile to get somewhere). For areas outside the grids, it’s going to come down to very local politics and people in those places influencing their politicians.

    Problem is, they’ve already got cars and don’t mind if someone widens the highway to make it better and faster for them. It’s a very hard sell to the American public until it’s forced on them (as it almost was last summer with high(er) gas prices). Some places will catch on early and have a willing population while others will be left behind when the other shoe drops.

    I know that where I currently live, it would be difficult for me to ride a bike daily to work in the city. Think your options: potentially, you could take the bus from Southpoint to CH but why don’t you? At the moment it’s probably much faster and convenient to drive. That area has the potential, and the political bent of the people, to do major infrastructural changes but the local developers, in league with said governments, continue to expand expand expand.

    It’ll have to start hurting peoples’ pocketbooks before they start rallying for better, cheaper transport options.

  5. Chris

    If we get a full fledged economic recovery, it could be cut short by an explosion in fuel prices. That’s probably as early as we can expect some real movement on this issue, because it will hurt people’s pocketbooks like you suggest.

    As it stands, Obama has pushed for some more integration of the bigger railways around the country: http://www.whitehouse.gov/assets/images/rail_map_blog.jpg

    There is a bus stop right outside where I live, but I don’t think the route takes me anywhere near work unless I hop on some other bus somewhere along the line. It certainly wouldn’t be quick or inexpensive to take the bus everyday to work. I’d have to have a car to get around anyways. It’s hardly safe to even walk across to the mall from where I live because they didn’t put any cross walks on the giant highway overpass.

  6. Jordan M

    Exactly. People want what is safe, cheap, and convenient. Until a real crisis forces that, we probably won’t see it. At least the ball is rolling in the form of more funding and awareness of alternative energy sources.

    Another thing to ponder: if we do have future electric or super low polluting vehicles, will this again create an increase in sprawl and suburbia? There would be very little consequence, other than traffic, to stem that tide.

    Also want to link this very interesting interpretive thesis on suburbia and ‘security’: http://www.imakegoodtea.com/ (on the right)

  7. Ian

    I don’t know if you could really see an increase in the sprawl of suburbia. At some point you have to deal with the sheer amount of time it takes someone to travel to their job in the city. Suburbia has already been exhausted for NYC I believe. Long Island is pretty well covered in suburbia, as is surrounding areas on the mainland of NY and NJ. The only thing that could increase the sprawl would be high speed trains and the like.

    The idea here about how people won’t change how they do things until it becomes financial necessity. The high gas prices last year made clear and observable changes in our culture. We used to see ads showing SUVs and people doing all sorts of things nobody would ever actually do with one. Now we get Prius commercials trying to sell you the idea that they are better for the environment. I would estimate that 30% of all of the professors at NC State drive a Prius now. It is the “it-car” to have now. The culture has started to shift. It will probably require a steeper hike in gas prices to make people actually consider public transportation alternatives. Those alternatives are currently insufficient. They do take too long to get from point A to point B and points A and B aren’t necessarily where you are and where you are trying to go. So public transportation and an increase in fuel prices are necessary to make people change their habits.

  8. Jordan M

    Wow, Ian and I actually agree for once. I feel like Old Spock.

  9. Ian

    I can be reasonable on occasion. Just don’t start expecting it.