Cities with policies to discourage people driving cars and giving pedestrians and cyclists the right of way?
Sounds very good, green, healthy and even humane to me.
The New York Times reports that a number of European cities — Vienna, Munich, Copenhagen, Zurich, Paris, Barcelona, London, Stockholm — have closed streets to car traffic and implemented bike sharing programs, are charging steep fees for driving in congested city areas and are drastically restricting the number of parking spaces. A number of cities in Germany have also become part of a national “environmental zone” network where only cars with low carbon dioxide emissions can pass through.
Given that gas costs $8/gallon and up in Europe and that public transportation is far better than in the US, such options are not being greeted (for the most part) with the horror that Americans would have on hearing they can’t drive their cars wherever they d**n well please. A crowning example of the general disdain for public transportation was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s cancellation of the construction (which had already started) of a new trans-Hudson River train tunnel last October. My husband is a regular commuter from New Jersey to Manhattan and he and his fellow riders frequently refer to NJ Transit as “NJ Stranded” while stuck on non-moving trains due to yet another electrical failure. When it comes to public transport, the US’s can be more on a par with that of developing nations.
As the New York Times points out, European countries have also had to clamp down on car use by taking the measures noted above to meet “increasingly strict World Health Organization guidelines for fine-particulate air pollution.” Also, European Union countries who have signed the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon dioxide emissions — which the US has not ratified — could not keep their commitments without severely limiting driving.
I know there are cities in the US far greener than the “Garden State” (i.e., New Jersey). It’s great to think that parts of San Francisco’s Market Street are now solely for pedestrian use and I’m for “pedestrianizing” parts of New York City like Times Square. The benefits of commuting via walking or biking are there, and not only for the environment; hoofing it to work is a fine way to get in some exercise.
With all this said, I’ll admit that we are overly dependent on our car and not only because of limited public transportation options. Public transit is not overly friendly for my teenage autistic son Charlie. He’s very sensitive to sound; trains, subways, buses, are all incredibly noisy, plus Charlie has hyper-acute hearing and can hear sounds like the humming of fluorescent lights, that most of us do not attend too. Further, due to his sometimes puzzling behaviors — making unusual sounds, stopping and staring in a spot like the middle of the sidewalk — and his looking older than his age, Charlie attracts attention that is not always friendly or sympathetic with his disability. Further, public transportation everywhere is still not at all as accessible to individuals with physical disabilities as it could be; sometimes a car might be the safest and easiest means of transport, if walking is not easy or possible.
Still, urban centers that put pedestrians and cyclists first would have other advantages for Charlie. He is not going to be able to drive, but he’s a champion bike rider and can certainly walk for miles. If he could bike or walk to work (with some amount of supervision), he would could be much more independent, rather than having always to rely on someone else to transport him.
Isn’t it time Americans let go of their romance with the car?
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Photo of bikers on a car-free Sunday in Zurich by greckor