Cars may rein supreme in cities, but cracks in their supremacy are beginning to show. While car makers compete to build cars cheap enough to put drivers in poorer countries behind the wheel, a small but growing revolution is heading a more sustainable direction.
Cities are designed for cars, as anyone who bicycles or walks can attest. But the crush of traffic is making a lot of people shift gears.The Globe and Mail reports:
Finding themselves caught in an uncomfortable tangle of urban sprawl, population growth and plain individual inconvenience, people, one by one, are just quietly opting out.
It cannot happen too soon. More than time is lost as cars inch along in traffic jams. Vehicles run less efficiently and spew pollutants. Drivers breathe fetid air. Tempers flare. Then, too, billions of dollars pour into fossil fuel extraction, mining for materials needed in manufacturing, repair facilities and insurance. With almost seven billion people on the planet, a large percentage of them driving, the economic and environmental costs are enormous.
Car Use Declining
In 2011, researchers in the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute of Perth, Australia, discovered people in eight countries were using their cars less. The Brookings Institution found a similar decline in the U.S. in a study published in 2009.
Young people are a large segment of those abandoning car travel. According to the U.K.’s New Statesman:
Indeed, it seems fewer young people nowadays harbour the ambition to drive. Between 1992 and 2007, the proportion of 17-to-20-year-olds holding a driving licence fell from 48 per cent to 38 per cent and that of 21-to-29-year-olds from 75 per cent to 66 per cent .
The costs of motoring are doubtless a factor. For instance, according to an AA study, the average annual cost of car insurance for a 17-to-22-year-old man is £2,457. But young people aren’t simply swapping cars for buses or bikes; they are choosing to own and use other technology instead, such as smartphones and tablet computers.
Boomers are another demographic segment likely to be driving less in future. Most people cut their driving by half after retirement.
Cities with Fewer Cars
Peak car use has major implications for urban planners. As more people opt to cycle or walk to work and services, they will demand better corridors for public transit, cycling and walkways. If they live in suburbs, they will expect to shop and work closer to home.
“Peak oil” carries a hint of loss. “Peak car” sounds like a gain — for harried commuters, traffic-clogged cities, and the planet we share. Maybe cities of the future will be quieter and friendlier. Connecting with another pedestrian is easier than being friendly with a passing car.
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