Carless Cities

Most people in Europe and America take it for granted that they can drive their cars wherever they want or need to go, but that could change if planners in some cities have their way. I learned about this development from CNBC via The Drudge Report.

Germany, home of the high-speed autobahn, is perhaps one of the few countries that has had as intense a love affair with the automobile as the U.S. But in an effort to go green, the country’s second-largest city is studying ways to eliminate cars by 2034.

The northern city of Hamburg has laid out an initial concept, named the Green Network Plan, that would expand public transportation and add more routes for pedestrians and bicyclists. The most controversial aspect of the plan calls for a steady phase-out of automobiles in the center of the city over the next two decades.

And Hamburg might not be alone. The idea of banning, or at least reducing, the use of automobiles in city centers has become an increasingly hot topic among urban planners, especially in Europe and other industrialized countries dealing with issues as diverse as congestion and smog.

“Other cities, including London, have green rings, but the green network will be unique in covering an area from the outskirts to the city center,” Hamburg city spokeswoman Angelika Fritsch told The Guardian newspaper. “In 15 to 20 years, you’ll be able to explore the city exclusively on bike and foot.”

There are already a handful of car-free communities around the world, but they’re typically small and often focused on tourists seeking a quaint throwback in time. Examples include Michigan’s Mackinac Island or Sark island off the English Channel coast of the U.K.; perhaps the largest is Venice, which simply has no way to open up roads linking its network of small islands.

But a number of major cities, including the likes of Paris, London and even New York, have been exploring ways to reduce the number of vehicles on their streets, if not to ban vehicles outright.

London introduced a much-debated congestion charge for vehicles driving into the center of the city in 2003. The program had a dual purpose—reducing commuter traffic while also raising new funds to support the city’s expansive mass transit system. The charge is 10 British pounds per day.

Several other cities have adopted a similar approach, though former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bid to put one in place in crowded Manhattan was blocked by state lawmakers. Nonetheless, changes have been made in several parts of Manhattan, including a stretch near the theater district, to create pedestrian zones to absorb the mass of tourists.

Many urban planners accuse automobiles of killing street life, with roadways often dividing once-connected neighborhoods, and creating endemic air and noise pollution. They also cite them as as being a major factor in pedestrian deaths and injuries.

Lord Richard Rogers, a British architect and long-time advisor on urban issues, suggested last year that London should become “a people space rather than the car space it currently is.”

I’m glad Mayor Bloomberg didn’t get his way, for once. I wonder if Lord Richard Rogers or Angelika Fritsch have any intention of asking the people of London or Hamburg whether they would like to do without automobiles. I have a feeling that a great many of the residents of these and other cities consider that the benefits of being able to go where you want,when you want to outweigh the costs of smog and congestion.I also have a feeling that the urban planners and city spokespeople,as well as other members of the elite, will get some sort of special waiver allowing them to drive, or be driven, in otherwise carless regions.

What do planners and progressives have against the automobile anyway? They have been trying to get us out of our cars and into buses and trains almost since Henry Ford introduced the Model T. Is it the freedom that comes with being able to drive that they resent? Do they prefer it if everyone had to stay in one place? Maybe they think only the proper sort of people, the ones who are environmentally or socially enlightened. Those of us backward peasants should walk or ride the bus. Maybe they really are concerned about congestion or pollution. I agree that these are real problems, especially in older cities with narrower streets and if I lived in New York or Hamburg, I probably wouldn’t find owning an automobile as necessary as I do in rural Indiana, but I think I would resent being told I couldn’t have one, just because urban planners want to make the city where I live a “people space”.



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