by Royce Carlson
September 21 is World Car-Free Day. Why? Itís not because gas
prices are high. Itís because the automobile has taken over the world.
Cities are designed for cars, not people, and air pollution is
increasing in nearly all major cities around the world. What would it be
like if there were less cars, roads and parking lots?
Thatís what World Car-Free Day is about. It gives us a chance to
see how quiet it can be and how clean the air could be and how much
safer the world would be for pedestrians and cyclists. Itís a day to
live without your car and think about how we can change things to make
our cities more people-friendly.
Just how bad has it gotten? Well, for one thing, statistics show that
in the U.S. more people have been killed in auto accidents than in all
the wars combined.
About 42,000 people die in the U.S. each year from car crashes and an
additional 30,000 Americans die from air pollution-related illnesses.
Another problem is the amount of space taken up by roads and parking
lots. In Los Angeles, over 65% of the land is covered by them. Very
little is left for trees, parks, or nature of any kind which is also bad
for the air since trees help to keep our air clean.
Cities have sprawled to enormous size, not because of population
growth, but because of cars. People in America want big lots in rural
areas farther and farther from the centers of cities. Some of the
reasons they want these lots are because they want to get away from the
noise, traffic congestion, and air pollution of city centers. Itís
cars that create the problem and they are using cars to try to get away
from the problem. That obviously wonít work.
In addition, the addiction to accumulating stuff means people want
bigger houses on bigger lots with bigger garages to put bigger cars in.
Cars are being driven more than ever before. In the 50ís and 60ís
about 60% of children walked or bicycled to school. In 1998 that number
had dwindled to 10%. There are more cars registered in the U.S. than
there are licensed drivers. Average fuel economy has decreased during
the last 12 years from a peak of about 26 mpg in 1988 to 23.8 mpg in
1999. The U.S. government has done nothing to ensure that auto
manufacturers improve fuel economy in several years. With fuel prices
rising there is increasing pressure on government to remove pollution
control regulations thereby guaranteeing that pollution will increase.
What is to be done about it? The oil and auto industries want us to
believe that the whole solution lies in the production of more efficient
cars. The larger problem is cars themselves. Regardless of how efficient
they get they still take up a lot of space, serve to isolate people from
each other and the environment and use up resources. Yes, increases in
efficiency and possible alternative fuels will help our pollution
situation but it is only part of the problem. Attention needs to be
given to rethinking the way we live and re-designing cities for people
more than for cars.
Some ideas for improving street design include:
- Limited neighborhood size that includes schools, parks and small
- Sidewalks and curbs on both sides of streets.
- Street furniture such as benches, trash cans, planters, kiosks
- Well marked bike lanes and bike racks.
- Resolution of design conflicts in favor of non-vehicular users.
The ideas above are only a few that, if applied, would promote
walking or cycling instead of driving. More ideas are included in a book
called "Street Design Guidelines for Healthy Neighborhoods"
from the Center for Livable Communities.
We need to begin now to think in a different way about our
transportation problems. The upcoming World Car-free Day is a chance to
try walking or cycling for a change and to think about how we can live a
more earth and people friendly existence. So donít get in your car on
September 21 and enjoy the slower pace and feel, smell, and touch the
world around you instead of whizzing by it in your car.
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