Sustainable Transport and CarFree 1

Children protest against traffic pollution by wearing gas masks. - Italy. Turin.
Winner UN environmental protection silver medal
 © Angelo Doto / UNEP / Still Pictures

- Conclusion -

“It needn’t be like this. All the congestion, the pollution, the anger which suffuses London between the hours of eight and ten and four and six is caused by just 14 per cent of commuters.” George Monbiot, Evening Standard, 15th May 1996.

Sometimes the car can be a benefit but in the urban environment it’s a problem. A tram with 350 people traveling at 30 mph needs 300 ft of road space, the same people moving by car would need a whopping 6 miles of road space (1).  When ten people meet in a restaurant they use about 200 sq. ft of space but their parked cars will take up more space then the entire restaurant.

Carl Sagan once said that the saddest lesson of history is this: “If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle”. However, no amount of denial can change a fact, in truth we are left with only three options.

1 - Abandon the true city and replace it with urban sprawl, America’s preferred option for urban demolition over the last half century and unfortunately copied elsewhere. This is an unsustainable and expensive option that serves only the motorist, if that. It produces an environment often described as “the graveyard of liveability” (2).

2 - Attempt to create a true city and then assault it with as many cars as possible. This is the technique know as “The Balanced Transport Option”. This “balance” is really an illusion (3), it replaces the public domain with an urban racetrack which drives life from the streets. The picture of Turin above shows that it produces a deeply degraded environment for everyone.

3 - Put a workable transit system in place and simply remove the private automobile. Many people will be surprised by this idea, but if you think it through you realise that a CarFree city is not only workable, but is the only option that can provide a safe and peaceful urban environment - it is the only truly sustainable option and, interestingly, it also provides the most efficient transport system for everyone (4).

The urban car is not the answer to the transport problem; it is the transport problem. Changing fuel types and painting cars green avoids the underlying reality, namely the car’s deep resource demands and its basic incompatibility with a living urban environment. A CarFree city (or region within a city) would offer a real choice, a chance to live in a safe and human environment and not the alienating landscape of the automobile.