Making city roads a driver’s nightmare

Jul 14, 2011

Inching along surface streets in bumper-to-bumper traffic can be hellish, but imagine driving in a city with structures and regulations specifically designed to torture car users—with large portions of blocked road, fees for traveling in congested areas, popular biking programs authorized to hog car lanes, closely spaced red lights, and reduced parking. Oh, the horror! But many European cities, like Vienna, Paris, Barcelona, London and Stockholm, are taking exactly these measures to meet their Kyoto Protocol emission obligations and make their urban environments more livable for humans. It seems that Americans often change their cities to make them better for their cars—the upcoming 405 closure and toll lanes come to mind—and not necessarily for their inhabitants, as the Europeans do. Some have pointed out that such transportation changes are easier for them than for us, since cars are so deeply entrenched in American culture, and because many European cities have old, narrow avenues that can’t easily handle automobile congestion. But others attribute the “improvements” to strong policy and a conscious shift in European public attitudes. Though New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg “pedestrianized” Times Square, there haven’t been similar large-scale changes yet. Will Americans ever be able to put the environment ahead of their cars? And if so, will we do it differently from the Europeans? Weigh in with your transit questions and comments.

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