“We Need to Stop Designing Our Lives Around Cars”

Streetsblog Network member Boston Biker has picked up the most recent Streetfilms release, Fixing the Great Mistake: Autocentric Development, and written an eloquent post about the necessity of moving away from car-centered planning.

The post begins by taking on the question so may of us have had to answer — you know the one, about how we "hate cars." As Boston Biker writes, it’s more about hating what cars do to humans, and seeing the need for change:

2750132310_907cdab2d4.jpgBoston’s future doesn’t have to look like this. (Photo: SpecialKRB via Flickr)

People will sometimes ask me, "Why do you hate cars so much?" The truth
is, I don’t hate cars. They are useful to some people (delivery trucks,
people with disabilities). The car itself is not the problem, it is
what happens to society when everyone owns a car that is the problem.…

So what are we to do? If the "one car one person" model has failed
so fully, what do we do to reverse it? The answer is simple, but is
going to require a lot of effort. We need to stop designing our lives
around cars. That means everything — removing on-street parking,
building larger sidewalks, making people pay more for parking, building
dense cities, providing good public transportation, and getting more
people to ride bikes!

If Boston were to take seriously the idea of building a city based
around what people need, and not what cars need, it would be a
radically different place. Imagine for a second if the T reached every
neighborhood, if there was a series of well designed bus routes that
connected the places that the MBTA didn’t go. Imagine a system of bike
lanes and bike paths that allowed you to get all over town quickly and
stress free. Imagine if sidewalks were large and offered lots of space
for people to walk and business to have on-street offerings. Imagine
the benefits in health (air quality, obesity rates, asthma, cancer,
deaths from car crashes). …

I would love to live in a city like that. That’s the kind of city
you would want to raise a kid in, the kind of place you would want to
open a business in. The kind of quiet green place filled with healthy
people living close together to encourage community. The kind of place
that Boston must become, because the alternative is simply too horrible
to contemplate.

More from around the network: Building a Better Shreveport writes about efforts to improve bicycling infrastructure in that Louisiana city. How We Drive has a post about why it’s a good thing when unlicensed drivers get caught at DUI checkpoints. And Mobilizing the Region reports that the Connecticut DOT has been spending its money more wisely lately.

  • Rob Steuteville

    It’s disappointing seeing removing on-street parking first on the list of Boston Biker’s recommendations to make ourselves less car dependent. This shows a lack of observational skills. Go to Walkscore and look at any neighborhood above 85. These places are hardly designed around cars. Every one of them has tons of on-street parking. Now look at any neighborhood that scores a 50 or less. You will see less on-street parking, and, just as important, a lot less on-street parking that is used. By contrast, there’s a lot more damaging off-street parking in these places, like parking lots and street-facing garages. On-street parking benefits pedestrians in many important ways, like slowing down moving traffic, protecting pedestrians and sidewalk diners from moving traffic, supporting on-street merchants, and reducing the need for off-street surface parking that disrupts the urban fabric.

  • @Rob #1

    I agree with you to a degree. In some cases total elimination of on street parking to provide for separated bike paths and wider sidewalks is an overall benefit. However, on street parking for cars is still good for certain areas and in certain situations, and in that case it needs to be priced right and not free. The big deal is FREE on street parking; the city is effectively paying residents and providing free parking for them at everybody’s expense. Its not a given that on street parking is bad, but free on street is certainly bad. Offsite lots and garages have a part to play in certain situations, again if its priced right so that its ~80% full at any given time. This can be done and it has been done already.

    Cars are not always the problem, its policies that heavily favor the car over other transportation forms and do not charge it for the perks that driving has.

  • Cars are not a design problem. They are an economic policy problem. The USA decided in the early 1900’s to dismantle the streetcars and interurban electrified rail and replace with buses then cars. This was done deliberately and with malice aforethought. It was NOT done by the “market.” The consequent autosprawl system has critical mass and the generation that rode streetcars is passing on. We are stuck with a system that is unsustainable both economically and environmentally, and now, apparently even militarily. We can either reverse back to the streetcar via free buses, or we can continue to bomb innocent people and pump carbon into the atmosphere. It is time to wake up and face reality.

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