• Jul 5, 2011
Americans drivers are abandoning their full-sized vehicles for compacts. Pure electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and plug-in, gas-powered cars like the Chevy Volt are becoming more readily available as 2012 approaches – and there are several new models getting ready to join them on dealer lots. Meanwhile, manufacturers in Europe and Asia are preparing to crank out a horde of microcars so small they make the ForTwo look like a Fleetwood. For a driver interested in going green, it sure seems like there are lots of options ahead and American cities should soon see a smaller, cleaner fleet on their streets.

However, many European cities have a different idea. They'd prefer no cars at all. The chief traffic planner for Zurich, for example, told Mother Jones: "Our goal is to reconquer public space for pedestrians, not to make it easy for drivers." The way to do this involves reducing parking areas, charging cars to come into the city and making red traffic lights more frequent in order to "frustrate drivers."

Though some US cities are more pedestrian friendly than others, few follow in these car-hating footsteps. Even with many areas of urban sprawl slowing or even reversing, cities still lack good public transport for connecting commuter A with job site B. Besides, a lot of America is just flat out non-citified. All of which means few politicians are in a hurry to get between Americans and their cars.

Still, in the long term, big American cities may end up taking notes from Zurich. As cities become more crowded and people and cars compete for space, autos may increasingly find themselves machina non grata, and even a new generation of smaller, greener cars may prove to be not-green-enough in the face of climate change or an unsettled world market for fuel. The love affair between Americans and cars could end; maybe sooner than we think. We could really go for a chance to drive some of those crazy little microcars before that happens, though.




[Source: Mother Jones | Image: Brett Weinstein – C.C. License 2.0]


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  • 31 Comments
      Larz Larzen
      • 3 Years Ago
      Moving sidewalks.
      letstakeawalk
      • 3 Years Ago
      "The chief traffic planner for Zurich, for example, told Mother Jones: "Our goal is to reconquer public space for pedestrians, not to make it easy for drivers." The way to do this involves reducing parking areas, charging cars to come into the city and making red traffic lights more frequent in order to "frustrate drivers." Yay! I wish my Mayor would take this pedestrian-friendly mindset. I do understand that there are many places where this sort of program isn't really practical, but similarly there are many places - especially in urban centers where people are shopping, dining, and working in close proximity - where the automobile is really out of scale in terms of transportation (eg. we don't allow people to drive inside a shopping mall, which is an analogue to Main St).
      Jake
      • 3 Years Ago
      No cars whatsoever? I hope there can be an allowance for city-appropriate micro cars like the Renault Twizy and Lumeneo Smera. One of those takes up less than a third the space of an average car. There can be mini parking spaces (paid, of course) for those and scooters.
        Ernie Dunbar
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Jake
        Never been to Europe, I see. They had cars and scooters like that 20 years ago. Vancouver is actually taking this strategy as well, but not quite to the same extreme. Not yet, anyway. Transit capacity was nearly doubled for the Olympics, and has resulted in a fairly dramatic increase in ridership as well.
        Richard Gozinya
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Jake
        May as well just skip over to two-wheeled transportation entirely. Those micro cars are probably less safe than a motorcycle, and make moped riders look cool by comparison.
      GeorgeS
      • 3 Years Ago
      Uncle-sam quote: ""cities are cramped with car,"" Do you mean cars??? you know, like more than 1-----a plural??? Please learn English before you post!!
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 3 Years Ago
      If you're going to start a campaign against cars, you need to provide an alternative that allows people to move freely. Europe has been strangling 2 wheeled transit like ebikes, motorcycles etc at the same time. That's bad, and makes this look malicious rather than 'hey, let's prop up mass transit'.
        Nick
        • 3 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        2 Wheeles Menace Europe is in an EV-bicycle craze. You see them everywhere.....people in business suits ride them, teens ride them, everyone has one.
        uncle_sam
        • 3 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        A lot of cities are chocked by traffic. All drivers hav THEIR FREEDOM to SPEW their exhausts into the air. On some days the air is unbreathable. Especially clean diesels and old gas cars produce an obnoxious stench. When I cycle or walk in the city, I am not free to chose wether to inhale other ppls freedom. I like my car, now it is totalled, and I like driving. I hate driving in the city, as some did bad planning. they were dreaming of the car compatible city. well now we spend our lives in traffic jams. sorry this is such a waste of time, ressources, and a waste of space. cities are cramped with car, sacrificing precious space. there will still be a need for cars, but in the city heart we need alternatives. my prius was totalled, and now I have a temporary diesel replacement car, that idels at every stoplight, as ever free citzen does. that is crap. and with my new flat, I don't need a car. I have my bike, and in germany public transport is really acceptable. as bonus I can go partying and drink some booze as I don'T have to drive. oh and there is now a nice movement, electric bikes and pedalecs become more and more popular. there are areas with free battery swaps, and free charging. I mean If you live in a city and need a suv to go shopping, thats planly nuts. Oh and when I drive to university by bike, I am as fast as with my car. with my car I have to fight stop and go traffic, I am annoyed by overfilled parking spaces. in cities cars can really suck so I take my bike, save 8$ per gallon, and do something for my health.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 3 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        Don't take me the wrong way. I am very pro-mass transit. What i don't like is when an area is designed as such that you can only use mass transit to get to and fro. Even preventing cars and bikes from getting there. In essence, removing all options other than mass transit. Cars, bikes, motorcycles, railroads, and mass transit all have their place.
      Nick
      • 3 Years Ago
      That's what I've been saying for years. If you keep building roads, you're only moving the issue a decade or so into the future. Once there, you'll need a wider freeway all over again. In many US cities, businesses are REQUIRED to build as many parking spots as the expected number of consumers. Can you believe it? L.A. is one giant hellhole of a filthy parking lot because of this, and many people would drive 3 blocks to go to the store! The solution: Stop making it easy to drive...and push for top-notch public transit. Once driving becomes unbearable, people will make the switch.
        GoodCheer
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Nick
        There's a lot of fascinating research on the costs to society of "free parking". The punchline is, just as you say, that parking lots drive buildings apart, and result in development that you need a car to get around, which then trains people to drive everywhere. Cities without such parking requirements tend to be better integrated.
          Nick
          • 3 Years Ago
          @GoodCheer
          Yep, and I suspect these crazy requirements for parking lots were influenced by the oil and car companies..the same ones that tore the LA railway system out and put freeways in place. The effectively shaped entire cities to make them dependent on their products. It's really sick.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Nick
        Make it unbearable and push for public transportation. A.k.a. take away freedom and money from others to suit your tastes. Typical liberal way of thinking on here. I read these forums due to my interest in technology, but the leftist ideology here is almost enough to make me vomit sometimes.
      • 3 Years Ago
      This article makes lots of sense. What we need is lots more bicycles and lots more pedestrians. Cars are destroying our lives and our environment.
        Richard Gozinya
        • 3 Years Ago
        I don't think it's so much cars in and of themselves. It's the people who feel they have to have them. And usually something far bigger than they'll ever use. People don't look at their actual needs, just what's convenient.
      bvz
      • 3 Years Ago
      Anybody know who we can contact to try and persuade AB to improve their comment system? We need to be able to auto-hide specific commentators who are known trolls (we know who we are talking about here, I don't want to reply to its post because I don't want to feed the troll any more than I can help it). Even down-ranking this idiot is feeding it and I know it gets off on it. I would just like to hide the thing so that I never even see any more drivel coming from its "mouth". Perhaps after a certain number of down-ranks it simply is hidden from view for everyone by default (they could manually unhide it if they wanted to). That way, the one thing it most desperately desires (getting feedback that it is annoying people) is taken away as nobody comments on, or even up/down ranks its posts. I have tried writing to AOL, but haven't even gotten a robo-response. Somehow we must be able to figure out a way to get in contact with the people who could implement something like this. Maybe a petition? Something else? Anyone have any ideas? And apologies for this off-topic post but I just don't know where else to bring this up.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @bvz
        Doesn't Youtube's commenting system do that? Perhaps there's a way to put the developers in touch.
        bvz
        • 3 Years Ago
        @bvz
        For what it is worth, I created the following petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/aolautotrollsniper/ maybe we can link to this whenever we suspect a post of being a troll. See my example below (tantareanujellob) for how we might deal with it.
      tantareanujellob
      • 3 Years Ago
      Lets just cut to the chase and nuke a few European cities. Imagine how much oil we could save. Remember folks, nuclear weapons are carbon neutral.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @tantareanujellob
        Another American moron without a passport.
        paulwesterberg
        • 3 Years Ago
        @tantareanujellob
        tantareanujellob, you should be happy that Europeans are forgoing cars, that means more oil for your lazy ass.
      • 3 Years Ago
      You could get rid of cars in the middle of, say, Amsterdam, and hardly anyone would notice. Private cars are a small percentage of transport in that city. Already, taxis can ride in the tram lanes, and cars are regulated to a limited number of lanes, usually just one. Getting rid of most private cars from the inner city would be relatively painless. Unfortunately, there is no American city about which I can make the same statement. European cities, built mostly before the auto, are just different.
      Noz
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think that's a brilliant idea...the less cars, the healthier for everyone. Green or not. We need to be more social, more interactive, more on foot and bicycle, etc...I would LOVE to live in a city like that....and wouldn't ever miss owning a car....ever.
      Marco Polo
      • 3 Years Ago
      Cities like Zurich and many European cities were laid out long before the invention of the motor-car. Many of these cities still have a large, affluent Central Urban residential population. A reduction of traffic may work in such circumstances. However, in many other cities, especially in the new world, the reduction of traffic to the downtown urban area, has led to accelerated urban decay, a flight to the suburbs by business and affluent residents. Car free cities encourage the growth of large suburban shopping malls, further destroying the tax base of the ageing urban core. Traffic free malls, can be effective in moderation. At first, a pedestrian-only mall may seem pleasant urban oasis, but as the first enthusiasm wears off, these traffic-free malls often become windswept, dirty thoroughfares filled with seedy down-market businesses and a refuge for undesirable activities, especially at night. New world urban centres struggle to compete with giant shopping malls. These giant shopping malls, don't exist to the same degree in Europe, where a lack of space and strict planning laws serve to preserve the integrity of city centres.
        Markus Roder
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        Well put, Marco Polo... with good, ideology-free reasoning. A breath of fresh air :).
        Nate22
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        Marco Polo wrote: However, in many other cities, especially in the new world, the reduction of traffic to the downtown urban area, has led to accelerated urban decay, a flight to the suburbs by business and affluent residents. Car free cities encourage the growth of large suburban shopping malls, further destroying the tax base of the ageing urban core. Nonsense. Marco could you offer some support for your claim? "Urban decay" can be caused by many variables but I can't think of a single example where efforts to make a downtown area more pedestrian friendly caused that. If you're looking for a reason we have suburban shopping malls think idiotic zoning and a flight from minorites in the public schools. Think car-centered culture and you will be going the in right direction. What you have written is exactly the opposite from true.
        GoodCheer
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        "At first, a pedestrian-only mall may seem pleasant urban oasis, but as the first enthusiasm wears off, these traffic-free malls often become windswept, dirty thoroughfares filled with seedy down-market businesses and a refuge for undesirable activities, especially at night. " Do you have some examples in mind? The only examples of pedestrian zones in the new world that I can think are a selection of waterfront boardwalks (Halifax Canada, Baltimore, San Diego), the Washington Mall and Times Square. It seems to me that as long as you have either parking or a link to an effective transit system nearby (and by 'nearby' I mean close enough that people don't mind the walk), then the pleasant urban oasis does not rely on novelty.
          bvz
          • 3 Years Ago
          @GoodCheer
          I would add Kalamazoo MI, which boasted the first car-free pedestrian mall in the U.S. It was a total wasteland and eventually turned back into a limited car-friendly road a few years back. That said, I am all for reduction in city traffic. In Europe, they have the city structure, transit options, and cultural experience that allow them to move to the car-antagonistic methods described. In the U.S. there are very few places where something like that would work at this time. I could see NY doing it. Maybe San Francisco to a lesser degree. Eventually more places in the U.S. will be ready for this move (and I will be excited for it) but there is a lot of work that needs to be done between now and then (and I am willing to be a part of that effort)
          xxxZOMBIExxx
          • 3 Years Ago
          @GoodCheer
          Detroit, Toronto, Indianapolis, Tampa, Miami,....enough said. While I'm all for a nearly "car free" city I disagree with the approach...Cities need to put enough efficient and timely mass transit in place to make urban driving pointless. Putting barriers to automobiles in place only forces business and consumers away from city centers and contributes to urban sprawl. It doesn't fix the problem, it just moves it... and that is no solution at all.
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