Monday, June 27, 2011

Car Free City Centers of Europe to the US?

Wow. Even though I really shouldn't be surprised, I always am when I read about transportation and/or environmental news out of Europe. It is so different than the United States. An article in the New York Times by the Elisabeth Rosenthal describes how the cities of Europe are discouraging city driving on purpose, while American cities are making it easier.
Cities including Vienna to Munich and Copenhagen have closed vast swaths of streets to car traffic. Barcelona and Paris have had car lanes eroded by popular bike-sharing programs. Drivers in London and Stockholm pay hefty congestion charges just for entering the heart of the city. And over the past two years, dozens of German cities have joined a national network of “environmental zones” where only cars with low carbon dioxide emissions may enter.

There are obviously environmental applications to these decisions. Less cars on the road means less carbon emissions from the exhaust, less oil required for gasoline. There are great health benefits as well as daily requirements for exercise are surpassed on the commute into work.

As noted in the article, most European cities were developed hundreds if not thousands of years before motorized transport appeared as a means of getting around, and therefore have narrow roads and are naturally pedestrian/cycling friendly. Living in Boston, I can see how much easier life would be if there were much more cycling and much less driving, considering our roads were developed along the same lines as cow paths.

(everyday traffic in Amsterdam, cycling capitol of Europe)

I have been impressed by the avid cyclists here in Boston who ride even in the winter, and one of the main reasons I wanted to move here in the first place was because it is such a walkable city. One of my biggest concerns for moving to South Florida is that it is not very pedestrian friendly. I know, kind of silly, but being connected to the heart of a city without needing a car is important to me. I've heard than some cities in the US have started encouraging more pedestrian traffic, like Portland, Oregon and San Francisco. I hope this is an idea that catches on.

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