Tom Vanderbilt Thinks The Future of Transport is Smaller, Slower and Shared. Others Don't.

small car image

Small Cars "Almost Cheaper Than Walking"

In January I wrote a prediction for this year, The Three Ss For 2010: Small, Simple and Shared. Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic, says much the same thing a year later in World Policy Blog, writing A Car for the Future: Smaller, Slower, Shared. He points out the simple and unavoidable reality:

As plentiful as the benefits of individual vehicular mobility may be, the large metropolis can never comfortably accommodate any more than a fraction of its citizens in this manner, and we have learned the consequences of trying to do so. Ever-lengthening commutes have meant degraded public spaces, negative health outcomes, social fragmentation, infrastructure whose maintenance goes underfunded.

He concludes:
We need to recognize that streets are public spaces too, and not merely, in the old view of 1930s utopian modernism, channels for moving as many vehicles as quickly as possible. The car will continue to exist, but should be treated as a "renter" of the city, not its landlord. The urban car of the future should be shared, smaller,and slower.

More at World Policy Journal.

utah streetcar image

Image credit Utah Transit Authority

Unfortunately, in most of North America, exactly the opposite is happening. According to Yonah Freemark in the Next American City,

Republicans soon to head the House of Representatives have made apparent their interest in limiting transportation expenditures on modes other than the automobile. Unless they suddenly have a collective change in heart, this could mean an elimination of funding for the grant programs that have funded these projects. The immediate result: The dreams dozens of American cities now have to create their own streetcar systems may have to be put on hold.

Freemark writes in Transport Politics what it is all about:

The issue here is not so much fiscal sanity as it is remarkably differing visions about how Americans should get around in the future. Whereas the current Congress and the White House have staked out relatively progressive policies in terms of providing adequate and equal funding to non-automobile modes of transportation, the incoming House leadership appears poised to take advantage of fears about increases in the federal budget deficit to reduce spending on everything but roads.

save transit city

It's not just in the US; in Toronto, Canada, the new mayor is removing some of the rent that cars pay to use the roads by eliminating a $60 per year tax that the last mayor imposed. He is cancelling a huge infrastructure investment in light rail transit because he doesn't like streetcars. His suburban driving supporters are cheering. But without cars paying their way and without decent transit in the suburbs where these lines were going, he is going reap exactly what Tom Vanderbilt predicts: "degraded public spaces, negative health outcomes, social fragmentation, infrastructure whose maintenance goes underfunded."

Other options to the automobile:
Los Angeles Loses Streetcars, Cairo Wins
Streetcars Back on Rails in America
Seattle's Streetcar: Modern, Efficient, Mass Transit (Video)
Volt, Schmolt; Get a Bike Instead

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