Is the Call for “Car-Free” Streets a Good Idea?

by Dom Nozzi

Long ago, I was somewhat enthusiastic about “car-free” efforts. However, my view of such efforts has matured since then. It seems to me that car-free advocacy is both premature and counterproductively extreme. As long as the price of gas, cars, roads, and parking remains reasonably affordable, as it still is in the US, calling for a car-free world has very, very little chance of gaining any political traction.

An analogy is the “zero population growth” movement.

In both cases, there is much to be said – theoretically — about each idea. But neither has a chance of motivating large numbers of leaders, professionals, and planners in today’s world.

By contrast, the new urbanism movement – which strives for a return to the timeless tradition of building walkable, sustainable, lovable neighborhoods — is brilliantly pragmatic by recognizing the toxic-to-cities nature of making cars happy without calling for their elimination.

Calling for the elimination of cars would marginalize new urbanism and make it impossible for the new urbanism movement to do anywhere near as much as it has done to reform our communities. Instead, the new urbanist movement has inspired a great many to reform communities by design that forces cars to behave themselves (which is an enormously beneficial achievement), rather than calling for their elimination.

We’ll eventually live in a car-free world with zero population growth, but not in our lifetime.

It seems to me that both the zero population growth and car-free movements slow down the needed revolutions because such goals seem so kooky and extreme that the entire baby is thrown out with the bathwater.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Urban Design, Transportation, Walking

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