Is this wishful thinking on my part? Probably, but at least it’s good to know other people are thinking the same thing. Norman Garrick of Planetizen brings us this story on a possible turn of events away from cars and towards people. On Thursday, the Portland, Oregon City Council voted 5-0 to approve a plan that has the goal of increasing bike ridership in the city from 6%, already the highest of any major city in the country, to 25%. On the same day, the New York City Department of Transportation announced the permanent closing of sections of Broadway to vehicular traffic. These two cities are and have always been on the leading edge of urban planning in America, and their support of alternative modes of transportation sends a strong message to other cities in the country. Garrick makes a point that this trend has spread from blue states to cities like Oklahoma City and Little Rock, indicating that this is growing beyond a political issue to a more general planning one.
There are a number of signs indicating that the car culture is on the decline. The number of vehicles per person has been declining since 2001, and vehicle miles traveled have been declining since 2004. Garrick points out that both of these peaks are well before the most recent economic downturn, which has probably hastened the decline of these numbers. Cities have also realized that it is cheaper for them to cater to pedestrians, bicycles and transit than to the car. Garrick points out that Portland’s fifteen years of bike infrastructure building has cost the same as about a mile of freeway ($60 million). It is also becoming cool to go car-lite or car-free, and areas that are more pedestrian-friendly are attracting tomorrow’s movers and shakers.
With oil floating at $80 a barrel with nowhere to go but up, chances are we are on the verge of a new era. If car companies new what was good for them, they may start getting into the streetcar manufacturing business as cars continue to phase out. Garrick finishes his story with this hopeful message:
The really good news in this story is that this could be a transition to a time when the carnage from motor vehicle crashes will no longer be considered an accepted part of modern life. A time when our urban places will once more be designed for people and not be trashed to accommodate cars. And when the profligate burning for mobility of the earth’s finite store of petroleum will be looked at as a quaint relic of the past. A past not unlike the one now regulated to the movies where people smoked in doctor’s offices and on airplanes. A past that causes us to say: what were they thinking?