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Why not a Car-free City!

In this article, Francois Lyon, author of 'L'auto ou la ville' (The car or the town) looks at perceived disadvantages and possible objections to a car-free city and finds them unconvincing and far from insurmountable. This is how he answers the pessimists.

By Francois Lyon
* We won't be able to see friends.
There are alternatives to cars: walking, cycling and public transport. Maybe sometimes we will stay at a friend's house overnight. Possibly we would want to live closer to our friends. In fact, the development of car alternatives gives a new meeting space the street. Right now in our cities meeting space is limited tothe apartment, house or pub. Thus each of us has a limited circle of friends that we meet in the evening. A car-free city would mean the return to the ancient Greekagora, where all meet each other during their daily activities, because everything is close by.

* We won't be able to go to work by car.
Is this commuting such fun? Yet you can actually enjoy biking and walking in combination with public transport. All those hours in traffic jams can be forgotten. We will perhaps try to get a home and workplace closer to each other. We will possibly walk home more often.

* We won't be able to go out by car on a Saturday night.
In response to demand, public transport will run 24 hours a day. Cycling and walking will always be possible. Maybe we'll involve ourselves more in the life of our own neighbourhood.We won't be in a position to risk people's lives by driving from the pub.

* Walking home by myself I am afraid of being attacked.
Direct violence caused by cars is in fact more frequent. And those large roads empty of life create violence, as there aren't any witnesses. To halt violence, we need to develop a friendlier city given back to its inhabitants.

* Streets will be too empty.
We'll create new activities in the street space. Streets will be open space to meet people, to sit in the sun, for kids to play, to have some greenery.

* It will be impossible to carry shopping from the supermarket.
We'll have to go to the neighbourhood shops more often, and they will redevelop. This will also induce more encounters. And maybe we won't buy so many useless goods.

* We won't be able to take the children to school.
They will be able to walk there by themselves because there will no longer be a danger of them being run over. We won't need to keep an eye on them all the time. Close proximity to nurseries and more friendly neighbourhoods will make raising children easier, with more freedom for them and less constraints for parents.

* We won't be able to get to green spaces by car.
One of the main attractions of parks the absence of cars will be general to the city. The route by bike to green spaces will be as pleasant as the park itself. In the end there will be no strict separation between residential and commercial areas. These single-use areas tend to be overcrowded or deserted depending on the time of the day. Each area will develop its
own autonomy and revive.

* We won't be able to deliver goods.
Deliveries will still have access to the city. As neighbourhood shops develop, local deliveries
will benefit from the adaptability of delivery bikes.

* And fire trucks and ambulances?
Ambulances although less often called, there will be less accidents will of course be allowed. It's the same for fire engines and they won't get stuck in traffic jams!

* And the handicapped?
Cars for handicapped people will have access to the city. People with mobility problems nowadays have their liberty restricted by parked cars, non-existing pedestrian routes and the danger of speeding cars.

* We won't be able to quickly leave to escape noise, stress and pollution.
Without cars, the city will be more pleasant and we won't feel the need to leave it so often. Cars are the main source of noise, stress and pollution in cities. Cars will be parked outside the city and perhaps communally used to leave the town. As many people will have given up their car, the amount of people using public transport will enable the development of efficient networks to leave the city.

* We won't be able to travel so fast in cities.
Considering parking, bicycles are already generally faster in cities than cars. Traffic jams slow down cars. Public transport will become more frequent as more people use it.

* We won't be able to have fun racing our cars.
No, the city will be dedicated to social interactions and general wellbeing. It will still be possible to let off steam by foot and bike... and there are always video games!

* It's authoritarian to refuse access to individual cars.
Isn't it also authoritarian to restrict access to pedestrians and cyclists, to monopolise public
space for car-drivers? It's all about opening space to other means of transport and activities. Car use also requires a lot of policing to regulate parking, speed, drink-driving...

* Walking and biking are tiring.
There will be improved public transport. Everyone finds it pleasant to travel by foot and bike in the countryside. This pleasure will be possible in cities. Exercise bikes and aerobics in front of the television will become a thing of the past.

* We will need to pay for public transport, and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in car-free cities.
Nowadays we pay a lot more for car infrastructure (and all accidents and pollution caused by cars). Ugly multistory car parks, windy footbridges and scary, dirty under-passes won't be needed. Cycle paths are less difficult to build. Road tax now doesn't come near to cover the true costs. Paying for public transit is less expensive and the fares will reduce as more
people start using it, and as it becomes a greater priority for public funding.

* Isn't it difficult to stop using cars in cities?
Let's break out of this vicious circle which creates more car problems and makes cities more and more unbearable. We realise that giving up cars is difficult for many people at the moment. We should stop considering the car sacred, identifying with it, and realise all its negative aspects (it kills, pollutes, destroys social interaction, takes space etc.). If we
collectively decide to abandon car use in cities the reasons to use cars and the problems which are linked to them will disappear.

Taken from Earthwatch issue 41, Spring/Summer 1998. Earthwatch headoffice is in 20 Grove Road, Rathmines, Dublin 6. Tel (01) 4973773, Fax (01) 4970412. E-mail: The Magazine address is: The Square, Bantry, Co. Cork. Tel (027) 50968. Fax (027) 50545. Email:

The Car Debate

By Mark Doris

The increasing tendency to "monotransportation by private car" is not in the interests of
long-term or indeed short-term well-being. Below I look at why this is, and examine ways, means and prospects of change which would move us towards a healthier outcome.

Cars emit carbon fumes, cause personal frustration due to traffic jams, contribute to road-deaths, are costly to run. They also cause envy by way of the strong attachment and value bestowed on these machines by our present ideology.

The advantages of cars include: they are a flexible means of transport in that they can allow passengers to choose their route and their journey departure and arrival times. For women in particular they allow a greater deal of independence which without access to a car is often denied them due to their history of forming relationships and engaging in activities in close proximity to the home (as opposed to menwho have a history of access to relationships and activities both around their home and work territories). Primarily this independence derives from the increased personal security which travelling in a car offers (as opposed to waiting in public for public transport); being able to drive may also be a useful outlet for women suffering from emotional or physical abuse either in the home or in other situations.

Men traditionally have reason to feel somewhat safer on the streets: thus car-ownership or access isn't really an issue as far as personal security is concerned, except in exceptional circumstances.

The two identified advantages then one, the superiority of monotransportation with regard to scheduling and route-choice and two, the increased security offered to women in particular by
car-transport remain. At present however, there seems to be no strong argument for decreased use of monotransportation where these two factors don't come into play.

Cars certainly have their advantages in rural areas and built-up areas with poor public transport.

Reduced car-use will thus in the main be dependent on increased State-provision of efficient public transport; but it will also be dependent on informed choices taken by existing car-owners and those whose incomes could cover the costs of running an automobile. Informed choices mean including in one's decision-making: the impact of buying a car or using one on the environment and on one's income (and by extension, workload and leisure-time). The environment includes the air (emissions and dust); water (car batteries, run-offs); the soil (land-fills); oil, rubber and metal reserves (conflicts over which are probably the main cause of global conflict, and by extension arms proliferation at present ); the infrastructure of towns (more car-parks, more roads, wider roads, more cement and tar-mac, less green- space); noise; speed (and its attendant stress); destruction of wildlife habitats and hedgerows. There are other psychological consequences of use or over-use of monotransportation which are not often thought of: is there a humanising value in sharing trains and buses with people who are diverse economically and socially? Cars lend themselves to excessive privacy and this may lead to the over-development of inward-looking tendencies focused on self, immediate friends, family and work-colleagues to the exclusion of the wider community. The capital-intensive car-industry is relatively poor at providing employment. There may be less work for mechanics, petrol-pump attendants or carsalespeople with a reduction in car use; public transport needs drivers, office-staff, cleaners etc.

Of course there are obvious health benefits: apart from the ones related to the environment, one would exercise one's limbs more, get more fresh air, be less stressed (once the train or bus takes off you can think about other things.)

The tendency in general to run all over the place is probably an unhealthy one in itself, which tends to delusions of the kind "if only I was someplace else, I would be content".

In conclusion, the largest group of people who have a moral and legitimate claim to a certain amount of car use, in the current climate of street-crime, are women. If street-crime diminishes, so will this claim. Men on the other hand buy and use monotransportation excessively and need to cut out or decrease their use accordingly. There are also other related issues not dealt with here such as: buying consumer goods which have a large transport input in their cost-structure, and air-transport.

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