While many know the adverse health, climate, aesthetic, and habitat issues of car culture, there is no getting around the fact that cities are built around them. Cars emit harmful toxins to human health, and even electric ones force you to spend hours a day sitting; carbon emissions are furthering the climate crisis; roads make cities look worse and cut off animal migration routes. Had these impacts been known at the onset of motor vehicles, society would never have started along the path of car dependency. But now that the developed world is wholly entranced with four-wheeled luxury, how can governments help people escape car culture? The three main ways are designing future expansions to be more bikeable and walkable, investing in effective public transportation, and incentivizing non-car transportation.
Using Your Legs
Cities can become more bikeable and walkable by designing future expansions with these modes of transport in mind and increasing their viability in already-built communities. This focus will help people get moving more, improving mental and physical health while also reducing all the harmful climate and aesthetic effects of cars.
The first step to making cities more walkable and bikeable to escape car culture is to make it safe to be a pedestrian by reducing speed limits in areas prioritizing active transportation. This also adds the benefit of reducing some incentives to take a car for a short trip by making it longer. Separate walking and biking lanes (which could be just separated by a painted line) should also be added to paths to make walking safer. Protected bike lanes will also help make biking safer and reduce stress, leading to more bikers on the road. Many will say that these bike lanes will interfere with car lanes and that it will give priority to bikes over cars, and to them, the answer is: that’s the point.
The next step to reducing car use is to make walking and biking trails and paths prettier. Art installations, urban street art, trees and flowers, and litter cleanups all contribute to better-looking paths, improving the non-car experience and incentivizing using your legs. The final step is focusing on the non-walkable or bikeable corridors in cities to connect the communities already doing well. In many Canadian suburbs, outdoor paths and parks are not a problem; anyone can walk or bike there. But, if people want to visit between suburbs without a car, they often have to take unsafe, inefficient, and unattractive routes. Focusing on improving the areas in most need of non-car modes of transportation will allow cities to be more connected and create a culture of being able to bike and walk longer distances.
Make Someone Else Drive
Car culture forces everyone to drive more. Driving increases stress. It also makes you to focus on the road, not allowing your mind to decompress properly after your long day at work and not letting you read, text (hopefully), or read informative articles on Envrionbuzz. Why not let someone else drive? One way to do this is carpooling, which allows flexibility and privacy while reducing emissions. Another is public transport, which decreases emissions by containing more people in the same vehicle or using non-fossil fuel energy sources. Some interesting non-traditional forms of public transport are skytrains, as in Vancouver, which take very little space compared to roads, buses with room underneath to allow cars to pass through, and improved bullet trains called “hyperloops” between major cities.
There are also always the trusty electric buses and light rail trains that can operate now without any futuristic inventions. Another benefit of buses is that they can be electric without any extra cost to the consumer, which gets around the “electric cars are too expensive” argument.
Another way to increase the use of public transportation is to make it a more enjoyable experience. Make comfier seats, improve ventilation systems, install more sound insulation, and improve cleaning procedures. While this will increase the cost of public transportation for governments, this is worth it through the reduced number of cars on the road, reduced emissions, and improved mental and physical health.
The current model of government investments prioritizes cars over other forms of transport, further promoting car culture. To escape excessive car usage for superior alternatives, incentives for non-car transportation and disincentives for car-based travel must be increased.
An easy first step is creating “two-person-plus” only highway lanes over important commuter sections, as well as policing them properly to fine those who are using them as a single occupant. Many will complain that this will increase traffic during peak hours, but the response is again that this is the point. People experiencing increased traffic must find someone else to drive with or take a different form of transportation, which is the purpose of these high occupancy lanes.
Another way is to make buses and trains easier to access without cash. The world is moving away from coins and bills, and even those that still carry them are unlikely to have exact change. While there are programs where you can load electronic money onto a card and then use that card to pay for your trip, this requires the user to plan ahead, replenish their card consistently, and isn’t accessible to those who only take public transport every once and a while. An easy solution is to incorporate paying by card, as almost everyone carries one. This can be just as fast as cash if using tap.
Finally, reducing the number of parking spaces may seem crazy, as parking is already hard enough to find, but publicly promoting their replacement with public transportation areas or bike parking will show those frustrated with the reduced car parking that the way to fix their anger is to switch to another form of transportation.
While our cities may have evolved to be utterly reliant on cars, it doesn’t have to stay this way. Many of these changes may annoy or even outrage car users, and while this may be unpleasant, it is part of the solution. By properly promoting alternative transportation methods, many angry car users will see that their easiest solution is to switch to a new form of transportation. There are many strategies to decrease car use and increase other modes of transport. It is up to us to pressure governments to implement them.
Birenbaum, G. (2021, September 12). How to end the American obsession with driving. Vox. https://www.vox.com/22662963/end-driving-obsession-connectivity-zoning-parking
Hornby, L. (2017, July 3). China “traffic-straddling” bus scrapped after fundraising probe. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/bb9ac586-5fba-11e7-91a7-502f7ee26895
Intelligent Transport. (2018, July 30). All First Manchester buses will accept contactless payments by October 2018. Intelligent Transport. https://www.intelligenttransport.com/transport-news/70139/first-manchester-buses-contactless/
Leahy, A., Semler, C., Inamdar, A., & Hurd, P. (n.d.). 5 Ways to Make Cities More Walkable. Kittelson & Associates, Inc. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from https://www.kittelson.com/ideas/five-ways-to-make-cities-more-walkable
Root, T. (2019, August 29). One Thing We Can Do: Drive Less. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/28/climate/one-thing-we-can-do-drive-less.html
Wander, T. (2018, October 25). 6 Beautiful Taiwan Bike Paths That You Cannot Miss! SportsIn Cycling. https://sportsincycling.com/blog/cycling-taiwan-bike-paths/
It’s Possible to Escape Car Culture, Here’s How
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