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In the May/June 2007 issue of “Good” magazine, Josh Jackson provides evidence that Americans have “become slaves to our mechanical masters.” But his story doesn’t dwell on traffic jams, high gas prices and environmental ruin. Instead, he points overseas to five examples where city planners have liberated urban dwellers from their transportation bondage. “The solutions are already out there,” Jackson writes.
Let’s face it. Hybrids will only go so far—if we add one billion more cars to global roads in the coming decades. How about these solutions, folks?
Bus Rapid Transit – Subways are expensive and only make sense for high-density areas. Instead of building a new transportation network from scratch, planners in Curtiba, Brazil, created an efficient bus network with red-light-free lanes and speedy passenger pay stations. Bogota, Colombia replicated the idea and dramatically reduced the number of cars in the city. Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogata, said, “If only children had as much public space as cars, most cities in the world would become marvelous.”
Naked Streets – Hans Monderman, a Dutch planner, came up with a counter-intuitive and revolutionary transportation planning idea: remove traffic lights and street signs. The concept of naked streets requires drivers to proceed as cautiously as pedestrians. The city of Drachten, home to 45,000 people, removed more than 80 percent of its traffic lights and more than half its road signs. One resident said, “You drive more slowly and carefully, but somehow you seem to get around town quicker.”
Bicycle Panning – In the 1970s, when planners in Copenhagen wanted to reduce the number of cars and increase bicycle use in the city, they made one small but critical decision: they placed bicycle lanes between parked cars and the sidewalk, rather than squeezing bikes between rushing traffic and parked cars. That simple adjustment made the bike lanes much safer. Today, Copenhagen is perhaps the most bicycle-friendly city in the world.
In the first year of London’s scheme to charge drivers for clogging up congested areas of the city, the number of private cars entering downtown dropped by 34 percent.
Congestion Pricing – In 2003, London mayor Ken Livingston introduced congestion pricing—essentially a tax paid by drivers who clog up the city’s most congested areas, such as finance districts, government office areas, and major tourist destinations. The fee of roughly $16 per day is paid ahead of time at retail centers or the internet. No toll booths. In the first year of the scheme, the number of private cars entering downtown dropped by 34 percent, with steep increases in bus usage and the number of bicycle riders.
Intermodal Systems – In Amsterdam and Hong Kong, it has become much easier to transfer from one mode of transportation to another. For example, Amsterdam planners made their bicycle lanes into feeder systems for rail stations and provided extensive bicycle parking. In Hong Kong, high-speed rail systems link up with international air terminals and with downtown subway stations. Linking existing transportation systems with new ones increases the efficiency of transit overall.