Forget Hybrids. Decongest!

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.

London Traffic

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.


  • Don

    Imagine cars half the width of todays cars. They could sit 2 or 3 people just one behind the other. Now rather than one lane you would have two lanes (two parking spaces, etc) Because they are samll gas mileage would be great and a plug-in option would be perfect. The suburban home with a two car garage would now have two commuter cars in one garage and a normal large auto for the family.

  • Robert Woehrle

    What are we waiting for??????

  • ETM
  • langjie

    incompatibility. it would be great if this could happen, but when if one of those 1/2 sized cars gets hit with an H2, guess who wins? and it’s too difficult to implement everyone.

    maybe it would catch on if they were cheap, then people could afford to have a couple of cars

  • Anon

    Scooters or Motorcycles are half-width already that can seat 2 people. Some entrepreneurs are making motorcycles with a shell like a car for weather protection.

  • Don

    The problem isn’t small light cars it is H2′s with their large mass and stiff frames that kill the occupants of both vehicles. The benefit of the commuter car idea is the low cost of implimentation. A little paint divides an existing lane or parking space into two. The cars should also cost considerable less even if they are full of crumple zones and air bags to maximize safety. Scooters and motorcycles are indeed half width but they are dangerous, are a drag in bad weather, and have poor areodynamics. Your point is well taken though.

  • Dave K.

    The elephant in the room is CARPOOLING! No new anything but we double, triple or more our efficiency while dividing the number of vehicles on the road by the same amount. Carpool in a hybrid and you’re over 100mpg/ person.

  • Stu

    While the concept of Naked Streets is really interesting and while I applaud the counter-intuitive approach…that’s really a solution that would work in very few areas. I’m in Los Angeles, and (not to be a downer) if we had even a heavily modified version of “Naked Streets”, half the population would be dead within 6 months. I can see that working in Europe…but not here. Too many Americans have too much of that “What? No stop sign?!! I guess that means I can go as fast as I want!!!” mentality in them for that to catch on. As it is, people here in LA break most of the traffic laws we already have.

    Other than that, kudos on a great article. Thanks.

  • someone In NY

    How about walking? Obviously, I am not saying to walk 10 miles to work. Ex: I work in NYC. In order to get into the metro area at a decent time I take mass transit then walk the rest. I avoid surface transportation simply because cars and taxi makes it impossible at times for buses. I also realized that I walk faster than the buses during rush hours.

  • Tom

    I love to bike. I’ve tried biking to work, errands, etc. I had to give it up because of how dangerous it is. I’ve had car drivers yell at me. I’ve had them wait until they are just a couple of feet behind me, and hit the horn.. I want to tell them what a dumb*** they are! Here’s this smelly, loud polluting car, I’ve turned my head around long ago to see it, I can hear it so very far away, and if I don’t know s/he’s there when the car is right up on me, knowing then won’t make a difference. I’ve had friends get things thrown at them.. geeze.. I’d think I’m doing car drivers a favor by getting one of those big things out of their way. Now, I go to the gym and use a stationary bike for exercise.. this is progress??

  • Kathryne

    I just started riding the bus to work downtown and I love it! If the buses had their own lanes and didn’t have to stop for traffic lights, it would cut the commute time in half. And why not make nicer buses, perhaps with a coffee and juice bar in the back? More people would ride, and the cities would would have an extra source of revenue. Viva la bus!

  • sweaty

    What about people in cities where you would sweat to death riding a bike?

  • Ian

    here’s the link to the article online. i hope the webmaster for hybridcars.com sees it and updates the site.
    http://www.goodmagazine.com/section/Features/decongestion

    Editor’s Note: We added the link at the top of this page. Thanks.

  • grecom
  • elan

    i luv hybrids

  • Steve

    In 2008 the world’s first PRT system will be operational at Heathrow airport. After that, everyone will want one.

  • Johnny

    I think this is cool…

    Recumbent Exercise Bikes

  • Alex-a

    also don’t forget everyone should try to do his best to make our planet more healthy . by using green products and green energy .
    Then maybe we will have paradise in earth .

    recumbent exercise bike