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Monday, June 27, 2011

Europe Stifles Drivers in Favor of Alternatives

(click on title to follow the link to The New York Times article)

Although fairly hostile towards pedestrians,* this is one of the few articles of this nature that I have seen in an American publication and a message that Americans need beat into their heads every day.  

Zurich’s planners continue their traffic-taming quest, shortening the green-light periods and lengthening the red with the goal that pedestrians wait no more than 20 seconds to cross.
“We would never synchronize green lights for cars with our philosophy,” said Pio Marzolini, a city official. “When I’m in other cities, I feel like I’m always waiting to cross a street. I can’t get used to the idea that I am worth less than a car.”

As far as Valencia has come in the years I have lived here it is still maddening how long pedestrians have to wait at many intersections just to cross the damn street. Often they are also forced to wait two times to cross a single intersection just so cars can keep driving well over the legal limit. More than anything Valencia needs to slow traffic the hell down. As fast as a lot of traffic moves in this city any accident involving pedestrians or cyclists will have a very serious result, to put it mildly.

Of course, because The New York Times is closely monitored by far-right nut cases seeking to turn back the tide of socialism, the first comment to this story comes from a member of their half-witted ranks.

“Lets keep European ideas and implementation of Traffic in Europe where they belongs. Don't import these ideas and plans to this country. I don't want a Nanny government to dictate how I travel and what modes of travel I use.”

So by this logic the government shouldn't be building roads. as the glorious free market  will provide for all our needs.  As if America should ignore any idea simply because Europeans thought of it first. I don’t want a “nanny” (I hate that over-used word) government telling me that the only way that I can get around is by car. I doubt that the person who wrote this semi-literate comment even bothered (or was able) to read the article and they certainly skipped over this part:

“Mr. Fellmann calculated that a person using a car took up 115 cubic meters (roughly 4,000 cubic feet) of urban space in Zurich while a pedestrian took three. “So it’s not really fair to everyone else if you take the car,” he said.”

It’s time we made car drivers pay the true societal and environmental costs of the automobile. Highways and streets are horrifically expensive yet people scream bloody murder every time the government spends a dime on rail service, as if Amtrak should make a profit while highways continue to deplete tax dollars. I realize that many people in the USA would find it difficult or impossible to live without cars but this is only because we have made the decision to build our cities to exclude any transportation model besides the personal automobile. 

*Here is just a short inventory of the ways the tone of this article paints pedestrians as basically criminals intruding on the rights of car drivers.

creating environments openly hostile to cars

The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable

Barcelona and Paris have had car lanes eroded by popular bike-sharing programs.

Closely spaced red lights have been added on roads into town, causing delays and angst for commuters.


  1. I saw this story this morning and was first tickled by the use of the word "stifled". Because as you said, they have to tippy-toe around the landed gentry boogies who need those SUV's (who the hell else pays for suburban home delivery, which is probably the only thing paying young Arthur's salary?)

    Also, the commenters on the Times really can be scary. They've recently (wisely)reduced the maximum length of comments from 5000 to 2000 words. Because anyone who writes a 5000 word comment is batshit crazy.

    I've never learned to drive (grew up in New York and now live in Madrid) and somehow manage to get around (despite the fact that in morning rush hour it can take literlaly 5 minutes to cross Paseo del Prado as you wait for the light, reach the median, wait again to cross.....)One can live without a car.

  2. I have been car-less for going on five years and for most of my adult life the car has been more or a toy for me, like a snowmobile or a jetski, instead of basic transportation.

    As I point out, the NYT article is incredibly hostile towards pedestrians, this is coming from a city that is actually thinking about REMOVING some bike lanes. Fucking unbelievably.

  3. I think that it's true, "one" can live without a car, but it's very difficult for a family to exist without transportation. I've lived without a car, and never thought twice about it while I did.

    Here's the thing: It's not about owning an SUV. It's about owning an SUV as your primary car if: you're single, live in a city of over 400,000 people, work 2 blocks from your apt or house, and then decide to drive to work most days. That's just plain pissing on your society.

    I live in the suburbs, own an SUV, but I can tell you for sure that I average a higher efficiency of fuel usage PER PERSON than any single PRIUS owner ever has. When I drive my car there is usually more than 1 person in it. 23mpg / 4 people is more efficient than 50mpg / 1. I'll bet it's even more carbon-neutral, ozone friendly, etc. I admire the person for trying, but I kick their ass every time, AND when I am driving the neighbors kids, and I have 7 or 8 people in my car? Lookout.

    Anyway, on to your bike premise, and why it's so hostile an article - NYC wasn't designed to be bike friendly from the start. It is a GREAT city for pedestrians, and not horrible for cars. The urban engineering that has gone into NYC to make it such a great WALKING city necessarily prevents a lot of the types of modifications needed, and modifying it will ultimately create more pain than people are willing to put up with. For a city that finally put the jackhammer to the pavement to build the 2nd avenue subway line, with all the traffic tie-ups and the congestion, I'll be shocked if there's a solid push towards this in the next 10 years, but I don't think it's out of the question as an evolution.

    Not for nothing, NYC has completely changed the streets since I moved here 15 years ago. Not that it's exactly a paradise for Bikers, but the truth of the matter is, there are more bike lanes than I have ever seen. They completely re-designed Broadway from Times Square on down, added lanes to 5th Avenue, and it looks like they aren't finished. Also, I think that more people should definitely bike in NYC as a form of population control.

    Imagine this: you pair up newly immigrated people from countries in Africa and the Asian sub-continent, with a sprinkling of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, drop them in their beloved Yellow Taxis, and you put a bunch of asshole environmentalists and bankers on bikes and Vespas, and let 'em have at it. Smiles for all.

  4. You can't make the argument that driving is mandatory if you have a family because there are plenty of car-less families where I live. And city life is great for kids.

    Either we start to get our shit together in America or we are going to be left far, far behind. The question is sustainability. We need to rethink how new cities and housing are made. I doubt I will ever live in a house as I would miss the benefits of apartment life.

    This article, instead of trying to educate people, does more to reinforce negative views people already hold towards pedestrians vs. cars.

  5. My favorite quote in the article: "I can’t get used to the idea that I am worth less than a car." Nice!


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