Cars Kill Cities…Yes They Do

I just read a blog, with the same name, by Progressive Transit, in California.I admit I stole the name, but it is a good one, and a good blog post too. Here, I would like to just put my own spin on it…

In this post, Progressive transit is questioning the use of cars in cities. The poster has a point! While they are not arguing that cars have no place in modern society, they seem to not have a place in modern cities, because so much space is needed to ‘house’ (park) them when they are not in use, never mind the traffic congestion and pollution they cause. Years ago, my father suggested that Portland should ban all cars in it’s downtown area except for delivery and transit vehicles. I thought that was a great idea at the time and actually still do, way to go Dad!!

Even though Portland hasn’t yet banned all cars from their downtown area, they have been applauded for decades as having a pretty progressive public transportation system. This is mainly due to a rerouting or relocating of federal highway money that was given to the city/state in the 1970’s. Money was given to the state to expand the freeway system and there were grand plans to create the Mount Hood Freeway. This freeway was never finished because of a local political grassroots effort, led in part by Neil Goldschmidt and others, especially those who lived in the SE Portland neighborhood that would have had to relocate because their homes were to be demolished for the freeway. This freeway would have potentially benefited the suburbs more than the city, since it would have connected East Portland and the city of Gresham to the downtown core. This would have allowed more people to move to the suburbs but still work in the city center, which would also potentially kill any new tax dollars or funding for city services or education. Instead of spending the $180 million on this freeway, city officials reallocated the funding to expand or improve public transportation and also create MAX Light Rail. This funding wasn’t completely exhausted until sometime in the early 1990’s.

Here is a video about the demise of the Mount Hood Freeway in Portland and comparing it to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) in New York (from StreetFilms.org):

Today, the city and Tri-Met, the local mass transit service in Portland, are struggling for funding amid tax cuts and a lack of funding coming from Washington D.C., so the service isn’t entirely as great as it used to be. It however is still  a beacon for other cities across the country though.

And now onto Europe…

This picture makes such an important point.

The first time I came to Europe, in 1999, I remember being in Venice and fighting to find a nook in the street to get out of the way of an oncoming car because the streets were so very narrow. Today, in Germany where I live, and in many of the cities my husband and I have visited – cars in the city center or what is now called the “pedestrian area” are banned and often sidewalks and bike ways (especially in cities like Antwerp, Belgium) are wide, commonplace and clearly separated from car traffic. Mind you, my city isn’t as big as Antwerp and our bike lanes and sidewalks sometimes leave a lot to be desired but, in most situations, people – meaning pedestrians, have the right of way. Our pedestrian area is closed to cars from 11:oo am until 6:00 am I believe (with taxis being a sometimes special exception in the wee hours of the morning). My town also has a problem with congestion, being that it is so close to Luxembourg. People live here and work there (kind of like living in Vancouver and commuting to Portland to work – but, sorry I am a bit biased, my town is MUCH better than the ‘Couve). My city too has to deal with the parking issue. There are eleven parking garages in my town (of only 100,000 people) and at least nine other parking lots for the public to use and this is not counting on street parking throughout the city.

In fact, in the 1980’s my city was planning on another parking garage near the city center. They found the location and started to dig, only to find Roman ruins (or artifacts). The joke here is that you can’t throw a stick or dig a hole without hitting something old and Roman:

The old Roman bath, discovered after digging for a new underground parking structure.

And this is what it looks like today:

I call it the "Glass Box"

Today, this square is used as an underground parking garage, a public square with bars, cafe’s and restaurants adding outdoor seating in the summer months, as a piece of historical record (notice the different colored bricks in the foreground denoting the original Roman road location) and private meeting space (among the old public Roman baths)! It is one of our favorite places to go in the summer (if we aren’t down by the river or Palastgarten barbequing).

One of the reasons I like living here in Germany (Europe in general) is the ability and freedom to walk, take public transit or ride my bike. I am not tied to a car thankfully. My husband and I are planning on avoiding the use of a car for as long as possible and the purchase of a car for even longer if we can. It can be quite freeing owning a car, getting in it whenever we have a free Saturday, Sunday or want a weekend away…and much easier to go grocery shopping and buy a large amount of goods (instead of buying all that we need weekly. I mean we are living in Europe but we are still at times very ‘American’). Mind you it did take us 8 hours to get to Northern Germany this summer, but we used the time to read, play games, practice our German, sleep and just hang out with each other in general. In the end it was a really nice trip and we didn’t mind the time, we didn’t really see it as being wasted.

But what do you think? Which cities in the US and around the world have the best public transit systems? Good asked it’s readers and this is what they said, here. Also, which cities are the worst and why? This is a real problem we must face in this new century.

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