Monday, June 27, 2011

Europe vs. America ...or... Cars vs. Everything Else

Sorry for the delay between posts. I have been working more, moving and had a family visit not to mention watching a bit of the Mavericks championship run. The computer crashing was also a detriment. Time that I would have spent finishing up the 360 plan was dedicated to something else.

So today, I direct your attention to the New York Times, which compares transportation polices in place in Europe to those here in the U.S.A.

Long story short, Europe is doing things that encourage other modes of transportation at the expense of the car. However, here in the states (though they never said it overtly) it is the opposite.

First let me say, I thought the article was written from the perspective of the car person. Quotes like

To that end, the municipal Traffic Planning Department here in Zurich has been working overtime in recent years to torment drivers. Closely spaced red lights have been added on roads into town, causing delays and angst for commuters. Pedestrian underpasses that once allowed traffic to flow freely across major intersections have been removed. Operators in the city’s ever expanding tram system can turn traffic lights in their favor as they approach, forcing cars to halt.

seem to take the stance that cars should always have the advantage.

My response is that why should they? Why have we decided that cars (and the resulting land use that accompanies it) are more important than walking, biking and transit? Is it because they can go farther?

Someone once told me that it was because cars were faster. I disagreed and said they were faster because it was designed to be faster. If we lived in a European-style city, biking would be faster by design. The subways have the advantage in New York because they were designed to be faster. In some cases walking is faster in car-oriented downtown Dallas than the auto, because it was designed that way.

The reason most Americans associate the car as the better transportation choice is that we have lived in a system that has made it the superior choice (or perhaps the only choice). If we could step out of our known comforts and make an unbiased decision, things might be different. However, when it comes to cars, I don't know that an unbiased choice can be made.

My whole philosophy might be between the extremes presented in the article. While I am not necessarily for policies that are meant to discourage car use, I am for policies that encourage alternative choices, even if they can discourage auto convenience. If the pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction, it may take policies against the current direction, but they have to be targeted for the opposite way.

I have said it before, traffic engineers are very good at what they do. But whether I have said this, I don't know, but there is not an equivalent advocate for pedestrians or cyclists. My experience has shown me that most transit officials are meek and appear happy to just be at the table. That is not a good formula for a balanced transportation system.

I end today's post with this quote, which I might steal in the future.

“We would never synchronize green lights for cars with our philosophy,” said Pio Marzolini, a [Zurich] 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.”