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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Should cars be banned
from city centers?
of urban planning at Columbia
the Center for
Development at the
David A. King is
an assistant professor of urban planning in the School
Sciences and Urban
Planning at Arizona
LIMITING PRIVATE auto access to city centers is a powerful idea whose time
has come. The reason is simple: The space needs of private cars and the other
uses for those spaces are now in sharp conflict.
When automobiles arrived on the urban scene, about ;;; years ago, they
made city centers more accessible than public transport because they per-mitted people to live farther away, expanded the options beyond the trolley
lines and train tracks, and allowed drivers to come and go as they pleased. That
arrangement worked for about the first ;;; years of automobile use.
But cars hog space. They require large swaths of expensive center-city land
to move and park. As the use of private cars expanded, their space demands
soon undermined their initial promise. When more cars sought limited street
space, travel speed slowed and other uses of public roadways also suffered. The
space needs of private cars compete with the needs of pedestrians, delivery
vehicles, public transport, taxi and limo services, emergency service vehicles
and cyclists. That is why cities experiencing growth in population and economic activity seek to limit center-city private auto access.
Almost ;; years ago New York City closed Times Square to motorized traffic. Visitors and New Yorkers now fill spaces once occupied by congested auto
traffic. The ban created new opportunities for small businesses to service the
needs of all the new foot traffic. Property values have risen accordingly.
Limiting private auto access provides the space that center cities
need to exploit the living and working opportunities the new technologies
afford. The private auto once replaced public transport as new and better,
and the new technology embodied in autonomous vehicles, smartphones and
computer-controlled trains now has a chance to replace the private car
and improve center-city access. Just as important, these technologies also
create improved options for mobility-challenged individuals to access the
city center. C
CITIES IN the United States have long experimented with banning cars from
their downtowns. The results are mixed. In Fresno, California, Fulton Mall was
reopened to cars in ;;;;, decades after it was pedestrianized; the city hopes
that improved vehicular access will spur new businesses and economic activity.
The question for cities is whether cars and people can coexist in safe, vibrant
places. This is possible through better design and new transportation technologies. In terms of design, for most U.S. cities the issue isn’t so much about the
number of cars but instead about how those cars are used. Where streets are
designed as high-speed roadways, they are used as such. Cities can redesign
their streets to achieve slower traffic and support more activity. Converting
one-way roads to two-way traffic makes drivers more cautious. Shade trees
lower drivers’ visual horizon, so they pay more attention to the street just in
front of them and drive slower. Narrower traffic lanes allow for wider sidewalks
with space for trees, seating and bike racks, and can make streets easier to cross
for people of any age or ability.
A focus on only passenger travel often misses the real action, however.
Technology is changing how we move around, from e-commerce deliveries to
ride-hailing services. In dense neighborhoods, cities must consider the mix of
traffic on the street and at the curb. The shops, cafés and apartments that make
a place great need space for deliveries; buses need protected stops where they
can pick up and drop off passengers; bicyclists need safe lanes to ride in; and,
increasingly, cities need zones for Uber, Lyft and taxi activities. These types of
traffic are growing in all U.S. cities, and they are necessary. Designing streets
that accommodate them can boost economic activity while promoting safety.
So, in a few cases, such as Times Square in New York, U.S. cities should consider banning vehicles to promote safety and business, but these cases are rare.
For most of the country, better street design can tame driving so vehicles can
coexist with places people want to be. C
MARCH DEBATE RESULTS
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