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The city is my backyard, and my frontyard. Your cars are killing it, and everyone in it. “More roads! Less trees! More places to run over people! Less parks, more car parks! Less space for people, more space for cars! More asphalt and bungalow mats, and hypermarkets with vast parking lots! Less density! More distance! Less places at a walking distance! Life sentence in a stinking tin can!” So goes the cry of the petrol fascists, a rather popular movement, holding masses on every road and parking lot near you.
Regular traffic of cars and other noisy, fast and massive vehicles has no place next to human habitation. They kill streetlife. They kill nature. They kill scenery. They kill tranquillity, inside and outside buildings. They kill people, directly and indirectly. They need so much space that distances become enormous, and combined with the suburban low-density bungalow hell, public transport becomes non-viable and non-existent or poor (being just for the “poor”), not to even mention bicycling and the dangers imposed on it. Thus more people get into cars. More roads are needed, and the cities where these suburban motor-terrorists jam into with their machines of destruction, become untenable places to live. The car becomes a means to escape the destruction caused by – cars. More people move into suburbia, with a few less cars at a single place at a given time, and distances grow. Indeed, as there's not enough space for all the cars in the denser old city centres, and the couch-potato motorists demand parking next to the front door, even services move outside city centres into vast hypermarkets and other middle class shopping “paradises” with vast parking lots, at vast distances from where people actually live. That, or parks in the city get carpet-bombed into parking lots. The vicious circle gives birth to a car culture with a life of its own.
On the absurd side of things, some motorists even drive long and boring distances to go – sporting; to run on a running track – or worse, on a running machine – to ride a bicycle on a bicycling track, or ski on a skiing track. Apparently the local neighbourhood and forests aren't good enough – or there isn't any left after cars have demolished everything, and the low density can not support nearby gyms and other sporting utilities. On the even more absurd side, some of the motorists drive even in such cases, and to buy a carton of milk from a faraway hypermarket, even if there would be a grocery shop just a few blocks away. All this just serves to increase traffic and its destructive effects and locks everyone into alienating tin cans.
Cars offer no freedom within the city; they are segregation cells on a prison of asphalt, yet they do not protect outsiders from the murdering psychopath inside. Even the kindest people are prone to turn into road-raging maniacs behind the wheel. This and the sheet metal fortress install a deceptive feeling of power in the driver, and hence the impression that being considerate towards others is not in their interest, leading to narrow-minded and short-sighted “me, first, now, fast” behaviour. Furthermore, the culture of car dependency reduces the freedom of movement of those who can not drive – do not like to drive – or can not afford a car. Infact, it has been claimed that one of the reasons for the burning of cars in the French riots – a rather satisfying sight, in a way – was them symbolising mobility and everything else the poor immigrants don't have.
Parking lots are ugly, and yet for every building there's a parking lot of equal size. Roads are ugly, and yet they crisscross everywhere. Not only dangerous, cars are ugly, noisy, polluting and stinking, and yet they're everywhere, making these places unsuitable for people and bicycle traffic. If one were to blast stereos at a loudness comparable to the noise cars make, whether in public or at home, one would soon find the pigs paying a visit. Yet, nobody stops the motorists and asks them to turn down the volume. Cars are sacred cows, and everything is permitted of them. Everything is designed for them. Cars come first, and people and bicycles are pushed into whatever little space and time remains, if there's even any money left for other development. Time, for cars on a major thoroughfare tend to be given long time slices in traffic lights, and other street users – who are very often moving in the perpendicular direction, trying to take the shortest path between areas encircled by such roads – tend to be given short time slices, and motorists have absolutely no respect for zebra crossings without traffic lights.
New technology won't solve the worst problems of cars. Even the whole bio-fuel buzz has nothing to do with preserving the nature. If there's any unlikely reduction in pollution, it is at most a side effect. Bio-fuels are all about permeating the car culture beyond peak oil, at any cost, with the mankind not being able to think outside the tin can. The car is a symbol of Economic Growth, and the god demands its icons and sacrifices. Electronic guidance of cars – a strike against the collective pseudo-individualism of motorists – may slightly ameliorate their lethalness to bystanders, and it may be possible to make their engines quieter, but nothing in the foreseeable future can remove the loud rolling noise of a tonne of metal on rubber tyres and the noise from overcoming air resistance.
Even with such advances, the roads and parking lots would still devour all the space, produce an ugly cityscape, and the resulting low density of habitation and services would keep everyone dependent on cars. However, properly done, banning cars from city centres has been shown to have the effect of helping at least some services survive in a dense, human-sized core, as it becomes a place where people want to spend time in, not being terrorised by cars. Indeed, suburbia makes a very poor compromise between the countryside and urban areas – free from cars – being neither dense enough nor sparse enough. Dense urban cores have their own attractions, and the countryside its own, primarily in summertime. Most of suburbia offers only disgustingly middle-class middle-grade approximations of these; a laughable plot of grass and bushes under the eye and noise of neighbours, yet at a considerable distance from the attractions of the city, which would be best accessed by public transport – not being able to drive the car afterwards is integral to some attractions – and public transport can only be poor in suburbia.
Cars rape, pollute, destroy, kill and mutilate everything on their way. Motorists and advocates of motorism are the greatest terrorists on this planet. Cars have no place in cities designed for people. Urban areas must be designed around human-powered and mass modes of transport, the latter as much out of sight and out of way as possible, i.e. preferably a metro. To provide good quality of service, these modes of transport require densities that are not possible in cities – or rather, suburban mats of asphalt and detached houses – that accomodate for cars, while still providing decent living space for people. Old technology, bicycles and rail, will solve the problems of cars.
Too high densities can, of course, be oppressive. I would not like to live in a megacity with not much nature in sight for kilometres, or in a very tall building. A solution is then to build locally dense, but globally sparse. To build small dense communities of walking size, with nature almost everywhere around, connected to adjacent communities by bike paths and public transport lines, like a string of pearls. Public transport, to be attractive and comfortable, should be fast and tight-scheduled – again suggesting a metro – and the network laid out so that few if any easy transfers are needed on most trips. Furthermore, to reduce all the commuting, and to help support a variety of activities in each community by constant occupation, instead of differentiating into bedroom and working communities, all communities should offer both housing and facilities for many kinds of activity, from offices and shops to light industry. Such compact communities might also facilitate more local, decentralised decision-making.
When cars, roads, and parking lots do not devour all the space, buildings can be squeezed closer together to increase density, while still leaving more space than before – with cars – for streets suitable for walking and bicycling, for parks and gardens, for interior courtyards filled with trees instead of cars. Buildings wouldn't even have to be very tall – and although an arcology could be interesting, generally the elevator dependency of very tall buildings is uncomfortable (and they demand their space too) – it having been suggested that four stories on average would be sufficient for very high quality public transport access at densities somewhat lower than some old European city centres. There actually exists a rather thorough and interesting design around these principles, for about one million people, but adaptable to other sizes. It consists of communities of approximately three fourths of a kilometre in diameter, of around 12000 people. These are arranged into six “lobes”, connected by just three metro lines under a central pedestrian and bicycling boulevard, with a track for freight too. (Some more detailed aspects of the design demand some criticism, however, and as the author does not let such pass on the moderated mailing list for the site describing this design, I will in my turn refrain from linking to it.)
Such is a kind of city I'd like to live in. I support the war against terror – of cars. More bike paths! More public transport! More trees, fields and gardens! More quality housing! More quiet spaces! More parks, not car parks! No roads and no cars in the city! Freedom from cars!
Postscript. As public and human-powered transport can't well serve all places outside cities, and yet there are very valid reasons to get to such places, cars become almost a necessity outside cities. Unfortunately, the car culture reflects too much in inter-city travel as well. While roads are built and improved between cities, the railroad next to the road crumbles down. And yet rail can offer much faster, safer and more convenient travel – at least I prefer e.g. reading to the tedium of concentrating on driving. Chauffeurs are not exclusive to rich people who do not want to fall so low as to drive a car: I can have one too – if I use public transport, supposing there is any.
In Finland, for example, the rail-road monopoly VR started buying new fast Pendolino trains in the mid-1990's, after the state, which owns the tracks, had promised to improve them. That has yet to happen except in very close proximity to the Capital of the World – the shithole known as Helsinki outside Ring Road Three – and infact the condition of the tracks has got so poor – with quite a few derailments – that even the old trains can't travel at full (130km/h) speed. The Pendolino with its 220km/h top speed – not comparable to a TGV, Shinkansen or such bullet train that would require completely new and expensive tracks – should considerably reduce travel time, compared to both old trains and cars. But with the current tracks and politics (in Finnish; notice the dearth of improvements to the notorious Tampere-Jyväskylä track, while the road on the other side of Päijänne, leading to Jyväskylä from the south as well, is to be improved) focusing on petrol fascism and improving roads, that remains a pipe dream – not to even mention night trains, or the complete lack thereof (and the far less comfortable buses too, between cities one of which isn't the Capital of the World). Nevertheless, VR is constantly replacing old trains with the Pendolinos boasting very expensive tickets, yet travelling slowly, thus making the car an even more attractive (in Finnish) alternative, and contributing to the vicious circle.
Postscript #2. Regarding cross-roads and bicycles, in Finland the law infact very specifically discriminates (PDF, in Finnish) against bicyclists, as motorists are not even supposed to let bicyclists – not even stopped ones – to cross the road in many places, yet are supposed to do so for pedestrians on the same multi-use path. Not that even the latter is seen often, or that anti-bicycling discrimination (in Finnish) would end at the former.