Control use of private cars in cities
The goal here is not to ban private cars in cities, but to better manage their use. They have their rightful place in multi-mode transportation. The first obvious priority in a large city is to offer an attractive mass transit system. The "operation" of cities such as Berlin, London, New York, Paris or Tokyo is based on an efficient and reliable mass transit system comprising buses, metros (subways), taxis, trains and tramways.
This model cannot be implemented in full everywhere because of extensive rail construction work required, but buses are well suited to the existing road network provided they run in dedicated traffic lanes. It then becomes possible to prepare a truly effective transit plan as exemplified by Curitiba, Brazil.
Curitiba: An exemplary success
Curitiba, Brazil is the capital of Parana State and counts almost 2 million inhabitants. It is now known for what it has done in terms of the environment. In 1971 its mayor, architect and urban planner, had the city adopt a transit plan, an integral part of general urban planning that gave rise to a new concept: bus rapid transit (BRT). Novel buses, articulated vehicles with a capacity reaching 270 passengers, have their own lanes in an interlinked network that includes five radial (star-shaped) avenues laid down when the city was redeveloped.
Bus stops are genuine stations with "boarding tubes" similar to the most modern subway stations. Today the surface "subway" transports the equivalent of the city's population every day. "Classic" bus lines are connected to BRT lanes. Even more than this bus system or downtown pedestrian streets, Curitiba is characterized by its holistic approach to urban issues. Everything was designed at the same time and the results are seen down to the cleanliness of the streets. The city of Bogotá in Colombia used this example for its own bus rapid transit system, the Transmilenio. BRT systems are being developed around the world.
Carsharing and carpooling
Passenger cars can also help decongest cities, provided they are adapted to the city and are used differently. The design of small, purely city cars would reduce total surface occupied, reduce congestions and ease the parking crunch. Automobiles in cities are generally used sub-optimally: few occupants (often only the driver) and above all spend most of the day stopped, causing untoward fixed charges for the owner and useless congestion for the city.
Simple car pooling (Read the article CarSharing, the car becomes a service) reduces the number of vehicles for the same service rendered. Car pooling is encouraged in some cities by special lanes reserved for cars with several passengers. More radical is the availability of vehicles upon demand, or car sharing, which limits the need for a private car. This solution was born in Switzerland in 1948 and underwent renewed popularity in Europe in the 1980s. Today, more or less globally, associations and public or private companies of all sizes offer this service to internet or cell phone subscribers. The largest of these companies, the American Zipcar founded in 2000, now shares 6,000 vehicles among 275,000 members.
Developping sustainable cities
Cities can also offer cycling paths, bicycles to rent, e.g. Vélib in Paris, financial subsidies to create more parking space, can restrict traffic or charge a fee to enter the city center during rush hours (this aspect involves political, cultural and geographic considerations), and more. This is not a question of remaining dogmatic. In cities with effective inter-connected transit systems, multi-mode solutions are gaining ground.
More and more residents who previously used a given type of transportation exclusively now switch from one to another depending on the moment or during the same trip. This phenomenon is important in very large cities. At the scale of the municipality, this presupposes creating parking capacities at the edge of downtown and interconnection nodes, as well as the creation of a flexible tolls and fees system shared by all transportation modes (as well as parking).
London, Singapore, Milan, Oslo: the city center toll
As in Singapore during the 1970s (See the article about Singapore congestion pricing system), London became in 2003 the world's largest city to adopt an urban toll system called "congestion charge". Cars entering or driving in the center of the city between 7am and 6pm must pay a fee. This is free for buses, taxis, ambulances and other service vehicles, as well as autos running on alternative fuels. The obvious goal is to redirect a part of surface traffic to mass transit. Singapore launched this type of solution in 1975, and other cities have since followed suit, such as Bergen, Milan, Oslo, Stockholm or Trondheim (Norway).
Read also in this section:
- A new Award for “European Green Capitals”
- CarSharing, the car becomes a service
- Stockholm, a green city
- Singapore’s congestion pricing system
- Multimodal tools
- IBM enabling smart transportation systems
- The contribution of technology to limit traffic jams