Going Car-lite isn’t Anti-car

Austinites love to complain about traffic. The city’s infrastructure never anticipated the demands and strains we increasingly place on our road network. These days it’s as easy to see a motorist sitting still in traffic as it is to see a bicyclist or a train zipping by on a separate path. The definition of efficient travel in Austin is slowly changing.

That doesn’t mean owning or using a car is wrong. It’s just not always the best fit for your needs. By considering the most practical option for each trip you take, not using a car can benefit you three fold:  avoiding the hassle of driving in traffic, improving your health through a more active lifestyle, and saving you money. In Herb Caudill’s Cutting dependence on cars isn’t anti-car, it’s common sense, he breaks it down to basics by pointing out that building new freeways doesn’t work, because it encourages people to drive more. And the more you space you make for cars, the less space there is for other modes of transportation—specifically walking, which strongly affects quality of life and makes for cities full of strip malls rather than corner stores.

This isn’t a war on cars, it’s more of a balancing act in how public rights-of-way are used so cars, public transit, pedestrians and cyclists can share the space more effectively and safely. NPR recently got it wrong by focusing on a perceived “war on cars” in their Cities series. Most people see increased investment in options as a better solution to traffic than more road construction [citation], yet NPR focused on a few motorists frustrations with bus only lanes in Washington DC.

Few doubt that we will continue to need cars for certain tasks even while we understanding that they’re generally inefficient and take up too much space. Yet, it is also important to think about changes in the way we grow our cities and move within them and take steps to improve old approaches that simply no longer work to achieve how we want our cities built. But imagine if we were starting from scratch how we might do things differently with what we’ve learned about urban development. In this article, Neal Pearce sights Peter Calthorpe’s vision of a world where cities are built for billions of people without a single freeway and where, “freeway-free cities could be planned with a broad network of car-less avenues, offering generous space for walking, biking and exclusive bus lanes, an environment perfect for apartments and shops.”

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