As the number of air pollution-related deaths increase, cities around the globe are trying their best to get people to ditch their cars when they come downtown. They are expanding public transit options, increasing the width and number of bicycle lanes, facilitating bike sharing, and deploying negative incentives.
While several European cities are implementing long-term plans to restrict cars, their American counterparts don’t seem to be following suit. Many are working hard to integrate walking and cycling options into existing street and road networks, but they’re not punishing drivers like Europe does.
In 2003, London, which has allocated $1 billion toward improving bike infrastructure by 2026, instituted a congestion charge to drive on downtown streets. Along with Paris, Madrid, and Mexico City, London also plans to ban diesel fuel over the next decade.
Oslo, one of Europe’s fastest-growing cities, already charges a congestion fee and plans to add rush hour charges. In hopes of establishing a no-car zone within its central ring road by 2019, the Norwegian capital will replace 35 miles of roads with bike lanes and public transit.
Some say that eliminating cars from Europe is easier because streets, installed centuries before people began settling in North America, were built to accommodate pedestrians and wagons instead of cars. Regardless of difficulty or expense, though, transportation engineers must find cost-effective ways to incorporate people and bicycles into assets designed only to serve vehicles.
Made in America
As always, funding is a limiting factor. Ironically, low-income residents in the U.S. often lack affordable public transit options. Proposals to expand routes and/or retrofit busy streets and roads face opposition over cost and inconvenience from those who prefer to commute from suburbs to cities in their car.
U.S. cities are starting to address these perennial challenges. Austin, Texas; Salt Lake City; and Seattle have installed protected intersections. Also referred to as cycle tracks, the configuration protects right-hand turns, simplifies left-hand turns, and enables bicyclists to proceed straight through the intersection with minimal danger from turning cars. The design gives drivers ample time to react to cyclists and can be can be adapted on streets without protected bike lanes.