Driverless and Electric, or Car-Free? The Cities Cutting Out Cars, and Why

Driverless and Electric, or Car-Free? The Cities Cutting Out Cars, and Why

It’s common consensus in the tech industry that the days of cars as we know them—powered by gas, driven by humans, and individually owned by all who want and can afford one—are numbered. Imminent is the age of autonomous, electric, and shared transportation, and we’re continuously taking small steps towards making it a reality. Self-driving software is getting better at avoiding accidents. Battery storage capacity is climbing. Solar energy is getting cheaper. This all points to a bright automotive future. But not everyone is on board—in fact, some cities are taking the opposite approach, phasing out gas-powered cars altogether, limiting use of hybrid and electric cars, and making urban centers car-free. Will they be left in the dust as the rest of us are autonomously driven into the (energy-producing) sunset? Or do the anti-car folks have it right—is the brighter future one that forgoes cars in favor of even more sustainable and healthy modes of transportation?

Too Much of a Good Thing

What might Henry Ford think if he saw what’s become of his invention? Highways clogged with traffic, accidents a leading cause of death, commuters sealed alone and sedentary in their vehicles for hours. Ford may have never expected cars to become cheap and accessible enough for us to use them to the extent we do today. And as the global middle class grows, cars are likely to proliferate even more; as people make more money, they want cars not just for transportation and convenience, but as status symbols. The countries where the middle class has the most potential to grow—that is, countries where poverty rates are still relatively high—are also seeing people flock to cities in search of work and security. The UN predicts that 90 percent of the global shift to urban areas will take place in Asia and Africa, with Delhi, Dhaka, Bombay, and Kinshasa among the top 10 most populated future mega-cities. It would be messy enough to add millions more cars to cities that have an existing infrastructure for them—and far messier to add them to cities like these that don’t. Plus, even if the cars are electric, the electricity has to come from somewhere, and even the world’s wealthiest countries aren’t likely to get to 100 percent renewables until 2050 at the soonest. And you can only have so much congestion before a city’s quality of life and economy are impacted.

Mexico City was the first in the world to take serious action against traffic congestion, implementing daily “no drive restrictions” based on license plate numbers. London, Singapore, and Stockholm all use congestion pricing, where drivers have to pay to enter city centers or crowded streets.

These are minor measures compared to the steps other cities are taking to discourage people from driving.

Auf Wiedersehen, Don’t Drive

Ready? Here are some rapid-fire stats on cities taking steps to limit cars. Madrid made its city center a designated low-emission zone, restricting access by older diesel and gas cars and planning to ban these vehicles from the zone completely by 2020. Hybrid cars can get an “eco label” and circulate freely. The whole of Denmark is planning to ban the sale of new gas and diesel cars starting in 2030, and the sale of hybrid cars starting in 2035. Copenhagen already has one of the lowest rates of car ownership and highest rates of bike commuting in Europe. In Paris, no cars are allowed in the city center between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m on the first Sunday of every month. Cars made before 1997 aren’t allowed in the city on weekdays, and the city is doubling its number of bike lanes. Athens will ban diesel cars by 2025 and already restricts the days of the week they can drive in the city center, based on license plate numbers. Oslo has set a target to become carbon neutral by 2030, and doing away with non-electric cars will be key to its success. The city has restricted access for private vehicles, turned road space into pedestrian space, and eliminated almost all of the parking spots in the city center. While Hamburg will still allow cars in its city center, it’s laying down plans that will make it far easier for people not to have to drive, including a “green network” that will connect parks and cover 40 percent of the city’s space. Brussels will ban all diesel vehicles by 2030 and is heavily promoting public and shared transportation. It’s even making its trains, buses, and shared bikes free to use on days with excessively high air pollution. The Netherlands will only allow emissions-free vehicles by 2030, and is pumping €345 million into its already robust bicycle infrastructure. Helsinki is redesigning its suburbs, which people primarily reach by driving, into walkable communities linked to the city by public transit, in hopes that Finns won’t need to own cars at all within 10 years.

Why All the Goodbyes?

Cutting out cars has the obvious benefit of reducing pollution—again, even if the cars are electric, we’re not yet to the point of 100 percent clean energy. And in fact, higher temperatures and less rain in many parts of the world mean pollution from cars is even more potent, and gets washed away less frequently. Going auto-free is good for people, too; it encourages more exercise (by walking and biking more), less isolation (by taking public or shared transportation), more time saved (no sitting still in clogged traffic) with less stress (I repeat—no sitting still in clogged traffic), and improved safety (car accidents definitely kill more people than bike or train accidents do). Greening city centers will also make those cities more pleasant to live in and visit. It’s worth noting that the cities reducing car usage are almost all in Europe, where such measures are far more feasible than, say, the US, where outside of major urban areas, it’s hard to go anywhere without a car. American cities expanded into now-sprawling suburbs largely thanks to the invention of the car, and have a degree of dependence on driving that will be hard to scale back from. European cities, in contrast, were further developed by the time cars proliferated; they’d already largely been built around public transportation, and continued to expand train systems even as cars became more popular. Plus, European countries’ comparatively small size makes it much more practical to rely on public transit than in the US; many US states are larger than European countries. The cities in developing countries that are set for population booms in the next two to three decades would be wise to follow Europe’s example rather than that of the US.

A Habit We’ll Never Fully Kick

Cars will, of course, continue to be widely used, including right at the edges of the cities that are banning them. The measures to discourage car usage and ownership are a start, but major shifts in urban planning and in peoples’ behavior aren’t as straightforward, and will take much longer to change. If big tech’s vision plays out, though, people will be able to use cars and reduce the danger, time, and stress associated with them; autonomous cars will pick us up, deftly navigate city streets, drop us at our destinations, then go pick up their next passenger. It does seem, then, that the days of cars as we know them are numbered, whether they’re replaced by high-tech versions of their former selves or switched out for bikes and trains. But fear not—the transition will happen slowly. There’s plenty of time left to sing at the top of your lungs (in between honking at bad drivers and checking a maps app to see how traffic looks) while sealed inside your good old reliable, private, gas-powered, human-driven chariot. Image Credit: Joshua Bolton / Unsplash

About The Author

Vanessa Bates Ramirez is senior editor of Singularity Hub. She's interested in renewable energy, health and medicine, international development, and countless other topics. When she's not reading or writing you can usually find her outdoors, in water, or on a plane.

This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University.

Related Books

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
9780143130444In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy

by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
1610919564With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

by Naomi Klein
1451697392In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
ug83qrfw
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.