Banning Cars from City Centres: Utopia, Here We Come

London, New York and Amsterdam: what is the difference between these three cities? Yes, only in the latter you are allowed to smoke pod legally. But that’s not what I mean; I am talking about the use of bikes in the city traffic. Why is that? Well, surely, Amsterdam is (way) smaller than cities like London or New York. And surely, the “infrastructure” – in the sense of the small alleys prevalent in Amsterdam – is more suitable to bikes than cars or any other vehicle. So residents in Amsterdam are more or less forced to travel by bike (if they want to get somewhere on time). But is “the infrastructure” really the main obstacle for cities like London and New York to make the shift to “big time bike riding”? I doubt it.

Let’s focus on London: in 2011 there were 2.5 million cars in London, which is about 9% of the cars in Great Britain. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in London, but let me tell you: a city like that isn’t made for cars: congestion and pollution are two big time (negative consequences) of our compulsive “traveling by car through city centres” behavior. Besides that, in 2009 3227 bikers were killed or seriously injured on London’s roads; not necessarily an alluring prospect for those considering to travel by bike. From 2002 to 2005, an average of 1.1 Dutch bikers was killed per 100 million kilometers cycled. In the United Kingdom and the United States these numbers were respectively 3.6 and 5.8. That’s what you get when roads are filled by big-ass vehicles and only a few of those “annoying, arrogant little bikers”.

But let’s think about it: why would we even allow cars to drive in major cities like London or New York – or Amsterdam for that matter, although I can assure you that there is hardly any driver stupid enough to travel through Amsterdam by car. Imagine what a city like London could look like if all cars were banned from town, if you were only allowed into – the centre – of the city by bike or public transport. What would happen if we’d do that? Probably not as many bikers would be killed in traffic, since it’s very hard for bikers to kill each other in collisions.

“But”, you might say, “what about the old people? You can’t expect them to travel by bike, can you?” True, you can’t. That’s why we can decide to let old people – 65+, or younger if you have got certain handicaps – to travel by bus or metro for free. Just pay some extra tax money to make sure this Utopia becomes a reality. If you would implement these two things – the (1) prohibition of cars travelling through the city centre and (2) using the “space on the roads” to implement bike-friendly, and public transport friendly, structures, I believe you have created yourself a beautiful little solution to deal with the huge amounts of traffic required in a town like London (or New York).

Surely, people will resist this idea: “We’ve always done it this way; travelling by car. Why would you change that?” Well, we’ve indeed always travelled by car, but “in those times” traffic wasn’t so damn crowded; in those times there weren’t so damn many cars driving through our beloved city centres. So it’s time for a change, isn’t it?

But what do you think?

Written by Rob Graumans

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