Imagining a Future Of Cities With Many Fewer Or Even Without Cars

Illustration by Practice for Architecture and Urbanism via The New York Times

Among the many changes brought on by the coronavirus is a drastic reduction in driving, particularly in large cities.  Apparently, in urban areas sales of electric bikes and scooters have skyrocketed too as people begin to contemplate how to get around without using public transport as cities begin re-opening for business.  The New York Times’ opinion writer Farhad Manjoo penned a fantastic story (the graphics are amazing) that visualizes a carless future for NYC and asks the fundamental question “why do cities waste so much space on cars.” He wrote: “In much of Manhattan, the average speed of traffic before the pandemic had fallen to 7 miles per hour. In Midtown, it was less than 5 m.p.h. That’s only slightly faster than walking and slower than riding a bike. Will traffic soon be worse than ever?  Not if we choose another path.”

Why This Matters:  Now is the time to reimagine urban spaces — particularly if, as Manjoo predicts, more people worry that the only way to safely get around in cities is in their own car.  Many European cities are planning for a future with fewer private cars.  We can too in places like NYC — and most residents will greatly benefit to boot.  

Many Benefits

The Times story explains how dangerous driving is — interestingly Farhood cites the following statistics:

And without cars on the road, smaller vehicles like electric bikes, scooters and ordinary bikes and even walking would presumably be much safer.  Not to mention the health/exercise benefits gained by walking more and riding a bike, as well as the lives saved — an estimated 50,000 more from long-term exposure to air pollution emitted by cars.  Plus Farhood posits that there is little reason to believe that public transportation — busses and the subway — are dangerous if people wear masks and there are enough to give people space, providing that option as well.

And it would save time.  The architects looking seriously at this in NYC say that the “absence of cars would allow pedestrians, buses, and bikes to race across New York at unheard-of speeds. Today, a bus trip from uptown to downtown — for instance, from Harlem to City Hall — takes an hour and 48 minutes. With the sort of rapid bus system PAU imagines, and without cars in the way, the same trek would take 35 minutes.”

To Go Deeper:  Soak in the entire story, especially the animations, illustrations, and source material provided by Practice for Architecture and Urbanism.  It is worth every minute.

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