Car-Free Times

Volume 1, Number 2

Published by Crawford Systems

Spring 1997

World News Notes & Comment

If you know of interesting developments, please pass them along for inclusion in the next issue.

Bikes in Groningen Have 48% Market Share

Groningen is famous for the work done there to encourage bicycle use. In 1991, it was nominated "Best Cycling City in the World." The city makes it easy and attractive to ride a bicycle, and parking is restricted to discourage driving. The city is seeking to establish in the old city center a pedestrian-and-bike-only area with good public transport access. Cars park on the periphery. The entire area is limited to 30 kph. Squares in the center are car-free.
Groningen: The Bicycle City par Excellence
    I was in Groningen in February for a conference on compact cities, and what has been accomplished in Groningen is impressive. The center is peaceful and quite beautiful, with some gorgeous buildings. A thriving market is held in the main square. Within the center, 48% of all movements take place by bicycle.

Karlsruhe: A City on the Right Track

The tram system in Karlsruhe permits trams to use ordinary train tracks. Trams originate as far as 30 km from the city and run as regional trains until they reach the city, where they ride right to the central pedestrian area. During the warm months, an extra tram car exclusively for bicycles runs on lines serving popular weekend destinations.
On a newly opened tram line, 40% of the passengers are car drivers who switched to public transportation. Passenger motivation surveys show that easy and comfortable transport are their first priority. Only after that are price and speed mentioned. The tram is also a success because it is reliable and quiet.
Karlsruhe: A City on the Right Track
    The tram is an extremely flexible transport instrument which is finally drawing the attention of transportation planners after decades of neglect. Modern vehicles are fast, safe, comfortable, and quiet.

Freiburg's Car-Free Center

Since the 70s, Freiburg has actively strengthened public transport and cycling and gradually pushed private cars out of the center. The Freiburg tram network was expanded in 1972. Freiburg now has a car-free area of about 1/2 km2. Trams run in the pedestrian area and cause no serious problems.
In several cases, streets formerly used by cars were dedicated to the exclusive use of trams, bicycles, and pedestrians. Of all shopping trips to the center, 29% are by foot, 24% by bicycle, 26% by public transport, and only 14% by car.
Freiburg: 20 Years of Experience with an Integrated Traffic Policy
    Many cities in Europe have growing car-free centers. Most of these areas have become magnets for people from the region, and the best shopping is often located in these districts. Many European cities also have dense 19th C. neighborhoods which ring the old centers. These areas are ripe for conversion to car-free districts.

Environmental Costs of Suburban Development

Newman notes that the suburban pattern of land use has a complementary set of environmental problems which all stem from its dispersed land use:
  • High per-capita auto emissions
  • High per-capita water use (lawn irrigation)
  • High land requirements
  • High per-dwelling stormwater pollution
  • High domestic heating energy due to the lack of shared walls
  • High per-dwelling physical infrastructure costs
  • Low recycling rates due to high collection costs
Newman, "Suffocate City," Consuming Interest, June 1991 quoted at:
Our Beloved Cars - What a Price We Pay
    The issue of the costs of the North American suburban pattern is finally beginning to draw the attention it deserves.

Traffic Policy and City Development in Nantes

Nantes, France, eliminated its tram system in the 1960s but was the first French city to reintroduce it. The advent of the new light-rail system was accompanied by traffic calming in wide areas and the allocation of more space for pedestrians and bicycles. Speed limits in the center are 30 kph and public transportation has the right of way over private cars. The LRV system improved traffic conditions and the center city was revitalized.
Nantes: Traffic Policy and City Development
    Where policy makers have the will, public transport service and bicycles can greatly reduce auto usage and improve the livability of dense city cores. Dedicated rights-of-way are essential to this process.

Forward into the Past

    There is a growing sense of frustration and placelessness in our suburban landscape; a homogeneous quality which overlays the unique nature of each place with chain-store architecture, scaleless office parks and monotonous subdivisions ... Americans moved to the suburbs largely for privacy, mobility, security and ownership. Increasingly they now have isolation, congestion, rising crime and overwhelming costs.
Peter Calthorpe, The Next American Metropolis
Americans far and wide are bemoaning the loss of "community," of whatever it is that once made them feel part of something unique. Many live in "dream homes" with large lawns and two-car garages in quiet neighborhoods, but they crave small-town intimacy and casual conversations on the street. They want shorter commutes to work, and like the idea of strolling to the corner store for a quart of milk.
Density adds vitality to an area by promoting interaction. It also provides riders in sufficient concentration to make public transit work. The biggest problem with density is political. Neighbors invariably oppose new developments, equating higher density with more people and more cars. But people will only leave their cars behind if walking, cycling, or transit is convenient. "The primary advantage of density is you can begin to build livable, walkable communities," says Glenn Rappaport.
Condensed from: The Aspen Times on-line version.
    Contemporary American zoning ordinances often actually limit density. What is actually required is minimum densities. This makes it possible to provide good public transport service and to build human-scale communities.

America's Autos On Welfare

John Holtzclaw at the Sierra Club summarized seven recent studies calculating the external costs of automobile use, including both direct subsidies and environmental costs. This table shows how much gasoline would cost if its price were raised enough to make drivers pay the full cost of the automobile.
Researcher $/gal. of fuel
Ketcham & Komanoff 5.53
Litman 7.08
MacKenzie, Dower & Chen 3.03
Moffet & Miller 2.86 - 5.00
Vorhees 4.78
Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) 3.39 - 6.81
OTA - including non-monetary personal costs such as lost time and accidents 11.17 - 16.11
Delucchi 3.13 - 7.55

Base Numbers

  • 20 mpg average fuel consumption
  • 106,000,000,000 gal./yr. gasoline & diesel consumption by U.S. autos & light trucks
  • 189,000,000 cars, trucks, and buses in U.S.

Sources of Subsidies

  • Police, fire, ambulance; road construction & maintenance; other local government costs
  • Property taxes lost from land cleared for freeways
  • Parking
  • Air, water, land pollution
  • Noise, vibration damage to structures
  • Global warming
  • Petroleum supply line policing, security, petroleum production subsidies
  • Trade deficit, infrastructure deficit
  • Sprawl, loss of transportation options
  • Uncompensated auto accidents
  • Congestion
Complete citations for these studies are given at:
America's Autos On Welfare: A Summary of Subsidies
    Americans may react to these figures with disbelief, but European fuel prices average roughly $4.00/gallon, which is still below real costs imposed on society. Even when fuel is priced at $4.00/gallon, automobile usage climbs to high levels. Just how high a fuel price would be required to drive down automobile usage? Nobody seems to know.

Course Change in Britain

Britain's cities are growing for the first time since WW I. John Gummer, the environment secretary, recently outlined new urban planning policies.
Because the well-off moved to the suburbs, the cities had no powerful lobby to stop the planners doing their worst. Over the past 50 years, Britain's cities have been brutally treated. Planners ripped out the old city centres and dense streets, and redesigned them with two ideas in mind: the car and the zone. Cars were given primacy, so roads blasted away long-established neighbourhoods. Small shopping streets next to residential streets were destroyed in favour of lumping most retailers together in shopping malls, and offices and workshops in business parks. It did not work.
Behind much of the burgeoning activity is a set of ideas called "new urbanism," which sees cities as organisms whose many parts work together to keep the whole alive. Cities come alive in places like Notting Hill Gate, where people can work, live and play. It believes in dense terraces, not isolated blocks on wide open spaces; it approves of interlinked streets, not cul-de-sacs. It demands that buildings be seen in context, not as separate structures that happen to be next to each other. It upholds the unity of the European-style city that survives in Britain in places such as Bath; it decries the American, car-dominated sprawl that influenced British planners in the 1960s. New urbanism insists that beauty, which has been low on planners' agendas for much of the 20th century, matters as much as function.
"The crux of these ideas," says Michael Hebbert, "is the private car. European cities are cohesive, American ones individualistic. Public transport links bits of a city for pedestrians, while roads slice it up. You can't revive the cities and bow to the dominance of the car."
Condensed and adapted from: The Economist, 6 July 1996
    The New Urbanism is largely compatible with the ideas of the car-free city, although the movement still accommodates cars in cities. As it becomes apparent just how much it costs to accommodate the few remaining cars in compact cities, a movement will arise to simply remove cars from city centers.

Car-Free Neighborhoods in Amsterdam

Amsterdam will build the IJburg, which extends the boundaries of Amsterdam into the IJmeer, a lake to the east of the city. Some 17,000 dwellings will be constructed on several new artificial islands. Car-free neighborhoods are planned, and the project has been designed to minimize the use of the automobile.

EU Focuses on Cars

The Dutch, during their 6-month presidency this year, are focusing the attention of the Environment Council on six areas: climate change, cars, waste, water, acidification, and biodiversity. The first two relate directly to the damage done to the environment by heavy automobile usage.
"Behind the Scenes of the Presidency,"
Environmental News from The Netherlands
(Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment),
December 1996
    Traffic noise especially is receiving attention in addition to the usual problems of air pollution and global warming.

Bikes in Havana

The collapse of the Eastern Bloc had severe consequences for Cuba's economy. The government was forced to ration gasoline to 39 liters a month in 1992. Havana imported 1.2 million bicycles from China, and now 30% of all traffic is on bikes. Planners are relocating workers within biking distance of their jobs. Much less road space is now required, and trees have been planted where autos formerly drove. "We should have done this 20 years ago," said one local resident.

Trans-mission, Transportation Options
(427 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ont. M5S 1X7, Canada)
Summer 1992

Underwater Parking in Amsterdam

The city council has floated a proposal to build a huge parking garage under the outermost concentric canal, which roughly defines the extent of the city center. Cars would no longer be allowed to park along the canals.
Dutch television
    One of the reasons cited for the proposal is that it would make the city more attractive. Many transit lines cross this canal on their way into the city, and it would be simple for motorists to change from their cars to the tram for the final few kilometers into the center. The cost, of course, will be considerable, but there is some possibility that this proposal will be adopted.

Westbahnhof in Vienna

OikoDrom in Vienna is busy with plans for the West Station. This is a large rail station with extensive switching yards. The proposal is to build a sustainable addition to Vienna in the air-rights over the station and the yards. Many streets would be glassed over to make them comfortable during the winter. Large interior plantings would maintain humidity and rainwater collected from roofs would water the plants. The project would become a national focus for sustainable development initiatives with a number of interactive educational exhibits. The area is well served by public transit, and the plans call for the exclusion of cars.
The area is over a kilometer long and several hundred meters wide. The basic concept is for a "hill town," such as are common in northern Italy. The decking over the tracks would be sloped to face south and the buildings terraced up the hill. Thus, excellent solar exposure would be provided. The area would be mixed use, with residences, offices, and possibly some industry as well. The density of construction would be quite high. Several piazzas would serve as social gathering spaces.
Dr. Richard S. Levine has devised the Couple Pan Space Frame (CPSF) system which allows the city-on-a-hill to be built above the railroad tracks without disrupting rail operations and at a cost which is said to be with the bounds of what is economically feasible. The system is structurally efficient and allows a variety of building modules to be constructed above the tracks.

Fouchier's Density Studies

Frenchman Vincent Fouchier has studied density in the Ile-de-France region in considerably detail. The Ile-de-France is approximately the same as metropolitan Paris, home to some 10.7 million people, or nearly a fifth of the entire population of France.
Fouchier uses the concept of "human density," which is simply the sum of residents plus places of work divided by the number of hectares. (A hectare is about 2.5 acres.)
Fouchier also makes use of the concept of gross and net densities. Gross density calculates density on the basis of total land area; net density deducts non-urbanized areas from the calculation and thus results in higher calculated densities.
F.A.R. Coverage Ratio Avg. Stories Human Density
Montholon (central Paris) 3.2 .55 5.9 753
Social housing estate .63 .15 4.3 186
Single-family housing .23 .19 1.2 39
Hong Kong 3.73 .33 11.2 2205
Car-Free City 1.5 .40 4.0 550
Note that the numbers for the car-free city apply to the built-up area only, and not to the entire site. The number of workplaces allocated is generous.

A Reference Design for Car-Free Cities

The first maquette for the car-free city reference design is now complete. The maquette measures 100 x 60 cm and is to a scale of 1:500. It thus depicts the boulevard and the center and extends all the way to the edge of the neighborhood. The maquette depicts about 33% of the area of a full neighborhood

Groningen Symposium

The Second International Symposium on Urban Planning and Enviroment: Strategies and Methods for Improving Environmental Quality in Compact Cites was held in the Dutch city of Groningen between 11 and 14 March 1997. This was a very interesting conference attended by people from around the world with an interest in sustainable urban development. While nobody yet agrees entirely as to just what sustainable development is, it is clear that we must find ways of doing more with less. Dutch Environment Minister de Boer was scheduled to make a keynote presentation at the conference but could not attend due to a demand from parliament that she explain remarks she made several days before the conference. She had proposed that we would have to find ways to accomplish production using only 25% of the current levels of raw materials input. Even in The Netherlands, such radical proposals raise grave concerns regarding potential economic effects. Such reductions as Minister de Boer proposed are entirely consonant with the objectives of the sustainable cities movement.
Many interesting presentations were offered, but only the most relevant to the car-free city are summarized below.

A car-free area in downtown Groningen

Groningen is a lovely city with a fine market square in the center of the old town. The planners in Groningen have reason to be proud of many accomplishments, but the most remarkable is that 48% of all movements within the city are by bicycle. This must surely be the highest of any city in the Western world. The city is bike friendly and the government worked hard to make it so.

Car-Free Project in Groningen

Groningen is planning to rehabilitate a large, unused industrial site near the heart of the city as a car-free neighborhood. Cars will be accommodated by building large underground parking garages, but the streets of the neighborhood will be free of automobile traffic. The principles of sustainability are being followed in the development of the plans.

"CiBoGa: A Breakthrough in Environmental Quality in
the Densely-Populated City,"
Gemeente Groningen, March 1997

Research into Freight Trams

Engineer Taco van Popta of PPP Consult presented a summary of research into alternative forms of transportation. Among the many interesting ideas is the development of a freight tram, such as might be used in a car-free city.
Discussion track at the conference
    The plan was developed for Amsterdam, where trucks making local deliveries cause serious noise, air pollution, and congestion problems. The idea is to make much more intensive use of the existing tram infrastructure while relieving environmental pressure caused by trucks.

Tube Transport of Goods

DTO Sustainabile Technology Development, a management consulting firm, proposes to use underground tubes to distribute goods to cities. Shipments would be consolidated in a facility at the city edge and then delivered by a tube system to merchants throughout the city. While implementation is well in the future, the system promises to accomplish distribution with a small fraction of today's inputs.
Brochure distributed at the symposium
    Such a system, if it proves feasible, would answer most of the freight distribution needs for a car-free city. Provisions would still have to be made for shipments too large to pass through the tube, but containerization should solve this problem.

High Density and Car Ownership Related

Frenchman Vincent Fouchier presented his research into the relationship between density and car ownership. The old neighborhoods of Paris have some of the highest human occupancy levels seen anywhere outside Hong Kong. Some 60% of the households living in these very dense neighborhoods do not own a car, compared to only 12% in the distant suburbs. Fouchier was also keenly aware of the wide variety of problems caused by the car: "Are we ready to accept a 'zero-pollution' vehicle? The question is relevant in terms of the kind of city we want to prepare for the next generations. Even if the car doesn't pollute the environment, it needs space and roads.... Can we dedicate more space to the car in our cities?"
"Urban Density and Mobility: What Do We Know? What Can We Do?:
The Case of Paris Region," Vincent Fouchier
    Dense, compact cities can offer most of what people need within convenient walking distance. High quality public transportation can provide ready access to other parts of the city when necessary. The car is seen as a liability by many living in the densest city cores.

Hong Kong Density

Hong Kong is the densest large city on earth. Dimitriou and Fouchier have studied the Hong Kong case to bring the benefits of this experience to cities worldwide. Per-capita gasoline consumption falls dramatically with increases in population density and is the lowest in Hong Kong of any major city. North American cities with their accompanying suburban sprawl use the most energy. At high densities, many trips are made on foot, and effective public transport systems provide energy-efficient transport over relatively short distances for other trips. In Hong Kong, only 19% of road traffic is private cars. The remainder is trucks, buses, and taxis. Hong Kong has a population of 10,000,000 but only 275,000 private automobiles, surely the lowest level of car ownership in the developed world.
Adapted from: "Urban Densities and Transport Policy in Hong Kong:
Some International Lessons," Harry T. Dimitriou and Vincent Fouchier
    With land at a premium, Hong Kong has been forced to adopt extreme densities, but this has resulted in public transport that works and keeps energy consumption to very low levels.

The Dual Network

Jan Goedman presented a dual network plan which makes possible the gradual conversion of a traditional neighborhood to a largely car-free model. Over a period of decades, streets are cleared of cars, which are stored in garages on an abbreviated road system to the larger network. The length of the perimeter is increased by wrinkling the edges and bringing more water and green into the neighborhoods.
Conference discussion track
    The car-free city can be adapted to existing cities, although the process may be quite slow.

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