The changing face of European cities

If there’s a place where the face of inner-city transport is slowly changing for the better, it’s Europe. Progressive cities here (most notably Zurich, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and others) are challenging the notion that cars bring prosperity to city-centers, reconquering space once reserved for drivers and and returning it to pedestrians and cyclists.

City councils in some cities, like Zurich, are literally trying to annoy drivers out from behind the wheel with car-unfriendly by-laws that make driving slow, parking difficult, stops at red lights longer, and two-way streets a thing of the past. There’s no jay-walking here either: pedestrians can often cross wherever they like on a street and have the right of way. A solid and widely accessibly public transport system doesn’t hurt either. (This is, coincidentally, a country where 91 per cent of members of the Swiss parliament take the tram to work.)

Copenhagen leads the way with its bike-enthusiast culture: 37 per cent of people who enter the city do so by bicycle and the city wants that to rise to 50 per cent by 2015 with the help of cycling-incentives.

And Amsterdam, if you have ever been there, always amazes with the incredible ease with which pedestrians, cyclists, trams, and cars all seem to peacefully co-exist on narrow streets in the centre, the idea being that streets aren’t just for drivers. Large avenues almost always feature wide cycle lanes, testament to the country’s pro-cycling policies.

Southern Europe, too, can be a source of inspiration. Madrid, a city notorious for having the continent’s most polluted air, has fought drivers with a solid “pedestrianization” policy which has seen entire streets (most notably Calle Arenal and Calle Fuencarral in the popular historic centre) go car free and covered with paving stones. Other streets have seen their side walks widened, making room for tree planters, children’s play areas, and café terraces.

Barcelona operates what is probably the world’s most successful bike-sharing programme. “Bicing” features a huge city-wide network of more than 400 bike-share docking stations, each with a computerized, card-operated system that let’s you know where the nearest bike is if the station you’re at has been left barren.  Costing less than 40€ annually to use, its no wonder the programme has got the city cycling like never before.

Unfortunately, the city’s fear of damaging an already weak economy has stalled it (and sister city Madrid) from taking further, and more constructive, anti-car action (action the city needs, given that it shares the top rank as most polluted city in Europe).

Now it’s probably no secret that countries with especially strong anti-car (or pro-bike) policies don’t have large automotive industries, but is it possible the benefits of car-free cities (cleaner air, quieter streets, and healthier citizens) will reach the wish-lists of policy makers in countries that do as well?

Check out this The New York times slide show, documenting Europe’s acceleration into the green lane.

Is your city sustainable-transport friendly, or leaning that way? Tell me about it!


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This entry was posted on March 20, 2012 by in Architecture & Urban Design, Ideas & Issues, Transport and tagged , , , , , , .

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