At this year’s fantastic Urbanize festival in Vienna, Katharina Manderscheid and Austria’s most renowned critic of excessive automobile usage, Hermann Knoflacher, spoke about future urban mobility.
According to Katharina Manderscheid, we have reached peak car in Western countries where car usage and ownership are declining, especially among the urban youth who are also often refraining from getting driver’s licenses. Nevertheless, the car is still the dominant mode of transport in Austria due to decades of political support by building roads, cutting public transport and subsidizing suburban living.
While cars are usually necessary to participate in public life in rural areas, it is possible to go without a car in cities due to high density, public transportation, workplaces close by and accessible recreation areas, infrastructure and amenities. So, more and more European cities are fostering cycling, transit and carsharing as well as multifunctional streets and public spaces.
The Post-Auto city therefore presents us with new opportunities for environmentally sustainable and dense forms of urban living. Nevertheless there are also spatial challenges (problems of rural areas, growth in long-distance travel) and social challenges (digital divide, poverty) that politics has to address to make it a socially inclusive city.
Hermann Knoflacher then explained why our cities which were once built for people were then built for cars since the 1950s. Cars got into our head, made us drivers and made us accept that cars took away public space and destroyed social ties in cities. Streets that feature more and more lanes for cars but only a narrow sidewalk became a symbol of our society’s value system.
But the main hypotheses behind this development were wrong. In fact, there’s no growth in mobility (the number of trips per person is constant), there is no time saving due to higher speed (total travel time within the system is constant) and there’s no free choice of transportation modes (it’s influenced by the given structures).
In all, higher speed only leads to longer trips, thereby destroying local economies, structures and jobs. But existing structures shape our behavior: Having a car at home influences our choice of transport mode. And physical structures – as we’re building cities for cars – influence our mobility behavior.
But we can change this framework by taking the car away from our cities, by creating car-free neighborhoods, by changing laws and planning priorities, and by making the trips to transit stops more attractive and garages less attractive.
In the face of resistance to changes, this needs curageous politicians who are willing to transform our mobility and cities so that people can see that we can create our cities around people again.
Note: This blogpost is part of a series of blogposts on interesting events from 2013 that I haven’t blogged about yet. As they’re dealing with rather timeless issues, I am finally sharing these insights at the turn of the year where both I as a blogger and you as a reader hopefully have the time to enjoy them.