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What Happens to Kid Culture When Streets Are Closed to Cars (citylab.com)
432 points by anonymfus on Dec 28, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 233 comments

I lived in Germany for two years without a car. The public transportation there was amazing—I learned to appreciate how little I needed a car, provided the infrastructure was good enough/I had a bike.

In many cities there's a "Fußgängerzone": pedestrian-only areas; these were mostly found in the city center where the streets and shops are too dense to allow much traffic. I remember specifically in Frankfurt am Main and Göttingen that the biggest shopping centers were located within this zone. Didn't seem to be hurting their business.

The Fußgängerzonen seemed alive, much more so than sterile car-optimized streets.

In the place where I live (Austria, town with 30k residents), the Fußgängerzone in the center is currently dying. Shops close left and right, and migrate to the three big shopping centers. This town is a strange mix because almost everybody needs to own a car (bus system is underdeveloped) to take kids to school or shop groceries, but the town itself is not that big (a lot of places are reachable by bike). Most people rather use the newly rebuilt, comfortable malls with free parking and major brand chains over the harder-to-reach-by-car town center with parking fees and mom-and-pop stores.

The administration is taking desperate measures now, trying to keep shops from closing by promising funding etc, but it turns out the big malls made exclusive deals with brands and there’s not much anyone can do.

I guess Fußgängerzonen only work with an intact public transport system that people can rely on and that won’t take you thrice as long to get there.

I’ve seen a similar thing happen in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, but with a twist. When there were no malls, all the high end shops were located at the center in the pedestrian friendly zone.

Then they started building them like crazy, all the shops moved there, and the center started dying.

But something interesting happened, since it was still valuable real estate, those people didn’t go down easy - all those former shops turned into restaurants, cafes and bars. And the center became much more inviting, and markedly more “alive” than when it was in effect an outdoor mall.

So now people go to the malls to buy stuff, and go to the center to hangout, and I think everyone is happy.

Though among those restaurants new shops have started opening as you know, they go where the people are at, but the malls are still going strong.

Maybe once the online shopping thing hits Bulgaria properly the malls would close/transform, but people would still flock to the center for all the recreational places.

I noticed the same. Other factors played in too.

Around the time the malls came to Sofia, the municipality also started renovating the main streets in the city center turning Vitoshka into a real pedestrian street and building proper sidewalks on others (like Shisman). The renovations are still going on (Solunska, Graf Ignatiev) and this will only accelerate the process of turning the city center into a recreational area. It's really nice to see how new restaurants, bars, juice bars, soup places, sandwich places, and cafes pop up on streets just months after they have been renovated.

Other factors accelerating the process has been the large expansion of the metro, which happened at the same time as the malls were being being built, the renovation of tram tracks, purchase of decent trams, and the almost complete replacement of the old city buses with modern ones, all of which has given people from the neighborhoods easier access to the city center (which has never been very accessible by car).

Sofia is slowly becoming a modern metropolis.

Complain to the local politics who made this (the shopping centers at the town's outskirts) happen although it was already known what effects this would have on the town's center. This is a pretty common development in, e.g., Lower Austria where politicians in the 1990s (and in some towns even in the 2000s) thought this were a good idea. Fußgängerzones work where politicians don't ruin town centers.

Same in Eastern Germany, there were no malls prior to '89 and after that they had to do something.

Exactly. We are probably talking about the same town, in Lower Austria :)

Living in the Netherlands, the city center (practically no cars allowed) in 2 cities I've lived in over the past years, both have lots of shops going out of business. But I would identify this trend as people doing more online shopping, most of the major shopping centers are still in this city center, and it has parking garages near, but people are just doing less shopping in brick and mortar stores.

Madison, WI, USA has a section where cars are mostly not allowed. When I was a kid, it was a major retail destination, and people would make weekend trips from an hour or more away (by car) to go there.

There was recently a huge wave of shops closing. They've since been replaced by restaurants and cafes, and they seem to be doing well, but nobody's going to go into ten restaurants in a single afternoon, so the area still feels less alive than it used to.

To me, though, this particular phenomenon feels like an extension of the death of the American shopping mall, and not evidence that a city with an outdoor environment designed to accommodate its own residents (and not just their cars) wouldn't be nice. If it's just a business district that's designed for pedestrians, well, that's really nothing more than a public version of the outdoor shopping mall.

I'm most definitely not looking for a shopping mall. I'm looking for my kids (and me) to be able to go outside and ride a bike or kick a ball or organize a neighborhood game of tag, without being dependent on me to drive them by car to the nearest city park in order to do it. And I'm looking for a culture where neighbors collectively spend time outside, together, as a community, rather than being cooped up indoors or walled up inside their own back yards because the neighborhood's public space is a fundamentally uncomfortable place to be.

Why do parents feel the need to take children to school in a small town in a very safe country? Why can't they ride a bike or walk?

In Switzerland (at least where we live) parents are actively discouraged to bring kids to school or pre-school. The kids are supposed to get there on their own.

I think that’s all over the country. I’ve also asked Romands friends, same there.


Good friends of mine live 1/4 mile from the elementary school. There is one semi-busy street crossing, BUT there is a pedestrian tunnel. So, no there are actually no streets to cross.

Yet, the kids are bussed to school. They can't be allowed to walk 1/4 mile with ZERO street crossings! It's completely ridiculous.

In the winter it is too slippery for bikes and it sometimes gets biting cold - or worse IMO: cold, wet and windy.

We pay for bus for our 3 oldest kids in the winter.

Also wolves are returningnin some parts of Europe and while people say wolves are so shy and afraid of humans I understand extremely well why parents don't risk their kids in an experiment to see if the predator that lives off moose actually is afraid of children or not.

That's the first time I hear that parents take their children to school because they're afraid of wolves

In my town in Alaska a couple years ago we had a school child get mauled to death by a bear. In some parts of the world, man is still part of the natural eco-system and food chain.

Probably way more people are dying from car accidents, yet people are starting a major hysteria about a few wolves returning.

Millions of cars running through european towns at speeds high enough to kill a pedestrian, yet a wolve roaming through some far off forrest is considered more dangerous and newsworthy.

> Probably way more people are dying from car accidents, yet people are starting a major hysteria about a few wolves returning.

Hehe, agree to a certain degree.

I see this on a number of issues.

That said we have somewhat effective countermeasures against kids getting hit by cars: we lower speed limits around schools and elsewhere where children walk, and we built sidewalks and put up fences.

> a wolve roaming through some far off forrest is considered more dangerous and newsworthy.

As for why the wolves are more newsworthy that is easy to explain: the cars aren't news at all anymore. Wolves returning are news.

Then you know little of wolves: they would only hunt a moose in a large pack. And yes, they are very shy.


They're not as shy as some people argue it seems:

They've gone into people's garden and killed the dog there.

Also I recently saw recordings of one or two wolves attacking a moose with calf so the part about only attacking in packs seems to be proven wrong.

Kids are often peoples biggest investment. I understand if they play it safe.

(I also argue that we should keep the wolves. I just disagree with people who claim wolves aren't dangerous to people.)

With a dysfunctional public transit system and unsafe bike lanes (not separated from the road), that doesn’t always work. Our school is 10km away, so for us, bike is off the table for now.


> People talk to each other. They know about migrants’ rapes.

'Know' as in "I've heard that the Meyer has a brother who has a friend who has another friend and THEY have a sister who know someone that was once raped by a migrant". Or the same way anti-vaxxers know that vaccines lead to autism.

But in Vienna, it seems like the Fußgängerzonen are all over the middle of the city and have a mix of the fancy brands that would normally be in a shopping center, while also having smaller and more boutique shops.

There are also Fußgängerzonen in other districts like Mariahilf, Meidling, Favoriten etc. You're right that they are mainly for shopping but the shops were already there before the streets were turned into Fußgängerzonen. The Fußgängerzonen helped to keep the shops and thus the city alive. There are also plenty of restaurants, cafés etc.

One has to know that there are trends in urban planning and one of those trends is our current focus on cars being a net-negative to human life and how banning them from cities altogether can only yield net-positives. Clearly this trend is intertwined with the demographic trend of migrating to the urban cores all across the West.

So it’s a good thing you‘ve mentioned the Fußgängerzone, which were a trend in the 1950-1970s and German cities adapted them just to find out that they can become a booster of decay, if demographics and economics as well as just the trend don’t hold up (homelessness, empty shopfronts, only elderly folk, unemployed youth hanging around).

Fußgängerzonen are largely considered a failed experiment (And because of widespread bombing in WW2 German cities had plenty of room for experiments, which often failed). That they seem to work today, might have more todo with spill over effects from urban population growth, urban revival and a narrow set of datapoints (Fußgängerzonen if plighted areas are often not known to outsiders).

> Fußgängerzone

We have these in Norway as well. Here they are called “gågate” (“walking street”), but what I actually wanted to say was that I think it’s interesting how similar some words are. The German word for pedestrian, “fußgänger”, is very similar to what it’s called in Norwegian, which is “fotgjenger”.

You’ll hear how similar they are if you know how to pronounce these words in both German and Norwegian. If you don’t you might see the visual similarity but not realize just how similar they sound as well.

And in both cases the word is composed of the word for “foot” (fuß / fot) and a word derived from “walk”.

They're both Germanic languages! Learning Norwegian definitely helped me brush up on my German for free - at least, reading and to a lesser extent speaking.

And of course 'footganger' almost makes sense in English — 'gang' in the sense of a passage is preserved in 'gangplank', and modern 'gang' has the related sense of 'group of people who go together'.

Yep! It also shows up in loan vocabulary like "doppelganger" [double-goer] and old-timey quotes like "gang aft agley" [go often awry, via Robert Burns' "To A Mouse"]

In the case of Burns it’s not a loan word from German in English, but an actual Scots word: http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/gang

In Afrikaans - spoken in ZA (south africa) - that is pretty much the actual word :) "voetganger"

"voet" - foot/feet "ganger" - someone who moves along using the former noun

The Latin Root is what connects many European languages.

English "foot" (and the equivalent Germanic words) are cognate with the Latin word "pes" (= foot), but do not descend from it. It's not a Latin root.

Not an etymologist, but I think they still have a common ancestor (proto Indo-European?). Lots of words in Latin with p have an equivalent with f in the Germanic languages:

Pater - father

Pes - foot

Primus - first

Note the English word is not necessarily the closest to the Latin one.

P and f are also considered the same sound in a few word distance metrics such as Soundex for the very same reason.

Yes, having a common ancestor is what "cognate" means. (Technically, in normal usage, "cognate" refers to words that (1) have a common ancestor and also (2) mean the same thing.) To use the familial metaphor, you descend from your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and so on, but you are cognate with your niece, cousin, aunt, great-aunt, etc.

"Foot" and "pes" both descend from the same Indo-European root, but the English word has no influence from the Latin one. Compare "pedestrian", which uses the Latin root directly.

In fact, the pattern you noted is so distinctive of Germanic that linguists have actually given it a name:


The first part of the law is a general stop to fricative pattern, so not just p->f, but also t->th, k->h, etc.

Yes, but Latin still isn't the root. PIE would be.

Latin or Romance languages and Germanic languages are quite different though. So Spanish/French/Italian have a lot in common in terms of grammar and vocabulary. Same for Germanic languages like German/Norsk/Swedish/Dutch. These two roots mostly only have some words in common.

> The Latin Root is what connects many European languages.

Not in this case. Proto-Germanic before the Norse languages split off would be the root that connects English, Dutch, and German with Norwegian.

However, there's nothing Latin about the present example...

Voetganger is the same in Dutch ;)

Afrikaans is a derivative of Dutch, so no surprise.

But "gang" here doesn't mean passage, it's the noon of the verb to go. It's foot-goer.

Footwalker would be a more appropriate translation, German uses more describing words.

Well, there's already the footwalk. I think the parent comment was going more for using etymologically related words.

Did you only now realize this similarity?

Heck, I've been allowed to get a driver's license for over a decade in the Netherlands, but neither I nor my partner has one. Granted, most of my friends to have one, but almost none of them have a car. It helps that we live in a large city, and one that actively discourages driving and encourages public transport and cycling (even by Dutch standards), but not only is it not necessary to drive, it's often the worst transportation option.

Fellow Dutch person, mid thirties and no driver's license here either. With the exception of moving between apartments I have never really felt like I missed it

I got the license at 35, with kids having a car around often saves a lot of trouble. But we still only use it twice a week or so.

Absolutely, I expect to be doing the same if I ever do have kids. Primarily for e.g. holidays and such, I think.

I'm living in Gießen, it's very close to Frankfurt am Main. Seltersweg street, being a Fußgängerzone, is the main attraction of the city. There's a slow but sure trend though: Big shops are closing and more restaurants are opening. It's probably the effect of online shopping. I am raised in İstanbul and the same thing was happening in the Taksim/Beyoğlu/Asmalımescit areas when I was still living there even 10 years ago.

Many Dutch cities also have car-free pedestrian areas in their city centers. And it's not just that the biggest shopping centers happen to be there, it is exactly the busy shopping areas that are made car-free, so people can shop there in peace. There's usually a ring of car parking lots around the center, as well as on the edge of the town, so people can leave their car early and cheaply while continuing their trip to the center using public transport.

This was tried some places in the US in the part. Unfortunately most times they failed. Unable to attract enough people, they felt even less alive than the streets and entered a cycle a of death. However there are some signs of a rebirth: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275887405_American_...

Right, you can't just shut down an area to cars and call it a day, if the overall area is still designed around cars.

To really make it work, the area has to be accessible to walking (and public transport). Which usually means higher population densities than most US cities -- even major cities -- have, and better public transit.

Also massive parking structures. It's the interface between car-places and walking-places, necessary for the otherwise car-centric norm outside.

You need some parking yes, although it doesn't have to be right outside the pedestrian zone (and in fact that would almost certainly be a terrible idea for a variety of reasons).

In Munich, for example, the city center is largely car-free as far as I can tell, but parking nearby is still limited and expensive. That's okay, because transit is good enough to where you can park more on the outskirts of the city and take the S-Bahn in.

I haven't really seen many "massive parking structures" here that match your description, but then again I don't have a car so I'm not really looking for them.

But really in Munich, even if you're living in a suburb of Munich surrounded by farmland, they're compact enough to where almost everybody can walk or bike to the train station that goes to the city center. Check out Groebenzell if you don't believe me: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Gr%C3%B6benzell/data=!4m2!...

Virtually no Fußgängerzone in Germany has that, but it might be worth consideration for lack of better alternatives like public transport.

A lot of German cities has large parking garages acrosss the city centers. So it is quite possible to drive to those garages by car and then continue by foot. Cologne for example had an electronic system in place even 30 years ago, which would account all free parking spots in the big garages. Those numbers would be relayed to traffic signs at the big roads leading into the city. So while approaching the inner city you could see the total amount of free parking spaces and as you get closer you would get signs pointing out this number for the individual garages. So it was quite easy to directly find a parking slot as long as there was a reasonable amount of slot left.

Right, you can't just shut down an area to cars and call it a day, if the overall area is still designed around cars.

My home town (Reston, VA - outside DC) is a good example of this. The subway is in the process of being expanded to reach Dulles Airport, with several stops in Reston. The area was designated a transit hub, with zoning changes to allow more density.

But, the developers and county officials continue to build campus-style offices surrounded by massive parking areas. The streets are wide, fast, and not pedestrian- or bicycle-friendly.

It's as if they expect to throw up some 15-20 story apartment buildings, a few office towers, and magically have a lovely "downtown".

Without changes to parking allowances (fewer spaces per unit), allowing smaller setbacks to property lines (maybe?), narrower roads to slow traffic, and other similar changes, we're going to end up with a massive, gridlocked mess.

I haven't been to Times Square in a while, but I have to assume that's a good example of a busy pedestrian zone in America.

I wouldn't say so. It felt more accidental to me than anything else. Like they just took a place designed for cars, shut the cars out, and yeah it's busy because it's in NYC and there's plenty of density and shops, but the actual urban design itself still felt largely bad and dumb.

Maybe it's changed since I've been, though.

> Like they just took a place designed for cars

NYC was developed in its current form, with high-rises and all, well before cars were commonplace[1].

So no, they didn't take a place designed for cars, and yes, that's why it actually works when you take the cars out of the equation again.


> NYC was developed in its current form, with high-rises and all, well before cars were commonplace[1].

Ha, no it was not. Oh, it was originally developed sans cars, that's true. But that's not the same thing as its current form. Cities are continually being redeveloped after all. You think Amsterdam was always so bike-friendly? Try googling for what it was like in the early 70's, before the "Stop De Kindermoord" campaign.

Please do tell how NYC has been radically re-developed since 1920's.

Times square is basically just a tourist trap and not representative of a commercial zone that serves the local residential population. Locals are only there because of the transit access.

> Locals are only there because of the transit access.

Spoiler: that's one of the major reasons why city centers work. Transportation hubs are also commercial hubs.

Almost off topic: that to me was one of the most interesting learnings from playing Second Life. Because you could teleport anywhere, location only mattered for having a view. There were hardly any interesting clusters of structures. This made it hard to organically discover fun stuff. If the world hadn't had teleportation from anywhere to anywhere but some kind of portal system, I think it would have been way more interesting.

Native NYC'er here, I absolutely go to Times Square. For starters, it's where most of the largest broadway shows are!

In terms of shopping, the stores are all chains, so nothing is "unique" per se. However, getting to Times Square is super convenient because it's a transit hub.

Really? I only lived in NYC for 2.5 years, and even I avoided Times Square like the plague. The only time I ever went there was to show it to out of town friends, and even then it was begrudgingly.

> Locals are only there because of the transit access.

Plus the fact that there are probably 150,000+ jobs within a three block radius.

There are examples of this working in other cities. The 3rd St Promenade in Santa Monica comes to mind.

The 16th street mall in Denver and the Pearl Street Promenade in Boulder for two more examples.

The tourist hordes make the comparison harder; it's a whole nother form of foot traffic. But Broadway from Columbus circle to Union square is almost car free, so the non-Times Square portions are probably a better example.

I would call them malls in america ;p

> "The public transportation there was amazing"

My view is that public transportation in a lot of European cities are great because the cities were built for pedestrians, not cars. It is not the public transportation that makes cities practical without a car. Rather it is cities accessible without a car that makes public transportation practical.

Barcelona is an interesting case study. The city is currently re-doing some of the city's grid neighborhoods into superblocks. The concept is that for every 9 blocks, the interior roads get shut to traffic save for emergency and service vehicles.

Inside, the previously 3-lane streets get transformed into pedestrian avenues with vegetation, play equipment and benches/tables for the residents.

The contrast between traffic-filled streets and urban tranquility couldn't be starker.

Then there are neighborhoods like Gracia that largely closed off its streets to traffic. Going there is like escaping to a village within the city.

Finally, the city puts a huge effort into building dedicated bike lanes, usually at the expense of a car lane. They're also rolling out a new shared biking system, which will combine electric and traditional bikes in the same system.

It helps that the city has mild winters and 300+ days of sunshine a year, but in any case, they're definitely leading the way for large urban areas to give the city back the people.

I live in St Kilda, Australia and our council recently changed one of our iconic streets to almost exclusively be for pedestrians and trams.

Businesses protested for months about potential lost business, however as a resident I feel so much safer walking down the street. It feels like foot traffic has increased there, too. It's such an improvement.

I also like to think tunnels to apartment buildings could help us take more cars of the road and create more green spaces for people in the future.

our council recently changed one of our iconic streets to almost exclusively be for pedestrians and trams.

For whatever it's worth, Chicago tried both of these things, and they didn't work out.

The main shopping drag, State Street, was pedestrianized in 1979. You can see it for a few seconds in the film National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. It didn't work. It was re-opened to traffic in 1996, and is now far more vibrant than it used to be (though, with a number of other contributing factors since nothing exists in a vacuum in a large city).[1]

Maybe people weren't ready for that in the 1980's, though the region has a number of outdoor shopping malls, in spite of its cold weather.

I also like to think tunnels to apartment buildings could help us take more cars of the road and create more green spaces for people in the future.

Again, Chicago did this. 40 city blocks are linked underground (and a few via bridges). I like the Pedway, but it's mostly vacant space, sleeping homeless people, and bad smells.[2] Except for rush hours, it's pretty much derelict.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Street_(Chicago)#State_S...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Pedway

I think the right conditions have to exist for pedestrianization (don't ask me what they are -- I have an intuition about them but can't really articulate them). Lincoln Square for instance would a great candidate for pedestrianization -- lots of nice little shops in a high density location.

As for the Pedway, one of problems is like most underground walkways, navigation is difficult. There's no official map that tells you what destinations you can reach and how to reach them. You can't navigate with Google Maps, and signage is poor to non-existent. Also, most areas of the Pedway are quiet, secluded and feel unsafe. My sense is that the Pedway was designed for hyperlocalized usage (moving from one building to the next) and not as a network of passages.

I think they're pretty obvious. Either you need good public transport (New York, London, etc.) or you need a lot of reasonably priced parking near the pedestrianised zone (Bristol, Ipswich, etc.)

There are some special cases - tourist / student towns, but I think the gist is that people need to be able to get there.

Tokyo has pretty extensive underground infrastructure that is full of people, has shops and no homeless or bad smells.

I mean, we can go back and forth with datapoints forever. The London Underground uses subterranean pedestrian tunnels, though personally I've only walked the one at Heathrow, at night. As it's the main way between terminals I expect it sees lots of foot traffic during the day.

Most of those pedestrian tunnels are pretty unpleasant; everyone I know regards them as a necessary evil at best. Tunnels are inherently not human-friendly spaces (limited natural light) so I don't think you'll find any real success stories for pedestrian tunnels; better to put the cars in tunnels if you must go that route.

Montreal's underground is a pretty strong counterexample. The pedestrian "tunnels" have retail, dining, etc on the sides, with strong artificial lighting and skylights when possible. It's closer to a mall than a tunnel, and they're quite nice.

Toronto also has a quite extensive and successful underground mall - the 'Path' - but I'd imagine it's success is in part due to the climate. Walking underground is vastly preferable to above ground for a good portion of the year. It also allows access from Financial District office towers to Union Station unimpeded by traffic lights.

This is the same for Korean cities - you physically can't cross roads of busy intersections... and like in Montreal, there are plenty of shops and amenities underground.

Carrot AND stick.

There is of course also the option of a bridge/elevated walkway system that seems to be working really well in Hong Kong. At least I loved it.

That was tried in London and went badly. Pedestrians don't like having to go up and down a lot, and there's a bootstrapping problem with trying to create a nice environment at high level. Better to keep street level for the pedestrians.

Houston's downtown tunnels are thriving and kind of an awesome hidden secret.

In the wiki article and in the tribute article linked (https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1996-11-15-961115...), it doesn't really give any insight on why it was a 'disaster'. Have anymore to share? I'm really interested.

It seems like this is an unsubstantiated claim. At the time that this change was introduced, Chicago was at the tail end of one of the longest economic declines that it has ever experienced. Several huge retailers that were located in the area closed around the same time. The hope was that changing this street into a pedestrian mall would save it from economic collapse. Unsurprisingly, it did not as the forces at work were much larger than anything that could be fixed by changing the traffic pattern on a single street.


Wow, I grew up in Chicago and thus lived there for 18 years, and I continue to return to visit family. And I had never heard of the Pedway.

The Chicago State St. experiment was not a good pedestrian zone. It was more like a smelly bus depot. Chicago has more than enough density to make a good ped zone work. But this is 'murica, which was built by the pilgrims for cars, not walking.

>Businesses protested for months about potential lost business

Out of curiosity, how did that pan out? Closing off an area to road traffic is basically a re-prioritization towards nearby residents, and away from distant visitors and the commerce that they engage in, so it would be interesting to know how badly the latter groups suffer.

Hard to say, I think businesses haven't been affected too badly. I've seen some closures but there were closures back when vehicles were permitted all the way through the street, too...

Distant visitors still arrive by tram loads. And parking, whilst terrible, is available close by.

When you think about switching the area back to allow cars again, you begin to realise how little you needed that street to begin with. It was mostly for people showing off their cars and loud music.

>It was mostly for people showing off their cars and loud music.

While it's seems like a shoddy observation, it's surprising how much car usage isn't really about transport but about status or psychological relief. "Going for a drive" is equivalent to "going for a walk" in much of the US.

I would imagine having parking structures/places to accommodate those from out of the area to still be able to drive there, park, and then proceed on foot.

i'm on board with putting express roads and parking underground (even though the costs are high) and making the extra space available for humans, pets and lower speed transport like bikes and scooters.

i'd also advocate making licensing for vehicles much harder and increasing the enforcement and punishment of distracted driving.

An alternative to underground is 'at the back'.

For example you can have a car free shopping street where cars can only park at the back sides of the shops.

Which quickly becomes the front for businesses advertising to passersby.

Those businesses would be foolish not to advertise on both sides. There is a kind of strip mall in Marina del Rey, CA that advertises businesses on the back entrances for cars driving by on busy Lincoln Blvd (with some parking back there, too), but has the main entrances on a pedestrian-facing side away from Lincoln.

Not with Boston's Quincy Market. The stores face two pedestrian streets. The back sides are for cars, and they're just utilitarian alleys.

I think if you want to build tunnels, you should put rails in them. It's a much more efficient use of tax dollars, since subways have a much higher capacity than roads.

how do you increase the enforcement of distracted driving?

Cameras overhead. There is a trial to catch drivers on their phones in Sydney IIRC.

Edit: found it https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/dec/17/drive...

in general I prefer not to lobby the government for even more surveillance, but maybe enforcement of phone use while driving is an acceptable situation. by the way, is "distracted driving" generally understood to mean "using a phone inappropriately while driving"? I took it to mean a much broader set of things that might distract a driver, which would require more invasive techniques to detect.

agreed that state-sponsored surveillance isn’t a great option. but there are companies creating in-car cameras/sensors combined with machine learning to identify distracted driving of all sorts (not just phone use). some insurance companies will lower rates for less distracted driving, for example (not that this is a great solution either). even just posting a distracted driving rating on your car as you drive might provide enough social disincentive not to do it.

> but there are companies creating in-car cameras/sensors combined with machine learning to identify distracted driving of all sorts (not just phone use). some insurance companies will lower rates for less distracted driving, for example (not that this is a great solution either).

while not perfect, I am actually a fan of this approach. in my ideal world, the government only administers sanctions to a citizen when they cause material harm to another person. let the insurance companies be on the hook (and possibly require the purchase of such insurance) for the actual penalties and have them calculate the risk. then excessively risky behaviors become de facto illegal because the insurance payments are not economic.

Bollards. Trees. High curbs. Feel free to drive like an idiot and send an auto shop worker's child to college.

Do you mean Ackland st? A small part of it was blocked off, there are still far too many cars going down there. But it is a great start.

St Kilda is a such an awesome area, but like lots of places far too many cars. Melbourne has a serious problem with cars, most of the large parks even include roads running through them. Even with a fantastic inner city tram system, too many people are addicted to cars.

Yep, that's the one... Only the Acland St / Barkly St intersection is gone. It's enough that most vehicles don't head down the street.

They could easily expand the pedestrian section further up the street - and I'd like to see it too, but smaller measured steps will probably be more sustainable until parking gets "solved".

I don’t get why cities are built around cars. As much as I love to jump into my car right outside my house, I’d love it even more when there was no car sound in the streets and children could safely walk everywhere. In densely populated cities cars should be banned outside of major roads

I figure the best way to understand it is as an incremental set of small choices that each seemed like a good idea at the time. Fundamentally people like traveling in cars, and hate traffic. These two things pretty easily make the case as the underlying principals of everything driving car-centered city design today- parking minimums, wider & wider roads, cannibalizing trolley track, marginalization of pedestrian & bicyclists, etc. Then you begin to get second order effects- because everyone drives, things like storefront design codes are just inherently designed for the gaze of the automobile driver. (That one was an eye-opener for some of the subtle effects of car-centric worldview)

Building a city around cars means building it around people who live far away. The people who live out in the suburbs and commute in get a lot more out of the roads than the people who are a block away from every place they need to go.

>Building a city around cars means building it around people who live far away.

No, that's what the suburban rail is for (see: NYC).

If anything, the suburban people can always park on the outskirts of city centers, and use public transportation (or walk) in the city.

But no, the cities had to be designed for the automobile. There was a lot of money to be made that way for the auto companies.

Think it sounds like a conspiracy theory? You are right, except that it's actually true[1].


Aka, the superwealthy.

I don't see how living in the suburbs makes you super-wealthy. In most American cities that I know of, the very poor live in the city, the middle class lives in the suburbs, and the very rich live in top-floor penthouses and wherever else they want. Roads, cars and long commutes are very much a middle-class thing, because the poor can't afford all the driving and the rich can buy a great house in the middle of the city where it would be the most expensive.

I got a lot of downvotes and it's because I didn't direct my comment well enough, this is who I was referring to as the superwealthy:

> people who are a block away from every place they need to go.

I don't know of any city in the U.S. where a middle class person can live within walking distance of everything that they need. Take a look at the most urban cities in the U.S., San Francisco, New York, Boston. You're not living in a walkable place in those cities unless you have a title that includes "executive" or "vice" in it.

The closest is probably Chicago.

I'd argue that the super-wealthy only live in the suburbs because that's the best place to live in a city designed to serve the suburbs. In London, the super wealthy live right in the centre...

The situation is reversed in the USA. In the US, the wealthy and middle class live in suburbs. The poor live in the "inner city" which essentially is a euphemism for ghetto.

That situation reversed again in the USA about twenty years ago.

The typical American situation today in 2018, is the poor live in inner-ring "old" suburbs, or the edge of the inner city. The middle class live in outer-ring "new" suburbs. The wealthy live in the heart of city, or in any part of the city dense enough to feel urban-ish (any 'gentrified' neighborhood).

Depending on the city, the suburbs can be much cheaper.

Uhh... you haven't been to the suburbs lately.

I don't think many cities were "built around cars", that was mostly a process of evolution. In Europe, many cities had their cores layout even by the romans, latest for sure in the medieval times[1]. At the time the first cars arrived, cities had large roads, used by pedestrians, riders and horse carts. Allowing cars on those streets was the logical thing back when there were not many of them. And while the cars were pushing out pedestrians from the streets quickly, fundamentally the cars still "worked". Street side parking could still deal with all cars, you could drive to the shops you wanted to visit and park there - which still holds true in extremely low density areas today.

With each decade, car ownership grew significantly, but back then it was decided to deal with the increasing traffic by making cities more "car friendly". To a certain point that worked, but later even large efforts couldn't keep up, but the damanges were done to the cities. To reverse them, it will take a long time, as the car traffic needs to be replaced by other means of transportation.

This was brought up in Adam Ruins Everything, and his Automotive episode was so misleading that I don't trust anything he says.

>I don’t get why cities are built around cars.

Sure there is a fantasy that we could have cities that don't require roads. However our modern 5,000,000 population Metro areas wouldnt exist. Instead housing prices would skyrocket, and the lowest income people would be forced to live in rural areas.

> In densely populated cities cars should be banned outside of major roads

>I’d love it even more when there was no car sound

These are short sighted.

EDIT: I'm sorry to kill the fantasy, but wouldnt you rather hear why an idea doesnt work? Or maybe this is another case of 10%ers that care more about quiet streets than societal impact.

You assume the issue is binary: cars or no cars. Nobody is asking for no cars. We want less cars.

Right now, cars are first class citizens in every American city. Motorists get what they want, and walkers, cyclists, and transport users get what's left over.

It doesn't have to be that way. European cities get by fine without cars in city centers.

Do you really need a car to get to work in midtown Manhattan? Why are the 2 subway systems with stops every 5th block, 3 rail systems, and 2 bus systems that serve it not good enough? Do you really need 6 car lanes on 6th Ave while cyclists fear for their lives in the traffic and pedestrians smoosh on the sidewalks?

> European cities get by fine without cars in city centers.

Where did you get that from? Some of them, sometimes, with exceptions, with mixed success. Certainly not Prague (which is where I live). The public transport system is absolutely fantastic, but as of now it's at 100 % capacity (locally) and the city center is still full of cars. People need to move stuff, plumbers, electricians can't haul their tools around in a bag, the streets need to remain perfectly accessible for ambulances and firetrucks.

Don't forget that most European cities are hundreds of years old, built on river banks, rocks, hills, the complete opposite of most US cities.

> Don't forget that most European cities are hundreds of years old, built on river banks, rocks, hills, the complete opposite of most US cities.

What, do you think that North America is a minecraft flatworld? Plenty of American cities are built on variable terrain. The city I live in, Weehawken (Lenape for "rocks bigger than trees"), is bisected by a 300 foot sheer cliff called "The Palisade" because it looks like a castle wall. You have to take an elevator or a long staircase if you want to get uptown.

The only US cities designed from the ground up with cars in mind are in the western desert valleys where nobody could reasonably live until air conditioning was invented: Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles. Many German cities were being rebuilt almost from scratch at the same time. Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Dresden, and Berlin all had to be almost completely replaced. Their maps were redrawn with cars in mind, and they managed to stay largely walkable.

Meanwhile, London has roughly the same transit woes as New York. Was London founded after the invention of the car? No! Unlike the planners of Munich and Dresden and Hamburg, London's rebuilders after the war prioritized automobiles over people, and it shows.

New York got its modern street layout in 1807, the same year Napoleon conquered Bohemia, and I'm pretty certain he didn't enter Prague in an open-top car.

Car-centric city planning isn't a natural phenomenon, it is an intentional choice, and it can be undone at any time.

How it is a fantasy when many cities around the world already do this to varying extents? Did the definition of the word 'fantasy' change while I wasn't looking?

Yes, US cities wouldn't be able to change to this overnight, but over the course of years and decades it's definitely possible.

Post a city please.

It would be helpful to see real world executions.

Well, Lisbon, Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla. Sure, there are cars and roads, but the public transport system is good enough that you don't really need it. You only need a car to get out of the city. Also, in Sevilla (and now Valencia too) there are enough dedicated bike lanes that you can go to almost anywhere on bike, and you won't need to mix in with the cars or pedestrians.

Middle class definitely live in the city in those examples (and you won't be surrounded by homeless people) . In general European city centers come from medieval times, making them very walk-able (and touristic).

>Sure, there are cars and roads, but the public transport system is good enough that you don't really need it.

There is massive gulf between what you described and carless.

Sure. Keep in mind, the idea isn't "no cars around at all", it's about balance and prioritization.

Houten, the Dutch suburb that's really built for bikes, even by Dutch standards: https://www.citylab.com/solutions/2015/06/a-case-study-in-bi...

"Superblocks" in Barcelona: https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/08/inside-a-pede...


Personal swipes will get you banned on HN, so please edit those out of what you post here, regardless of how wrong someone else is. Your comment would be fine without the first sentence.


Few years ago I visited a large apartment complex about 30 minutes south of Seoul in South Korea. The complex has Dozens of 30+ stories high apartment buildings. Assuming 30 stories high, 8 units per floor, and 25 buildings, we are talking about 6000 units. The unit I visited had 4 bedrooms. Despite such a high concentration of population, the complex itself felt like it was in the country side.

The key factor was underground parking (resident and visitor), with entrance to the underground parking connecting directly with the road. Within the complex are streets for cars with sidewalks like normal street, but strictly for emergency vehicles and moving trucks.

As I walked around the complex day and night, I couldn't believe the peace and calm I sensed as there were no cars moving around me. I kept looking around as I crossed the street as a reflex, but there were no cars to worry about.

A few weeks ago, I looked at a large number of cities and their surrounding suburbs using google earth in VR. It was extremely interesting to see the different styles of building cities.

Soviet bloc countries really built their infrastructure with brutal efficiency in mind. Huge populations in tall, mathematical buildings with lots of open space between them. Almost like someone copy-pasted a few buildings into the middle of the wilderness.

To me it looks like the new infrastructure in countries like South Korea or Japan is an evolution of that, although the buildings look a lot less foreboding than Soviet buildings do. In between them you still get the sense that you're out in the country. It's deceptive because once you fly up (in VR), you can see a sea of buildings going all the way to the horizon.

Compared to the population centers of American cities, which look like irregularly shaped sand dunes made out of shingles as far as the eye can see.

Suburbs in the UK are similar to the American ones, except that the houses are all very neatly aligned on a grid with less space between them and the streets are often one way streets with parking on the curb.

Suburbs in Nordic countries are made of small, taller houses. Each floor looks only big enough for 1 or 2 rooms, but the houses are 2-4 stories tall. It looks really cozy.

If you have the hardware and a few hours to kill, I strongly recommend trying this. Tokyo is just jaw dropping. It's on an unimaginable scale compared to other cities around the world.

My city (Lublin, Poland - about 350 000 people) is doing something similar (if not on this scale).

They introduced long pedestrian street in one of the busiest streets in city center in 90s, it worked pretty well - created lots of restaurants, clubs and shops.

In 00s-10s some of them failed (I blame internet shopping and malls in the outskirts), especially the shops, and mostly banks and mobile phone booths replace them. But the restaurants and clubs remain, and the street is very pleasant, always full of people. It helps that Lublin is an university city (about 20% of population are students).

Recently the city created some more pedestrian streets, invested into biking infrastructure (lots of bike routes, city-funded bike rental system). It's OK, but the city is on hills so biking is quite demanding, mostly young people do it.

Also the public transit is very nice in the city centre, but there are no trams, only trolleybuses and regular buses (because hills). So - public transit waits in traffic jams just like cars.

There's one night each summer when they turn big part of the city center into pedestrian area, put artificial grass on many streets, people sunbathe there. It changes the city completely. I know it's not realistic to make it permanent, but it's so nice.

According to Richard Branson “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” The same goes for cities. Take care of the citizens, and the citizens will take care of business.

Removing parking may be bad for local shops in the short run, but good for the citizens and the city in the long run.

That's only true in some instances for some combination of high margin, not easily reproducible, or low volume products that serve wealthy purchasers.

The reason Walmart killed everyone was because purchasers valued saving a few dollars rather than being taken care of by employees. Similarly with airlines, which Branson wasn’t really able to expand beyond the wealthy NYC-LA-SF routes.

Another reason Walmart killed it was because they offered more convenience at a lower cost. That’s what people choose.

It’s also why people choose vehicles over public transit: point-to-point convenience for comparable prices to stringing together public transit and car services to get around.

You can also have more parks and fields that are well-maintained and available in proportions appropriate to the local population (i.e. not held at existing supply through density changes). It is a false dichotomy to suggest we have to choose between kids playing outside and having streets for transportation.

Not to mention that anyone who grew up pre-Internet or pre-smartphones knows that the real barriers to kids playing outside are more cultural/societal.

I think the ability to get to the parks and fields without parental intervention is important in itself. I live in a neighborhood in Sydney where many of our streets are traffic sewers that people blast through at amazing (relatively speaking) speeds. As a large, visible adult, I walk the dog every day and 1-2 times out of 10 some idiot on a street 50m from my house doesn't know what the rules on a crosswalk are. People love to go on tirades about helicopter parents but given the quality of driving (also something that seems to have taken a hit from "Internet and smartphones") they haven't spent too much time thinking about the implications of what it's like to be an impulsive kid who will be mostly invisible stepping out behind a car, in a world where a lot of drivers are impatient and distracted.

There's a huge change in the vibe of having older kids (who can, despite the roads, go out and freely interact with their peers) and younger kids who aren't sensible enough to deal with the streets (and yes, this isn't just paranoia, we had a couple bad incidents in the peer group).

It's not an either/or with the Internet/smartphones, either. I think there's a lot of interaction between these factors ("kids go out less because games/internet are so compelling" vs "kids spend long hours on devices because they are stuck at home") in both directions.

That seems to me like a different problem (one of education or enforcement of traffic laws), although I acknowledge that a middle ground helps. I have not had the same experience as you where I am - maybe that is because we have traffic signals in some places, or crosswalks with flashing lights in others, or more courteous drivers for the rest of it (unmarked crossings), but I definitely feel plenty safe walking around.

I also wanted to add one more thought: kids are a lot more capable than parents give them credit for. This underestimation of kids' abilities is particularly prevalent in modern Western societies - if you travel to less developed nations, young children are able to successfully navigate complex cities with much more unforgiving streets unsupervised, with confidence.

I don't feel, strictly speaking, unsafe. Just annoyed at a personal level - obviously this happens enough (in fact, it happened again between my last post and this one!) that I'm very alert for it. However, I'm a large adult crossing in a very high visibility zone and am alert.

As for the 'kids are capable' thing - yes. We had our youngest going places independently at an age where our older child (~3 years apart) had peers whose parents were still driving them around. But the argument from LDCs is pretty terrible, as they have orders of magnitude more traffic deaths.

LDCs also typically have a culture of 'negotiation' of crossing roads where you kinda just have to get up on your hind legs and cross (anarchy makes drivers far more alert) while we have a culture of strict rules ("if you cross at the wrong place you are doing the wrong thing and it's your own fault that the driver just ran into you"). The 'rules culture' tends to make drivers feel that they can just zoom wherever they feel like and shut off mental collision avoidance algorithms with anything that isn't another car. This phenomenon is behind the whole 'naked streets' thing (not that I'm a fan, but the diagnosis is pretty good).

> That seems to me like a different problem (one of education or enforcement of traffic laws)

A child walking next to a road is in a situation where any mistake they make is reasonably likely to result in their death. No amount of education and enforcement is going to improve driver's reflexes and awareness enough to keep them from killing a kid who suddenly does something impulsive.

> if you travel to less developed nations, young children are able to successfully navigate complex cities with much more unforgiving streets unsupervised, with confidence.

In less developed nations, drivers have to be constantly on the lookout for random things on the road, like cows. If my kids do something random, they'll be the only random thing a US driver will encounter that week, and people aren't prepared for it.

>That seems to me like a different problem (one of education or enforcement of traffic laws), although I acknowledge that a middle ground helps.

The choice boils down to a dense, very large police force, versus streets designed to make good behavior natural. The latter can be a lot cheaper (and will involve many fewer tickets) than the former.

There's a crosswalk I pass on my way to work that always makes me think of this. An elementary school is located there, and every weekday morning there is a crossing guard (someone with lights and a hand sign who stops traffic to help kids cross) posted there. To be sure, I expect this person is indeed necessary, as traffic in that area is heavy and fast. But it strikes me as a dysfunctional that we need people dedicated just to allowing children to safely cross the street.

> and will involve many fewer tickets

Given that many cities and police forces rely on traffic fines (and in the US, on civil forfeiture), the choice for city governments is skewed towards more enforcement...

There's no reason why this couldn't be replaced by tax revenue though. I know I'd vote for a tax to fund police if it was explicitly stated that this would allow them to stop picking people up on petty crimes.

> Not to mention that anyone who grew up pre-Internet or pre-smartphones knows that the real barriers to kids playing outside are more cultural/societal.

I did, and 100% that's not the barrier today. I moved my kids from a neighborhood packed with cars to one with several dead-end streets and no through traffic and the change in my kids' lives has been shocking. They almost never wanted to play outside before because they couldn't really get anywhere safely. Now they are outside until dark nearly every day they aren't in school.

This isn't even addressing your ridiculous assumption that cities/towns can just easily add parks and fields. Those things take up space and people without kids don't care at all about them and want that land for their condos.

Always good to hear anecdotes like yours, so thanks for sharing. Dead-end streets and no through traffic can make some difference; but that's also saying that we need suburban towns or suburban-like neighborhoods within cities for those with families (which is valid IMO). However it isn't really practical for the next notch higher of density in terms of transit throughput, unless people are willing to give up personal point-to-point transit in favor of mass transit (which has its own tradeoffs).

I am also not assuming cities/towns can "just" add parks and fields. It is something they can do if they prioritize it and have the political will to execute. And even if it were not pragmatic for an already fully-built-up locale, I am making the point as a general matter of planning or noting what is desirable in a town.

One thing I did not understand: why do you think people without kids will not care about parks (which they can enjoy as well), but will care enough about kids to make their own street access more painful?

The cultural problems are definitely the more problematic ones. My kids run around the neighborhood, but they do so nearly alone, because nobody else's kids are allowed the same freedom. I'm hoping that once the other parents see that my kids haven't been killed by a roving serial killer then they'll let their kids come out too, but there's not much I can do beyond that.

"mommy can I walk ten blocks to the park"


"mommy can I go outside, the local kids are playing soccer in the street"

also, have fun making the case for the land purchase, remodeling, and ongoing maintenance budget for that new park

Making the case for changing streets to either not carry cars or enforce extremely low speeds is also difficult. We need fast, convenient transport so we can spend more time on other things, after all.

But I also don't think reality is always walking 10 blocks to get to the park. That may be true in some implementations, but it doesn't have to be that way and it was not for me growing up. And even if it was, kids used to bike much longer distances on the sidewalk to get to their friends' places or a park or whatever.

My parents needed a lot of convincing that riding a bike on the road was safe. And I was 19 at the time. Also my suburb has no sidewalks and the nearest oval is an hour walk away.

I live downtown Minneapolis and live near Nicollet Mall [0]. Which only allows pedestrians and busses. It's quite nice. They put out chairs for people to sit on and at times have things like a connect four and corn hole games. There is a regular farmers market that happens also.

I love how safe it feels. It's almost like a giant side walk. I'm always surprised that the chairs don't get stolen. I walk down it multiple times a day usually (unless I take the Skyway because of weather).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicollet_Mall

In Amsterdam, the corn hole games are limited to a few car-free streets directly outside of the main train station.

Yeah, they're doing this plan to Evansville, IN. And it's one hell of a job. They've killed downtown, since there's no 'outer areas' to park. Sidewalks are in complete disarray, and cars still zoom on past.

But the center areas where there are no cars also is set up for no people to move about. The road ledges are still there, so handicapped people cant just use their wheelchairs. It's the worst of both worlds.

It's possible to do this well and badly. Bad iterations of this feel like urban renewal - like those horrifying stunts they pulled in the 70s where they closed half the streets in a given area, put huge ring roads around the area, and then wondered why a urban paradise didn't spontaneously spring into being.

It needs to be done along with public transit (usually the missing link it the US and Australia) and a reasonable attitude to deliveries and whatever parking needs remain.

> Australia

As an anecdote, close to where I live is a suburb called Wellard. They basically have a small shopping district (One Woolies, Subway, Pizza shop, Cafe, Postie etc) right next to the train station. In fact, walking out of the train station, you're bound to walk through the shopping area as that's sort of the way people walk to get to their houses. Its kinda perfect position.

What they did was to simply make it that street between the shops is closed to cars on the weekends. Its an amazing place during that time, and allow people to set up stalls in the parking lots around the road. Its an awesome place to just sit and talk on a weekend. The parking is behind the shops so its not like one can't get there on a car either.

The speed on the road during normal days is also something like 20-30km/hr and they have that brick-like road which means driving your car fast on the road isn't that fun.

What I find funny is that the American mall that so many people disparage (like citylab) is a place where the streets are closed to cars. Cars are not really the problem and people should really stop focusing on this object as the reason of so many social problems that exist. The car is used by individual people and families to somewhat mitigate these large scale problems.

Lots of cool main streets have cars going through them. It is just the post war, huge road, big-box chain stores that suck. Maybe we need to go back to where a corporation is only allowed to form (get a charter) if it is planning on doing something that takes a lot of people and capital to execute. Like building an airplane, or a car, or a computer chip, not anything like a retail store. Leave that to the sole proprietor. We don't need corporations, and all its inhumanity, to run burger joints.

At a given mall, quite a lot of property is devoted to surface lots which go unused from 10pm-10am, not great for a growing urban environment! The problem with cars is how inefficient they are just from the physics of them.

A given car is maybe 3000lbs. A person is maybe 150lbs. 95% of the gas you pump into your car goes to just moving around this hunk of metal wherever you go. And then you gotta have an empty 18'x9' spot available wherever you are going? How many 25lb bird scooters can you pile up in that spot? Even self-driving cars aren't going to solve the issues with wasting energy and space for the two tonnes-or-so hunk of metal that you require to deliver you door to door on demand. Try to have a horse pull you around town in a tesla, and it would die.

What I find funny is that the American mall that so many people disparage (like citylab) is a place where the streets are closed to cars.

First off, there are no streets in a mall. It may be a carless place, with some merits, but clearly that’s where the similarities between malls and downtown Pontevedra end. Malls arose as a natural consequence of a heavy reliance on cars, just as carless downtowns arise when there is no such reliance.

Corporations are alive and well in Spain too.

Malls are hated because they create car dependence. They kill off all local stores and require you to drive for 30 minutes to get to a shop. They also take up massive amounts of space for parking.

This reminds me of a dead end alley in San Francisco where the residents got the city to allow them to install a gate.

Suddenly you can allow your four year old to go out the front door by themself.

Of course, this could never happen in the United States. A friend of mine, a single mother, was arrested and charged for letting her kids play without an adult present in the park across the street from her apartment. There are lots of scary people with guns out there, you see. If only it was possible to do something about that.

I've heard more stories about kids in the US not being allowed to play outside. Of all the bizarre stories I read about life in the US, this one is still the most baffling to me.

I wish my city was more livable without a car, but we have more land area than London with 1/4 the population density. The only way to get anywhere is by taking the interstate highways that pass through the middle or else circle around the outside highway. This is Jacksonville, FL.

There are some pockets that are walkable and safe, but nothing at scale.

Over here in San Francisco, I find the problem isn't so much cars as curb cuts. "Curb cuts" are those little sections of the curb that are cut out so that cars can drive over the cross walk to get to driveways and garages.



There is one major reason why this isn't practical in the United States yet: Europe has a well developed, often tax payer or state subsidised public transport network. Americans don't have that at scale: they must use their cars to go to work, else they cannot work. Solve the problem of public transport first. You can start with tax payers' funding and move on to a purely for-profit, no subsidies model gradually by incremental optimisation.

A lot of Americans I have spoken to have the opinion that public transport is only for homeless people and is always slow and dirty.

That is because that is currently the reality. The buses are dirty and with exceptions here and there, mostly poor or the working poor ride them. The system is currently inefficient and focused purely on profit. Since there is usually a monopoly on regional public transit, the reality is exactly what other people told you. I myself rode the intercity bus for a year and half when I was a poor hungry student, although that was several decades ago, but not much has changed since then. Monopoly and lack of public awareness and activism does that.

That doesn't mean that the perception cannot be changed, or that the reality cannot be changed. People have to demand it and it will start somewhere. Small steps. Incremental optimisations.

I don't drive but I am into electric cars. I was in a ICE car over Christmas on a drive across country to see some relatives. We went through a local town that I didn't value much when I was growing up, with 'fresh eyes' I think I could see what the problem was, and it wasn't the car. The pollution is the real problem why people shun the street in front of their door. This pollution being the fumes and the noise.

With electric cars there is no reason why we can't get our streets back and for not just kids but for everyone to start to be part of their local community, not just hiding behind doors, curtains closed, putting up with where they live instead of enjoying it.

We have 20 mph city speed zones which are great. But when cars are noisy and polluting these streets are far from tranquil. The dirt from automotive isn't just the smog that comes out of exhaust pipes, there is also brake wear and the micro-particles that come from that. We have ended up with cities that are toxic to plant life as a consequence of this.

With cars that can float along on electric power we need not close off our streets, we need not even banish traffic jams.

Bus transport also needs a bit of work, with electric power they can be the modern transport that people deserve, not these noisy things that vibrate and feel hellish inside. We want the bus to be nice to be on, particularly for those with pushchairs, wheelchairs, kids in tow.

Yet we have an old population of people who seem to have a fetish of loud exhausts, V8 engines, turbo engines and this fuddy-duddy idea that electric will never replace these naff petrol and diesel engines. Hopefully these people will die off soon and Chinese electric cars will show Western auto makers how to make a car properly.

as an extensive walker, car fumes are never a problem for me.

usually the biggest problems are lack of mixed zoning and really wide streets which leads to very long walking distances.

Diesel car fumes smell bad. It's not an issue in Canada/USA because only bigger trucks use diesel. However, many European cities are full of diesel cars and polluting mopeds.

this would be great, cars are the only reason why i would be afraid to let my child go by himself to kindergarten/school

I had a university professor in the transportation department (technically “Operations Research”) who used to joke that transportation policy was mainly receptive to emotional arguments about children. “We should increase investment in autonomous vehicles. But, oh! The children!” He would cry out in class, making all the students chuckle. I thought he was joking! Reading through the article and the comments, I think he may not have been joking, but merely wryly cynical after many years of trying to research and advocate.

Meanwhile, whenever the subject comes up in San Francisco, everyone trots out the excuse that "families with children need the city to be car-friendly".

(I've never met a kid who didn't love riding buses and trains.)

This is unexpected but great!

Here in the Bay Area suburbs, cul-de-sacs seem to be always be deserted, which is so unlike what it was when I was growing up. Kids seem to be almost exclusively interacting indoors / online.

Nothing happens if you keep them inside feeding their tiktok and fortnite addictions. I can't even recall the last time I broke up a hockey or streetball game driving through neighborhoods.

A large reason kids play Fortnite is because it provides a space to socialize - it's a lot harder for kids to get anywhere without a parent driving, these days, and the parents are a lot less likely to leave the kids unattended, which tends to put a damper on things. Even malls often try to discourage crowds of teens, if you can even get there without a drive.

Very much true. I ended up playing games I didn't even like just because it was a way to meet up with friends from school who all lived about 15 - 30km away

Reminds me of Christiana Mall in New Jersey's "Suicide by Ageism". They implemented a policy banning unaccompanied teenagers after 5pm - despite having 16 year olds working there! Articles in 2008 mention the boycott and the owner of the mall went bankrupt in 2009. Malls weren't their healthiest then and had grown beyond sustainability but talk about fast turn-around.

If you think fortnite is healthy socializing, i cant argue. I do not agree in the slightest.

That's very obviously not what they were saying. You sound like you're stuck on a point you want to make about "damn kids playing Fortnite" and not bothering to listen.

Even if the kids wanted to, letting them play in the street would be unthinkable to contemporary parents. Trusting drivers to pay attention would be foolish.

In Germany, we have "Verkehrsberuhigte Zonen"[0] (Wikipedia says the english term is "living street"), where the speed limit is very low, and drivers are expected to look out for playing children. It works relatively well, at least in residential areas. Usually such streets are built in such a way you cannot go very fast any way.

[0] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verkehrsberuhigter_Bereich / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_street

The US doesn’t have anything similar, at least not normally. Roads are almost always wider than needed, I assume because it feels safer, but really just makes people drive faster. Any redesign that deprioritizes cars in any way (even if it just appears to do so) is ridiculed and fought against.

In a lot of cases, US roads are wider than needed because the fire department wants to continue riding the 30s style fire engines you know from the kids books to their missions, 99.9% of which do not involve fire. And the tradeoff is that a lot more people die from vehicular crashes than ever would to fires.

It's stupidity at work, and government committees are the environment that fosters it.

I'm sure it's a bit of a circular problem. Fire dept has big trucks, so roads are built wide, so fire dept buys more big trucks, so more wide roads are built, etc. It's a hard cycle to break, even if everybody agrees it's the right thing to do.

But, yeah, the US really does suffer from a "bigger is better" complex. There are no small fire trucks for tight areas. Ambulances are all mega-sized, built on heavy commercial truck chassis. Personal vehicles are huge - SUVs and dually pickup trucks instead of sedans and hatchbacks.

> Roads are almost always wider than needed

Wait until you see Boston. I live in this street in Cambridge, its not quite wide enough for buses so occasionally they cross the lane of the opposite direction, especially if some asshole parked a little off. If this wasn't unsafe enough, there is also an elementary school near this street! In general. Boston streets are very narrow and it makes it hard to drive since (1) you can scratch other cars parking or (2) it's hard to see the direction you're turning to.

This is actually beneficial for pedestrian safety because it decreases the perceived safe speed for all sensible drivers, versus putting a 25mph speed limit on a wide boulevard where everyone drives 40mph.

Haha you're underestimating Boston drivers. Out of all the places I lived in my life (SF, Berlin, Paris) drivers in Boston drive by far the fastest. Streets being narrow doesn't make people drive slower, instead it makes people drive more aggressive which puts stress on drivers, bikers and pedestrians alike.

Yeah, we have these streets here that are "2 way but only one at a time". So you have to get on it and go the whole length of a block or more. Amazingly this results in more perverse incentives...

Interesting, my family's hometown in the UK (Blairgowrie, Scotland) is full of those types of streets. And with street-side parking, the open lane can vary. It doesn't seem to be a problem - people are used to it. Granted, small farming town vs big city, but still, there's no fundamental reason people should suddenly turn into arseholes just because the streets are narrow.

That is the default residential street in Berlin. Often with cobblestone to further decrease speeds.

> Wait until you see Boston. I live in this street in Cambridge, its not quite wide enough for buses so occasionally they cross the lane of the opposite direction, especially if some asshole parked a little off

Have you been to a European city? This is the norm in any city I've driven in. Meanwhile, driving in the US, even in a city normally involved roads which are wide enough for multiple Lanes of traffic each way. It's perfectly safe, it just required drivers to pay attention.

Same with Australia. I live on a street that is also needed for emergency vehicles of most kinds as a primary route, so is just that bit wider, and you can see how ordinary motorists respond to this "incentive".

As an American living in Munich now: even regular neighborhood streets are far friendlier to walking and biking (and thus children) in Germany compared to America. They're much narrower, lower speed limits, more nearby cut-throughs and trails and protected bike lanes.

Your average US street prioritizes cars to the exclusion of anything else. Walking is pointless, it feels terrible and nothing is within walking distance except maybe a neighborhood park or elementary school. Biking is uncomfortable and unsafe, especially for kids with dubious levels of focus/traffic awareness; the city will slap a strip of paint on the ground and brag about how bike-friendly it is. It'd be funny if it weren't so sad.

And then ironically it's also worse to drive a car in the US. Where speed limits could be higher without risking anyone else they are still stupid low and many drivers don't know how to zip or even merge or even use their turn signals. It's really the worst for both drivers and pedestrians.

Haven't seen that very often. Occasionally a highway/freeway has an oddly low speed limit, but most of the times neighborhood streets and arterials are much too fast to be safe for people walking or biking. And whaddya know, there are hardly any people walking or biking around, almost as if...

In America driving at 6 km/h (3.7mph) in a parking lot would induce road rage in other drivers. Trying to make roads with a 6 km/h speed limit would be political suicide for any politician that recommended it.

That's literally a slow walking pace. Kids running would be breaking the speed limit. Bikes would always be breaking the limit. The speedo in my car isn't even accurate at speeds that low.

It's not about a hard speed limit, it's about driving at walking pace. It's not for thoroughfares, it's for cul-de-sacs where people live and children play. No car has any business going fast there.

Bikes aren't a problem; they're small and nimble and don't kill people when they hit them.

Bikes on the road are subject to all of the same laws cars are.

You seem to be intentionally missing the point here. It's about safety for playing children. Cars are a bigger issue than bikes. Especially when the bikes are being used by playing children.

that's an absurd speed. i literally cannot go that slow in my car without lugging the engine or slipping the clutch the whole way. no thanks.

In driving school I learned that I should put the car in first gear, not touch the gas and keep my foot ready to hit the brake when I enter such a street. That is, I'm supposed to go as slow as reasonably possible and be prepared to stop on a dime if a child materializes in front of the car.

It's really not that bad. Keep in mind that you typically will only go this slow for the last 15-60s of your drive. Before that you will likely go faster than on a typical drive in the US. European speed limits and especially German ones have a lot more range then US speed limits. To be that makes for a more deliberate and fun driving experience. It also turns out to be safer if you look at fatalities per mile traveled, even including the Autobahn which seems to be unfathomable to most Americans.

The speed is not defined by a number: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&u=https... (comprehensible, though probably more poetic in the original German)

It's not my place to speculate, but I'm going to do it anyway: I expect you can get away with simply just driving as slowly as you can, assuming that isn't ridiculously faster than the 7km/h that is suggested. (My old automatic car (1.4L) would probably creep at about the right pace. My manual car (3.0L) isn't super happy to pull the car along while idling in 1st gear, but it's fine at ~1000rpm and that's ~8km/h.)

(This does make me wonder. I typically drive in car parks in 1st gear at <2000rpm, so max ~16km/h or ~10mph. But, you know... maybe I'm going too quickly?)

fluid-coupling automatics do have an advantage here, as they can essentially creep at any speed without causing undue stress to any of the vehicle's components, although you would need to use the brakes to go really slow.

when driving through complicated areas with lots of pedestrians (eg, parking lots), I usually travel at the lowest speed in 1st gear that puts the engine in a happy RPM range (as low as ~1200 in my car, maybe 1500 up a hill). this is definitely faster than a human can comfortably walk for a long time. if that's sufficiently slow, I guess I don't have any objections.

I could put my car in neutral, open up the door and push my car that fast.

6 mph... yeah. About that. People in the US don't really go the speed limit even in a 25mph zone so I don't know how well that will work. The only time I see people generally going the speed limit is in areas with speed tracking cameras.

Same in Switzerland, but if the city/community is really serious about that and there are some long-term plans: don't build slick surfaces but ones made of "bricks" or similar (example: https://www.experiencedbricks.com/images/products/kushequa-b...) which definitely get rid of the "need for speed"-feeling (as the faster you go the more everything vibrates in your car, kind of an analog force-feedback feeling), and additionally build some bumps at strategic locations which force the drivers (like myself) to actively use the brain and pay attention.

Works great (kind of a relaxing feeling while slowly driving on the "brick"-surfaces, like a massage), but I admit that it's expensive if not building with a long-term planning in mind.

Edit: on the other hand I do absolutely hate such streets/areas that have a low speed limit (20/30 km/h) but have absolute smooth surfaces (I don't "feel" the need to drive slowly).

I know, it's stupid, but that's how my brain works...: smooth surface therefore fast, not-smooth surface therefore slow and careful :)

Bricks are also a pain for bikes which often don't have huge tires and suspension.

Right, but we're talking about few millimeters (not centimeters) of difference between bricks, which are not comfy but not too extreme if driving on any bike at ~10km/h => advantages outweigh disatvantages.

Bikes being the least problematic opponent group, I would be more worried by skateboard, inline-skate, etc... opposition groups.

In Switzerland we solved it (as long as it was implemented by the local community or city) by having very smooth sidewalks (but bikes still have to drive on the street as they're too fast for the sidewalk and have more than enough suspension for the normal street at normal speeds).

> People in the US don't really go the speed limit even in a 25mph zone so I don't know how well that will work.

If you just change the signs, obviously it would fail miserably. You need to change the actual design of the street to match the ideal. There are lots of ways to do this, just google "road diet".

The only way I could see this happening is with really damaging speed bumps every car length.

Nah, there's lots of other ways to get people to slow down. I mean, speed bumps/humps are one way, and they have their uses, but you can also add trees (yes, it's a psychological thing), narrow the road (e.g. add bike lanes or extend sidewalks), make the road less straight, add roundabouts that people can't blow through, add chicanes at some points (I've seen this in the bay area), add diverters that discourage car through-traffic, etc. Lots of options.

The most obvious difference I see between Germany and the US is that the roads are just way wider in the US. That makes drivers feel like they can go faster, so they do go faster, thus making them less safe. You don't really need to enforce tight speed limits in neighborhood streets where I live in Munich, they're so narrow that it's very obvious that you cannot go fast.

Given speed bumps are frowned upon for this very reason, narrowing roads and adding obstacles (brick and concrete islands, parking endcaps, flower beds) is preferred

They're called "woonerf" in Netherland. Cars drive at walking pace, and pedestrians, particularly playing kids, always have right of way.

The context is streets without cars any cars at all though.

Even in areas where there's a car occasionally, as kids we watched out for cars, not the other way around. We never assumed a car would brake for us. I'm sure it happens, but from my memories, not even the most reckless kids did that. And we did some shit, let me tell you :D

The most sensible way to play in a street (a very odd sentence), barring officially closed roads is a cul de sac - which is far less objectionable because the traffic is restricted to only those heading to the houses after they slow down for a turn.

We live in a cul de sac and it's been great. The kids all come out in the evening and there's 6-10 of them.

The one concern with our location is that the connecting road is 35mph, branched off from a 45mph road, plus its downhill. So some people tend to go down that 35mph road at 50mph.

> I can't even recall the last time I broke up a hockey or streetball game driving through neighborhoods.

Because you weren't driving through such a "pedestrianized zone" :)

You have never been on a street that would support a hockey game. Such a street would not allow you to drive on it. There were hardly any kids outside in my suburb and then the council built a small dirt jumps park and the day it opens there is a swarm of 40 - 50 people using it. People won't use something until it exists for them to use it.

Kids play hockey on the street I live on, basketball too. When I had the GTI I'd try to park it in such a way as to shield it a bit in my driveway. I'd however Never say anything to them... when I was their age we played Hardball in the street.

I grew up playing hockey in the street, but please, presume more about me.

I grew up playing hockey on the school team and I would never even try playing on the street. Angry bogans would get road rage if someone got in their way and everyone I know is 10km+ away.

One of my favorite streets in Madison, WI is no car traffic. Really great for business, getting across town, and general atmosphere.

I feel really bad for the children who seem to grow up in the backseat of some monstrous luxury SUV. I can't imagine it leads to the best types of citizens.

You can spot a few in this thread..

While their politicians and presidents cruise the streets in "cool" gas-guzzling SUV motorcades.

This stream of "cars are the devil" articles from citylab is growing rather monotonous.

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