Stop the traffic

Revisiting Budapest was a reminder of what damage the automobile, the scourge of the 20th century, has caused human society. The same century started a departure from cities built to a human scale to cities built to suit the the car.

This is likely to change in the 21th century. While an immediate car ban in urban areas is unlikely, economic savvy will move us there anyway. It is no accident that Venezia is the most attractive city in Europe. It may be an open sewer, the buildings are dilapidated, it suffers from chronic floods, the commotion and the prices are high, but this is a city where you find no cars and the tourists love it.

The same can be seen in other cites as well. Where there are zones with high traffic and zones with no traffic, tourists, and the locals as well, gravitate towards the no traffic zones. While tourism is important in itself as the largest economic activity in Europe, they are also an eye-opener. Tourists have the privilege to choose where they want to go and you don’t see them flock to traffic junctions.

The car belongs to the country-side and not in the city. In less densely populated areas it is a symbol of freedom, each individual can go where he wants to go when he wants to go there. In the city the car is the symbol of gridlock. More people live in cities than anywhere else, for them the city is their home not just a place of work or entertainment. If the citizen had a direct say in whether their own street was pedestrian or allowed cars to drive through it the changeover would happen sooner, but they do have a say indirectly.

The cost of allowing cars in to a neighbourhood can be measured by that the noise, the danger, and the pollution lowers the value of the buildings. Cleaning up facades is meaningless as the car exhaust mucks them down again within a couple years and the buildings themselves dissolve within decades. The quality of life is lessened as you can’t even cross the street without the risk of being run over by a car. Commerce suffers as drivers don’t window shop and their only contribution to the environment is negative, they do their damage and drive on. Having good communications with no cars offers a high value to the residents which in turn offers a high price to the property owners. This gives them a financial incentive to move against the traffic.

A city is dependent on good logistics, goods and people need efficient transport. Most cities have by now routed not city bound traffic to car moats circling around it. Much of the remaining car traffic is the daily commute which currently favours cars partly because drivers don’t pay the true cost of driving in cities and partly because alternatives like mass transit can be ineffective or even inappropriate to the traffic patterns in an area.

Hybrid solution like park and ride can suit the opposing urban and suburban needs. Uninhabited traffic corridors can localise the problem. In cites like Oslo the cars are being driven underground. Tunnels is an expensive solution and the cars still pollute, but the other nasty habits are resolved and valuable real estate is liberated. Pedestrian zones will grow out from the city core and recreational areas like parks and waterfronts, as well as former industrial parks and the swankier residential areas. This won’t happen first in Budapest, but when it happens it will be one of the cities that benefits the most.


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