I now take to the task of illustrating the various solutions that have been proposed to end the socio-ecological parasite known as the automobile in the San Francisco Bay Area. While many solutions exist, all vying for the ability to be the solution, the problem is not so clear-cut. Entanglements of this magnitude are best solved in modular systems, made up of pieces of every proposition. The bottom line is that a better alternative to the automobile must be available if the People will ever discard their cars. No matter how much is written on the subject, people do not want to leave their automobiles behind.
In order to pick and choose from the multiplicity of options available to us, we first must analyze the possible solutions, with their political agendas, social perspectives, and possible conclusion-scenarios piece-by-piece.
The first solution to a car-free city is to provide public transportation apt to replace the automobile--not only in the hands of drivers, but their hearts as well. To quote from Carfree Cities, "The metro system would provide fast, frequent passenger transport to all parts of the city 24 hours a day. No two points in the city are more than 35 minutes apart." They further point out a timeline in which for the average daily commute to take place:
- It should take no more than 5 minutes to walk to a station.
- No more than a 4-minute wait should occur before their train arrives.
- Then, some optional steps can exist: if needed, the passenger should be in a hub-center within 10 minutes.
- It should take 1 minute for the individual to make it to a second platform in which to pick up the train going to their final destination, where again they will wait no longer than four minutes, and then ride to their destination with 10 minutes.
- That, too, should be no more than a 5-minute walk from their commute point.
This totals to an average of 35 minutes for travel. At this time, with the San Francisco Municipal Railway (the MUNI) the city has a long way to go to meet these requirements. To begin the absurdity, SF Muni Metro is never 24 hours, 7 days a week. The bus system runs at all times (usually) but one does not expect the 35-minute total commute time.
While organizations like RESCUE MUNI (www.rescuemuni.org) help bring the issues and problems of public transportation into the public eye, as well as fight for the carless city on the governmental front, none fight for the requirement of free transportation for all. If you give the people of the city a free ride that takes as short as 35 minutes, runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, there is no way that the people will not take up on it.
Furthermore, the book goes onto say that the only way a hard-rail train system like this could be built is to build the very city after the rail is constructed. Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of the Phoenix-rising from the flames sort-of scenario. Destroy the cities, rebuild and see what you have.
"Moving freight is the greatest challenge in the development of a workable carfree city," with San Francisco providing an even harder example. The current mode of transport for freighting goods from place to place is using gas-powered automobiles, which would be rendered unacceptable from a car-free society. Thus, a new network must be found that is non-environmentally harmful, in accordance with the public transport system, timely, and least-importantly, for a low cost. One proposal for this system would be the utilization of the Metro system for freight. In this system the goods would be transported on special freight-only train cars, and in compliment with the fare-less rail system, the entire bill of public transportation would be put on the freighters. In this system the responsibility of the individual is increased, with pushcarts packages such as groceries, etc. up to 100 lbs can be carried to/from residences. This also would increase the physical health of many people, but provides problems for the elderly and disabled.
The dialogue of public transportation is one that will never end. It is at the center of a carless city. Peripheral parking provides support such a public transport system could exist on. With peripheral parking, the auto consumers who wish to commute to or from the city would park in massive parking structures on the outskirts of the city. While not the best of natural-conscious solutions, it is one that viably could be introduced for positive results. The negative here being this: Imagine, a beautiful city resting inside surrounding mountains of car-holding structures, shadowing the city. In San Francisco, we have built a city founded on the tradition of creating usable space out of nothingness. Golden Gate Park was once sand dunes, and the Marina--the bay. It wouldn’t take very long for the beard scratchers to realize that they could use the bay, or underneath it, as a huge parking structure for which commuters could leave/pick-up their automobiles.
But on a system as grandiose as that, there would have to be a system of checks and balances, of course. "The city must also have the authority to regulate the use of the greenbelt surrounding the city. While much or even all of the land could remain in productive use, these uses must be compatible with proximity to a major city. Thus, clear-cutting of forests would be unacceptable for esthetic and ecological reasons, but managed productive forests, accessible for day use, would be a desirable addition. Farmland should remain in farm use, but heavy concentrations of livestock would be phased into field crops, fruit, and vegetables. A mix of uses is highly desirable for the richness and learning opportunities it provides." Compromise is a word that not only I must learn, but the activists and politicians must as well.
Perhaps it is a bit unfair to imagine a completely carfree San Francisco. Instead, we could convert in increments. The Lyon Protocol, a presentation given at the 1997 Towards Car-Free Cities Conference in Lyon, France outlines the slow implementation of modular systems without cars. First, the plan dictates, "It is essential to identify, early in the process, every interest group affected by the changes under consideration." Then, the entities handling the situation must gather data such as "cartography, air pollution, noise pollution, traffic-related water pollution, traffic flow, car registrations, origin-destination surveys, demographics, density information, land ownership, commuter traffic, parking patterns, freight deliveries, and marine resources." -- this way we can take a holistic view in our transformation. It gives us a scale of how much good we are doing. It is at this point, according to the Lyon Protocol, that "it is time for the working group to develop the first preliminary concept" by defining the area’s boundaries, propose the alternative modes of transport that will be available, and then begin manipulating the media slowly and surely. This can be done by encouraging exposes on the faults of cars, especially in the modular neighborhoods you plan on revitalizing. The bottom line of all this being, and this is what one tells the media directly: a carfree society reduces air pollution, decreases noise, increases tourism, maintains better upkeep on roads, and more economic competition for the venture capitalists out there.
The Lyon Protocol further informs about the phasing of the project--when construction and planning meet. They suggest first reducing the speed limits by using speed bumps in the planned area, while making sure the infrastructure of public transportation is acceptable for this carless neighborhood. To begin reducing the cars in the area, they suggest first phasing out "private cars of non-residents" then those of residents, buses, trucks, and finally all vehicles with exception of emergency and slow speed local delivery shuttles. Slowly, little Venice’s appear inside our maze of traffic-congested roads -- bits of paradise above the horizon.
Future Drive by Daniel Sperling leads us not towards a carless society, but one free of many of the toxic effects cars exhume. What Sperling most champions is the use of "fuel cells... "a device that transforms hydrogen and oxygen into electricity." The benefits of this technology are numerous. Unlike a battery system, fuel "is supplied continuously, with the cell producing electricity all the while." It can be filled at gas-station-like establishments, and allows long-distance traveling. "The electrochemical reaction in a fuel cell is far cleaner and more efficient," while being twice as efficient as gasoline engines. Most importantly is the chance of the fuel cell to realize "the elusive dream of solar hydrogen." By cutting pollution and greenhouse gas emissions using methanol, natural gas, or petroleum first, we can improve the environment, and utilize the solar rays-- creating a fuel system that is virtually "environmentally benign."
In Herbert Lottman’s How Cities Are Saved there is an allusion to "an American architect (who) suggested that pedestrian engineering become a city agency, to give pedestrians a voice against the traditional city departments concerned with motor traffic." This, of course would help a great deal because rarely is the pedestrian opinion heard. The voices of the actual people walking in the city are more important than any of this theorizing, planning & imagineering.
Without the voice of the people we are nothing. It occurs to me that the majority of non-pedestrians don’t want to lose their car--better public transportation or not. Must we physically take their cars away from them, no matter their protest, no matter the pleas for their beloved automobile? Without the voice of the people we are nothing. And from nothing it all came, and will be.
Crawford, J. M. Carfree Cities. International Books, Utrecht, the Netherlands. 2000
Lottman, Herbert. How Cities Are Saved. Universe Books, New York, New York. 1976
Sperling, Daniel. Future Drive: Electric Vehicles and Sustainable Transportation. Island Press, Washington, D.C. 1995
Williams, Karel. Colin Haslam, Sukhdev Johal, John Williams. CARS: Analysis, History, Cases. Berghahn Books Inc, London, U.K. 1994
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