Will Europe’s Planning War on Cars Work in the U.S.?

European cities are using the heavy hand of urban planning in a conscious attempt to get people out of their cars. Their tactics are overt and their purpose is clear. As the New York Times (June 26, 2011) reported:

“In the United States, there has been much more of a tendency to adapt cities to accommodate driving,” said Peder Jensen, head of the Energy and Transport Group at the European Environment Agency. “Here there has been more movement to make cities more livable for people, to get cities relatively free of cars.”

“To that end, the municipal Traffic Planning Department here in Zurich has been working overtime in recent years to torment drivers. Closely spaced red lights have been added on roads into town, causing delays and angst for commuters. Pedestrian underpasses that once allowed traffic to flow freely across major intersections have been removed. Operators in the city’s ever expanding tram system can turn traffic lights in their favor as they approach, forcing cars to halt.”

The New York Tims editorial page also spotlights in this issue through their on-line forum “Room for Debate” (where I have the lead commentary among those invited to participate). I raise the question: Are cities for planners or for citizens? I write in part:

“Focusing solely on the views of conventional planners fails to even acknowledge the broad-based benefits automobile travel has brought to societies everywhere. No other transportation technology gives the average household more mobility while broadening the housing and neighborhood choices available to them than the automobile. Shifts to public transit inevitably increase travel times, reducing accessibility to key services and jobs. The fact planners have to systematically and consciously undermine the inherent benefits of the automobile is testimony enough to its advantages.”