Fixing the Great Mistake: Autocentric Development

Another excellent film from Streetfilms. This one features Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives discussing livable streets and the mistakes made by auto-centric planners in the middle of the last century.


13 Responses to “Fixing the Great Mistake: Autocentric Development”

  • Alyssa says:

    I grew up in the suburbs outside New York City and went to college in the city. In May I’m participating in my first Five Boro BIke Tour, and I can’t wait—not just to experience the ride itself but to see just how surreal it’s going to be to see all those streets from the center of them on a bicycle instead of on foot from the sidewalk or from inside a car.

  • Neighbourtease says:

    I love the Five Borough Bike tour — it is really, really fun. I’m excited to take my baby this year.

  • John says:

    Another excellent film from street films. My only criticism would be that we shouldn’t assume that revolutions always happen in one massive moment. In fact, I’d argue that revolutionary change that really gets down to the roots and has staying power is that change that happens over time and has a chance to sink in. We’re stuck with an auto-centric urban and suburban architecture that took decades to create. It’s going to take time to turn it around. I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep pushing for more livable cities now, but small changes upon small changes eventually add up to big changes.

  • Sziszi says:

    I had to laugh as he claimed NYC’s responsibility for leading the way forward to atone for NYC having led us all to an autocentric world in the first place. What a typically NYC-centric view point! NYC can fix itself for the sake of NYC and, while other people in other places may look to what they are doing and borrow, so too should they look to others — I don’t need NYers to lead me from autocentric darkness, we can lead ourselves, thanks very much. But good luck to them just the same.

  • Jennifer says:

    I think he’s just trying to say that if New York as a huge metropolis can turn things around, and can be seen to do so, others might be encouraged to try too. He’s an articulate guy and I think it’s a hugely positive thing that people like this are around in the bike advocacy world.

  • Sziszi says:

    Don’t get me wrong — I think what’s developing in NYC is fantastic and exciting and it’s a good little video with a well articulated message.

    However, while what he _may_ have meant to say was that NYC – as a huge metropolis – can lead by example what he _actually_ said was NYC has a unique responsibility because its New York — that they led us to an autocentric world and will now lead us back. A very NYC-centric view, which to me is just sort of funny and not surprising — having lived there for a while myself.

    Arguably NYC is uniquely not responsible for the autocentric world we live in as it is the most pedestrianised American city with genearlly admirable public transportation and has been and stayed that way througout the 20th century. In so far as NYC became auto-centric I think it could be argued they were followers — the rest of America and American suburbs in general grew in the 20th century as auto-centric places; NYC – much as it is a small island off the coast of America nonetheless was also infected by this autocentricity. LA has a lot more to answer for. And I wish them good luck as well!

  • Evan says:

    Ahhh, if it were only as easy as Paul Steely (you’re kidding, right? Steely?) White suggests.

    We have a mayor, one of the richest men in the world, who talks out of both sides of his mouth – permitting TransAlt to paint bike lanes but refusing to keep double-parkers out of the lanes. Cops included. And the lanes themselves, painted over sand, gravel, broken glass, potholes, manhole covers and construction sites, but hey, more bike lanes ! Big deal. More and more the bike lanes are acknowledged as unsafe.

    Competing interests, too – motorists, of course, but also dog walkers, baby strollers, pedestrians (tourist dollars!) and coming up fast while we weren’t looking, the real competition for the streets – cheap electric bicycles that can easily do 20+mph. Delivery guys have been on them for a year or two, look for ordinary joes/janes to jump on too. Not legal, but when has that ever mattered?

    What’s really needed is for all the various factions to have a little respect for each other, starting first and foremost with cyclists who blow through lights and yell at pedestrians. Motorists too, that’ll require several generations, or maybe never at the current rate of re-education. Cops too, ha ha. In the meantime, I’ve stopped renewing my TransAlt membership – it has devolved into serving itself, making a lot of noise but accomplishing nothing of actual use. Sigh.

  • randomray says:

    He has a good point and I think he is saying that he believes cause NY , NY is so big it will get more attention . I understand that Seattle is already leading the the way . Good luck on the the Five Burghs Tour . It’s way too big for me , the last time I went I had to wait 2 hours for the line of cyclists to start moving and there were thousands of cyclists behind me . Only 30,000 paid cyclists and another 10,000 that sneak in . That’s me , I have friends that can hardly wait for the tour each year . Riding over the bridges is very cool . They are easy to go up not nearly as steep as they look . The one great thing about waiting is introducing myself and talking to all the other cyclists in line . I met cyclists from NYC and all over the world .

  • Giffen says:


    The contradictions which you point out aren’t actually that surprising — they result from Bloomberg’s management style, but perhaps not in the way you think. In an interview the Mayor gave at Google, he said that he pretty much all the departments do their own thing, as much as possible. That would explain why the DOT paints bike lanes and the police use them for parking.

  • veronica says:

    I didn’t know that Park Avenue was indeed a park 100 or so years ago. I think every city has experienced the lost of green space for roads. Remember 1960s highway expansion, governments bought out their homes in order to build freeways in town. Definitely it was worth the expansion, but I agree that we need to find a balance between walkers, riders and drivers. Transportation Alternatives and Times Up in NYC are great advocacy groups worth time, effort and resources.

    Regardless of what city you live in, please get involve and let’s make this happen!

  • David says:

    As a young kid I grew up in a then new subdivision outside of DC in the Falls Church, Mclean area built on farm land. Little did I know that that subdivision was the beginning of the urban sprawl era. It was fields and woods with creeks to play in. Some friends and I even followed Pimmit Run down to the Potomac River once.

    We had narrow two lane roads that even back in the early 70’s were wonderful roads to ride on.
    Beautiful roads that headed out past Leesburg towards the mountains with little traffic.

    The fields and woods have been decimated with suburban sprawl spreading out past Leesburg and more. The creeks and streams run through under ground culverts now. The two lane roads that I knew are in places, four, six , eight lanes wide.
    There is now Rt 66, the Dullas Access Rd and the Capital Beltway wrapping around the area where I grew up and played as a child.

    In 1983 when I left there the sky was always orange at night, no stars in sight from light pollution along with the constant 24 hour a day sound of the highway.

    I live on Martha’s Vineyard, a microcosm of the mainland with the same limited, car centric mentality as cities and towns else where.

    I am very involved with trying to slow down these narrow of thought and dim of wit transportation planners who like their mainland contemporaries have so dismally failed

  • Paul says:

    This is excellent, true enough, but I do rather resent the continued American presumption that they must lead the world and save the rest of the world from itself. I am firmly of the belief that this sort of arrogance and paternalism is the cause of much disempowerment in the world. America is not leading the way in this, please don’t claim it to be so. Be humble.

  • randomray says:

    Relax Paul , I live in the states here and I hardly see how we can claim to lead the way when countries like the Netherlands are so far ahead of us already . Probably every country in Europe is ahead of as far as everyday cycling . I think this is more for our own encouragement then other countries . You work harder at something if you want to lead . I mean really the top city in the US right now seems to be Seattle . If we get the other cities competing to be the best or the leader that’s a good then .

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