Anti-Car Culture

NYT Screenshot

An article in today’s New York Times titled, “Across Europe, Irking Drivers Is Urban Policy” takes a look at how various European cities actively work to discourage automobile use. Policies such as closing roads to automobiles, levying congestion charges, instituting “environmental zones” where only low emission vehicles are allowed, and strictly limiting parking spaces have been successfully implemented across Europe as part of efforts to reduce automobile use and encourage bicycle and transit ridership.

I’ve mentioned here many times that I think it will take both carrots and sticks if we ever hope to see bicycle and public transit ridership in the U.S. reach the levels enjoyed in Europe. While the “carrot” measures such as high quality infrastructure and financial incentives are very important, I believe we also need to actively discourage automobile use by making it more expensive and less convenient, particularly for the short, urban trips that could so easily be made using alternative forms of transportation.

Read the Article

16 Responses to “Anti-Car Culture”

  • voyage says:

    The European measures won’t be widely accepted in USA simply because they are European (which is bad enough) but they are also presumed to be “socialist.” In other words, USA is not able to even try to internalize external costs.

  • Alan says:


    Agreed. While I think these are things we should do, unfortunately I don’t see them happening on a widespread basis anytime soon.

  • clever-title says:

    I dislike the title of that piece. How is not engineering an entire city to cater to the small population who drive their own cars “Anti-Car?” Isn’t it just “pro pedestrian?”

  • voyage says:

    @Alan (re:@voyage)

    I was in a pessimistic frame of mind at the time. It’s good that you push this kind of policy and infrastructure info out there, props to you!

    (pessimism, optimism, realism being a juggling act)

    Derek Thompson at The Atlantic writes:

  • Bill O. says:

    EXCEPT. The article is NOT actually about “anti-car” policies , though it is written as if it were. The officials who are interviewed make it clear that these are initiatives to restore parity among the various transportation alternatives and to undo policies and practices that grew up as governments promoted and subsidized automobile use. It appears that even the New York Times believes that policies in which automobile use does not trump all other uses of public space are actually an attempt to make drivers “miserable” and to “torment” drivers.

  • Alan says:


    Thanks for the link; good stuff.

  • kanishka azimi (new england!) says:

    i’d like to seem some more stick used too. people woudl scream at gasoline taxes, so more subtle measures. i know you have discussed many in past threads. obnoxious parking restrictions – expensive meters, short time limits, inadequate parking for facilities. dramatically tax businesses at a town level, if they have excess car parking lots…

  • dominic furfaro says:

    Just returned from Italy and read both articles soon after landing back home in Minneapolis. From my observations in my travels the car is still most loved by Italians although parking is a premium we all pay for. It seems to be the will of the people to tolerate parking congestion where public transit is difficult or does not exist and bicycling and walking is preferred. I find this to be the case in Florence but not Sorrento or Tropea, both of which had parked cars and scooters covering every inch of curbside and typical of American center cities with our own congestion. What is not typical is the flow of traffic that rarely comes to a standstill. This could be attributed to very few traffic impediments. ie stop signs and electronic traffic signals. The contrast between Florence and Rome sums this up. In Florence walking or bicycling is preferred because the scale of the city is quite small and citizens have embraced “slow rides” and bike riding is considered faster than walking. Whereas Rome has an underground metro, tram and fine bus service to cover the large city, there is very little bicycling. In fact the Rome bike share program appears to be abandoned. The few bicyclist I saw in Rome appeared to be having difficulties with the massive tourist crowds and frenetic traffic. Hoping onto a bus makes more sense.
    As an observer of bicycle behavior it is refreshing to see Florence in motion on two wheels. Rome is a sad ticky tacky place overrun by hawkers and gawkers bottoming out for its second fall. When covering Rome on a morning run and looking back on a previous walking trip 25 years ago, the size of the city and the terrain is hardly a challenge for a bicyclist.
    Parking is more difficult in European cities and towns, unfortunately North American policy makers use these kind of headlines to create fear among their car loving constituency who want to drive up, drive through and drive off in the mad rush of self importance.

  • Bill Graves says:

    Great article and some very good information.

    Maybe if the US improved the infrastructure of all cities this would be possible but that will take time and money. Very interesting read though.
    For me, I live in a rural area and there is no other transportation available besides car or bike. It would take me 1-2 hours to walk to the nearest grocery store and longer for mall areas. I try to ride as much as possible but it is not always feasable.

  • Garth says:

    I agree that “anti-car” engenders unnecessary antagonism. Unfortunately, in modern America the term nearly equates to “unpatriotic,” especially given the advertising budgets of the car and other related industries.

    To my mind this raises two issues: 1) infrastructure and 2) cost sharing. We could eliminate much of the autocentric infrastructure currently encrusting our cities without inconveniencing transit. For instance, most cit codes require each business to have a certain number of parking spaces, but those parking spaces spend most of their time sitting empty causing stormwater runoff problems. We need to get rid of some of that pavement, and restore the green and people friendly spaces to our cities to make them livable again. However, I think we can frame such an initiative as human friendly instead of anti car.

    We definitely need to make using the car more expensive. However, this again is not an anti-car policy. Cars are already prohibitively expensive in many ways, but motorists are willing to bear the costs of financing, etc., for the status. What we need to do is raise the costs of use, not to punish motorists, but to make the individual costs more commensurate with the societal and resource costs. Despite the recent spikes in gas prices, for instance, our gas is incredibly cheap compared to other parts of the world, where gas taxes are much higher. The price of gas could be raised much higher, to reflect the actual costs to society of individuals using all that gas, in dealing with the pollution, building roads, covering health care costs, resource depletion, etc. It is not about being anti-car. It is simply about making the cost of use, per mile, to the individual, better reflect the larger scale costs of the activity.

    Anyway, those are my quick Tuesday morning thoughts :)


  • Pete says:

    Actually, if America actually enforced the laws for vehicles it already HAS, people would find driving very inconvenient indeed!
    Imagine actually driving at the posted 35mph down that 4 lane arterial, instead of 50. It would take FOREVER to get to Walmart! Image a $50 ticket every time someone rolled a stop sign, failed to signal, or made an illegal right-on-red. Might as well bike at that point!

  • David Coldiron says:

    Carrots and sticks. I like that.

    I also like the word Bill O. used: “parity.” I want straight, wide sidewalks, square-edged (instead of rounded) corners that reduce force cars to slow down when turning and reduce pedestrian exposure. I want more bike lanes and more bike parking. I want buses to run more frequently.

    I want parity. I want fairness. I want justice.

  • John L. says:

    I saw this article yesterday on my way back to car-centric LA from a trip to DC. I, too, was disappointed by the headline suggesting the central idea behind the policy is to “irk” drivers and by the author’s framing of the story as if people, rather than cars, are the problem. Very little mention given of the myriad of environmental, economic, and social costs of the automobile, not just climate change. Unfortunately I’m afraid the sensible proponents of people-centered transportation planning quoted in the article will come off to most Times readers as meddling social engineers who want to take away our “freedom.”

    Incidentally, I found DC’s bikeshare program, as well as its growing network of bike lanes, relatively well-distributed bike racks, and decent mass transit, a breath of fresh air. Not enough, of course, but certainly a step in the right direction.

  • John Ferguson says:

    @Pete, in the future I can see a very socialist measure that will make speed enforcement obsolete – while taking away a good chunk of what most people consider to be their freedom..

    Most modern cars have GPS installed in them, right? Make it a requirement, then design speed governers to work with GPS data to set a maximum speed for the car depending on where you are. If you’re on the freeway, 65 would be the maximum speed you could drive. In residential areas, the speed limit would become a true limit and only police and emergency vehicles would be able to turn the governor off. I think drivers might hate this idea more than increased fuel taxes! Oh, and while we’re at it, install a breathalyzer tube in every car and force the driver to blow under the limit to start the car.

    There are other good ideas out there like vision tracking to determine if the driver is paying attention and limiting speed based on that as well, but we can get started with the first two proposals right away! By exempting bicycles and other human powered transportation, we make bicycles the conveyance of the freedom loving American. Cars become tools of the socialist state. Party on, Garth..

  • Matthew Sterling says:

    The transportation infrastructure in the U.S. is so heavily skewed towards accommodating automobile drivers it’s scary. We’ve made it so easy to choose an automobile over walking or biking that few people now walk or bike anywhere, which in turn has made it more dangerous to be out on foot or on a bike. It’s no wonder drivers don’t yield to pedestrians or respect cyclists’ right to share the roads. They encounter pedestrians and bicyclists so rarely that when they come across one of us they don’t know what to do. This is no excuse for terrorizing pedestrians to the point that they feel they have to run for their lives at crosswalks or convincing many cyclists to feel that the only safe routes are on physically separated bike paths (which I am a supporter of I just don’t think they should be the only way to bike somewhere). It’s especially frustrating to know how much our infrastructure does accommodate drivers and they still can’t just let us walk across the street or make a left turn in peace. Trying to educate drivers to slow down and show some respect is important but I think a lot more will be accomplished by making driving a harder choice. I think we’ll see more drivers recruited into walking and/or biking with a combination of higher fuel prices, less parking that is more expensive, and lower speed limits than through any other efforts. We have a lot of work ahead of us to achieve the kind of parity we’re talking about here but we have to do it. I think America’s car culture has devolved into something that is becoming ruinous to our society.

  • kfg says:

    Where is the greenspace in Florence? It commences immediately upon leaving the city. The city is too full of city to fit much of it in.

    So where is all the shopping if it isn’t surrounding the city with a hell of 6 lanes and parking lots? It’s in the city, where it belongs, where it is the secondary reason for a city existing in the first place and arises directly from the primary reason.

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