The car-free city: wave of the future?

May 13, 2013

Will cars have a place in the cities of the future? Not if today’s urban planners have much to say about it, according to Fortune. Future urban design will not likely revolve around accommodating cars and drivers, as it did in the past, according to experts at a seminar called “Smart Cities,” held at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Green conference in California last week. Instead, planners will focus on reducing negative environmental impact and addressing the needs of city dwellers that rely on walking, biking and public transit to get around – in other words, if the city of the future isn’t car-free, it’ll be close.

Futuristic city spires

According to this Disney mural, the city of the future won’t have cars, only streaky neon lines… and blimps? From Sam Howzit.

“Smart Cities” brought together experts Peter Calthorpe, Principal of Calthorpe Associates, an urban architecture and design firm; Jay Carson, Chief Executive of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a network of cities working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and Eric Spiegel, President and CEO of Siemens, the engineering and electronics giant, moderated by Leigh Gallagher of Fortune, to address the question: “What are some of the latest and greatest innovations (design, technology, management) to make cities smarter and more sustainable, thereby enabling people and businesses to thrive?”

As cities experience record growth – in fact, more than 50% of the global population now lives in cities, the first time ever in human history – urban planners are working to usher in sustainable-growth strategies that protect the planet. Calthorpe’s estimate places 3.5 billion people living in developing-world cities by 2025. Meanwhile, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs claims that in 40 years, 2.7 billion more people will live in world cities than do today.

Intersection filled with traffic

If some urban planners have their way, intersections like this one will be a distant memory within a generation or two. From tacoekkel.

The new focus for designers, architects and urban planners, then, is on projects for cities that aren’t tailored to highway infrastructure, as in the past, but rather to city dwellers with urban transport needs. “I actually coined the phrase transit-oriented development, and I’d like to shed it,” Calthorpe said, reported Fortune. “The answer has more to do with walking and biking – shoes, not tires.”

Part of that focus is reducing traffic. According to speaker Carson, a Rio de Janeiro project led by the city’s mayor is pioneering bus rapid transit (BRT) to reduce delays and costs in anticipation of the 2016 Olympics. Under the BRT system, passengers pay for the tickets before boarding, saving time and preventing buses from idling. Though the Rio de Janeiro project isn’t specifically environmentally focused – instead, it touts improved public transit as a quality of life initiative – it does result in carbon savings. In the U.S., cities from Eugene, OR (home of the Lane Transit District Emerald Express, or EmX) and North Bay, CA to Reno, NV, Nashville, TN and New York City have BRT systems in place, while others, including Austin, TX, Detroit, MI, Hartford, CT and others, have plans for BRT systems.

No cars symbol

This no cars sign, currently as rare as Halley’s comet, may be put to more frequent use in the future as car-free areas proliferate. From roadtrafficsigns.com.

Though urban planning has been car-centric since the dawn of the auto, current methods of traffic control do exist: including taxes against vehicles in urban areas, route diversions, route restrictions and even no-drive days, as noted by the EPA’s report, Vehicle Use Restrictions.

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Category: Automotive, Resources, Trends

About the Author ()

Katy is a writer, reporter and editor who, in addition to writing for RoadTrafficSigns, has worked with the United Nations Development Programme, Hamptons magazine, Hearst Corporation, The Daily Mail, People Magazine, and a variety of other publications and nonprofits. After graduating with honors from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and distinctions on her thesis and in the consumer journalism seminar, she moved to Milan, Italy. In Italy, she worked as a writer and consultant for an international magazine, editing and translating text and reporting on such events as the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the annual design fair. A born and raised New Yorker, she has lived in three of five boroughs, relying quite a bit on public transport until getting her driver's license at the admittedly belated age of 21.

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