‘Stifling’ cars in Europe

Yesterday morning, the New York Times looked at how some European cities are reinventing public spaces (actually, re-reinventing) by actively discouraging car traffic.

The story is a fascinating read that puts into stark relief the reality that our transportation systems don’t develop spontaneously and organically, but through deliberate choices that prioritize one mode over the other.

And the story has generated a bit of criticism over its tone – describing the efforts to discourage driving in draconian terms, with words like “stifling” (originally in the online headline, but since changed), “eroded,” “severely restrict,” and “torment.”

As someone who regularly tries to get places in an American city without using a car, I can certainly relate to being “tormented.” So I thought it would be fun to take the first couple of paragraphs of the story and recast them a bit.

Here’s the original:

While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

Cities including Vienna to Munich and Copenhagen have closed vast swaths of streets to car traffic. Barcelona and Paris have had car lanes eroded by popular bike-sharing programs. Drivers in London and Stockholm pay hefty congestion charges just for entering the heart of the city. And over the past two years, dozens of German cities have joined a national network of “environmental zones” where only cars with low carbon dioxide emissions may enter.

… and here’s my version:

While European cities are discouraging car use to promote walking, biking and mass transit, many American cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to everything but cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make walking and biking inconvenient and just plain miserable enough to tilt citizens toward less environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

Cities including Las Vegas to Chicago and Phoenix have closed vast swaths of streets to foot traffic. New York and San Francisco have had bike lanes eroded by popular car-driving programs. Bicyclists in Provo, Utah are required to have a permit to ride in the city. And nearly all American cities have joined a national network of “freeways” where only cars may enter.

OK, I’m being snarky. Still, the point remains – the car-dependent infrastructure we have today is the result of an intentional choice to push everyone into a singular mode of transportation (picking winners and losers, as some might put it).

Sometimes we need to take a trip to opposite-land in order to see that.

Photo by sonofabike via Creative Commons

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