Jay Walljasper, editor-at-large of Utne Magazine, in a recent article for the Michigan Land Use Institute, muses about the possibility of a world with fewer vehicles. What he says about the history of traffic in other cities gives me hope for our own woes about traffic and gridlock:
It’s helpful to remember that before there was Prague, with its fiercely reckless drivers, or Bangkok and Jakarta, with their horrendous traffic jams, the picture of a transportation nightmare in most people’s minds was Rome, Madrid, or London. In each of these places, autos represented something deeper than just a way to get around.
In Rome of the 1960s, car culture was a mark of Italy’s arrival as a prosperous nation; in Madrid of the 1970s, a badge of the modern consumer society that replaced Franco’s dictatorship; and in London of the 1980s, the supreme symbol of free-market freedom as defined by Margaret Thatcher.
But look at them now. London shocked the world in 2003 with the huge success of its congestion pricing policy, which charges drivers a hefty fee to enter a traffic-unsnarled city center.
Madrid tamed its famously unruly traffic with aggressive implementation of pedestrian streets and other measures to keep cars from ruining neighborhoods.
And Rome, the butt of so many jokes about impossible traffic and insane drivers, reduced traffic by 25 percent in its center — an initiative that has become the model for Paris, a city usually looked to as the urban ideal.
Which is a fitting intro for the succeeding series of posts where I want to begin a dialogue on how we can rethink our streets and in so doing rebuild our cities.
(BTW, don't forget to vote!)