Written by: Chandrea Baster
Pollution is a serious problem plaguing our world today. Regardless of the source, it is something that impacts our daily lives and is a severe issue that needs mending. Pollution has a variety of different origins; factories, industrial facilities, trucks, and automobiles all contribute to the amount of pollution in our air. However, the impact that cars have on pollution nowadays is unequivocal; as of 2014, there were 1.2 billion vehicles on the road and that number is expected to rise to 2 billion by 2035. In the United States, the ample number of cars on the road contributes to 75 percent of carbon monoxide pollution in the air. However, within the last few years a movement towards creating a more sustainable world has started to take shape. The main goal is to significantly decrease the dependence on cars. A truly worldwide movement is brewing—approximately fifteen cities have already started to reshape the way they use cars in central areas. Specifically, cities in Europe and North America have become involved in the development of alternative transportation systems to try to reduce the number of cars on the road.
The decision to incentivise the removal of many cars from large cities is part of an operation focused around creating a more sustainable lifestyle for individuals worldwide. Air pollution and the dense concentration of vehicles on the road has created smog; essentially, the air quality worldwide is extremely unsafe. This poor air quality resulted in the deaths of 391,000 European citizens in 2015. Approximately 20% of countries in the E.U. are looking towards markedly decreasing fuel emissions. Oslo, Norway in particular is interested in decreasing all emissions to 50% by 2020; by 2030, they are looking to become a “zero-emitting city”. The goal is to greatly decrease the number of cars on the road so that the detrimental effects of harmful air pollution and emissions are decreased.
Cities in Europe are viewing this new project as one of obligation rather than choice. Oslo is the frontrunner for the project, having already undertaken numerous steps to reduce the number of cars in the city. By the end of this year, Oslo hopes to eliminate approximately 700 of the on-street parking spaces currently available and has stated its intention of clearing the entire half-mile radius of the city center of cars and parking spaces.
This newfound approach to creating a sustainable and healthy environment in Europe has the United States re-evaluating their approach to vehicles as well. Recently, New York City has implemented a variety of pedestrian-only areas around popular tourist destinations which were created to decrease the amount of cars in congested areas. Furthermore, a recent policy proposal by city representatives has resulted in New York City banning cars from the internal streets surrounding Central Park. This move is intended to clean up an area that receives nearly 42 million visitors each year. Paris, France has banned cars on Sundays and various holidays, and Paris city officials have also started to create parking spaces outside of the city center to enable individuals to park their cars and then commute using other measures. In addition, Rome, Italy is looking to ban all diesel cars by 2024.
Other than just sustainability efforts, representatives in Vienna, Austria are moving to more bike-friendly and park-oriented policies by instituting a cap on the number of cars on the road for the sake of children. Vienna’s goal is to focus on providing children with safe areas to play and to help them utilize outdoor resources to their full capacity. By removing cars from the center of the city, officials can ensure a safer environment for young children.
However, the slow removal of cars from major cities has not come without backlash. Copious amounts of individuals depend on cars to perform daily tasks. Additionally, many individuals depend on having the ability to drive their cars to work. By having to park farther away and then being obligated to switch transportation methods, valuable time is lost. Furthermore, it may not be feasible for people living in colder climates to depend on transportation in the form of bikes, and for many, this move towards car-less city centers is one that will bring many repercussions. Numerous studies have shown that “it’s notoriously difficult to change a driver’s commuting habits, even when free public transit is involved,” leaving many city officials worrying that these new ideas will face resistance. Many are nervous about the implementation of such drastic changes that deviate from the norm, as well as the numerous challenges that come with the application of such a policy. The move towards a city with significantly less vehicles on the road will need to be supplemented by other transportation systems. Without the ability for individuals to drive and park their cars close to city centers, it is obligatory that cities provide individuals with alternative options. For this reason, alternative solutions are being developed in response to those who do not agree with this new movement. Plans including the expansion of bike lanes and creating more extensive public transportation systems are in the works to aid with new anti-automobile efforts. Although the consequences of having so many cars on the road is clear, many are still vehemently opposed. So it is imperative that we create a culture that is cognizant of the detriments that come along with cars. Regardless of public backlash, it is clear that something needs to change. It is becoming simply unsafe for individuals to continue living and working in a society where air quality is extremely hazardous.