Designing a car-minimal city

With climate change, rising fuel prices, and the general unsustainability of our current existence becoming apparent, I’ve decided to work on a thought experiment that most people have entertained at one point or another: how to develop a car-minimal city? Now, a wholly car-less city would be essentially impossible, but a car-minimal city is certainly an option; in this arrangement, parking ramps in certain areas, generally towards the edges of the city, would store citizens’ cars, however the majority of the city would have no roads built for cars; bicycle/walking trails would be used instead, and a subway system would provide transit across larger distances in the city. Furthermore, I want to approach this with the goal of a minimal carbon footprint, so there will be included in these specifications a general ecological sensibility, as removing cars but doing nothing else to minimise the effects of a city on the environment would do very little to improve conditions in the long run.

I decided to take on this experiment in part because it was brought up in an IRC chatroom I frequent, but also because I’ve found that it is quite possible to not use a car at all in a city with a well-developed transit system; Montréal is a good example of this, especially near the downtown core. By no means do I suggest that the city should be entirely car-free, as there are some things for which having a car available is superior, for instance travelling outside the city, but at the same time, the majority of what is done in a city doesn’t require a car, certainly not a vehicle that seats four or five, holding only one person. My goal here is to provoke thought about urban development and city planning, as well as about the usual American lifestyle; I’ll be addressing the changes that would result from the basic tenet of car-minimal living in later posts.

The general approach to these posts will be this: this post discusses the what and the why of a car-minimal city, and the following few posts will each address a specific how associated with such a choice — I am not discussing retrofitting existing cities, that will be after these posts, as it is better to start with a wholly new development for this sort of planning, and then approach the redevelopment of a city with a different core transit system. As such, we start with how the concept of streets changes when moving to a car-minimal system, and from there, its impact on city design and long-distance transit.

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