Sustainable Transport - CarFree

New Yorks Park Avenue when the name Park Avenue meant something.


Beyond the endless clamour for more roads and more parking it is rare to hear an informed discussion of the automobiles environmental cost. To have a sensible discussion on the automobile you have to make some clear distinctions, if you don’t make these distinctions at the outset things can get silly very quickly,

The first distinction that needs to be made is between a working vehicle and a vehicle that’s used for private transport. If you fail to make this distinction you can end up collecting a pint of milk in a seven ton military vehicle because “ambulances need access”.

The second distinction that needs to be made is the location the vehicle is used in, probably the most important distinction here is between urban and rural, if we fail to  make that distinction then our cities can resemble wars zones because “not everyone lives in a city”.

Once these distinctions have been made we can start to make some useful progress,  when the benefits of the private car outweigh its disadvantages it serves a useful purpose, when the benefits do not outweigh the disadvantages then it does not serve a useful purpose.

It is meaningless to claim the benefits of the private car are obvious if we simply ignore its negative impact, just as it is meaningless to claim that driving a car capable of hitting 400 kph must be tolerated because people should have “choice” and then dismiss the danger to others as if their lives had no value.


Sustainable Transport - CarFree

New Yorks Park Avenue today, transformed by the automobile. Photo; Budacab


This is the part of the debate which we never hear. The “usefulness” of the private car within all public space is not to be questioned, but once that decision is made what can only follow is a clamour for ever more parking and ever more roads. The private car dictates the environment and the environment will dictate how people respond, people simply have no choice. Even dedicated members of the CarFree movement are forced to rent a car when faced with an environment built for cars and few “choose” to cycle when doing so exposes them to the risk of being killed.

Now that the car has succeeded in killing more people then both world wars combined isn’t it about time we started to ask some fundamental questions.. Does it have to be cars or people ? 

We are assured that when it comes to the quality of urban life the consensus among “town planners” is the we must not abandon our cars but our “over dependence” on car travel - We are to accept this without question, no evidence is really offered. We are to accept unquestioningly the word of the profession which present Houston and Atlanta as examples of urban excellence - well, forgive me here, but perhaps it would be no harm just to have a look at the evidence....

To become "a city suitable for living.It’s kind of a new concept for us," said Huang Yan, the well-regarded deputy director of the planning commission, when she announced the master plan in April. "We've never thought about this before." (5)

After a lifetime working as town planners it simply never occurred to them that they were meant to be creating a human habitat that enhances peoples lives!, “its kind of a new concept” - we need to rediscover the profession of “Town planning”, a profession that was once capable of creating Paris.


Sustainable Transport - CarFree

The Human Habitat ?. Photo; LivingSpace


Above is a picture of anywhere really, any high rise city built since the rise of the automobile, actually it is Beijing. Private car ownership in the US stands at 48% in Canada 56% but in Beijing it stands at only 10% (6). Yet even at this low figure the automobile completely dictates and dominates the environment. This picture reveals a city which is noisy, dangerous and shrouded in a haze of diesel exhaust, it is the town planners creation and effectively all public space serves only the automobile. It is the human habitat with the humans removed because they might get in the way of the car.  Environments like this have been described as anti-human and you don’t have to be a “well regarded” professional to see why. So exactly what level of automobile use would the professionals like us to believe is appropriate? 

Perhaps they will say 10% is not enough, that we need more roads, more danger, more ugliness or perhaps they believe we should unleash “only” one million private cars at this degraded city each day, a figure that equates to a mere 7%, as if such damage can be justified by so few upon so many in the cause of so little.



The automobile lobby retreats behind a smokescreen of illusions - The private car they say is essential but the millions who manage fine without one prove this to be false. The car they say can bring people to hospital but ambulances are busy filling millions of hospital beds with its victims. The car they say is a matter of choice, ownership perhaps, but where is your nearest CarFree neighbourhood ?

In place of any genuine review of the private cars place within the urban environment we are left with a smokescreen whose real function is to deflect an honest review of this fundamental question; the unquestioned assumption that will dictate the very nature of the urban environment, the environment in which most of the worlds population must now live. 

As a result reason gives way to silliness as 25% of children in the Bronx must suffer asthma because some people “like to drive” or cities like Beijing are reduced to an anti-human machine-scape of crash barriers, motorways, and danger because a small minority would “rather not use public transport”. How twisted it gets when a motorist’s dislike of public transport supercedes a child’s right to breathe (7).


Sustainable Transport - CarFree

Photo; Datasage, Creative Commons,


"Yet it needn’t be like this. All the congestion, the pollution, the anger which suffuses London between the hours of eight and ten and four and six is caused by just 14 per cent of commuters,"

Throughout the history of the automobile, rights have been demanded by a rich and powerful automobile lobby which deny even basic rights to anyone who gets in their way - if the automobile endangers peoples lives they simply remove the people “for their own safety”. If a neighbourhood gets in the way they simply level the neighbourhood to “solve congestion”. It is a basic right for the motorist to buy a car capable of hitting 400 kph, but if the noise, pollution and danger damages peoples lives - well they’ll just have to move somewhere else. Rhetoric replaces reason as anyone who dares question the supremacy of the private car is dismissed as an extremist, a wild eyed idealist or the better still “A bed wetting liberal”.

If Beijing was built to the population density that best suits cars it would explode out to 6000 sq. miles of which over 3000 sq. miles would be automobile infrastructure! (8) - the waste is truly staggering, In the USA an area equivalent to 10% of America’s arable land is now buried under asphalt (9).


Sustainable Transport - Carfree - Paris

The Urban Racetrack, Paris. Photo: Agefotostck.


Does it have to be people or cars - yes. We build for human scale and human needs or we build for machine scale and machine needs. Above is a picture of Paris, how can anyone look at this picture and claim that balance has been achieved ?. It is really very simple, you can have cars or people but not both in the same place. Cars drive life off the streets and without living streets you cant have a living city. To discover what the alternative can bring why not check out CarFree cities.

“Day by day the fury of the traffic grew, To leave your house meant that once you had crossed the threshold you were a possible sacrifice to death in the shape of innumerable motors. I think back twenty years, when I was a student: the road belonged to us then: we sang in it and argued in it, while the horse bus swept calmly along.... Le Corbusier Paris 1924 (10).