I love my bike. I love the chill morning air as I slip through damp city streets at daybreak. I love flitting through the leafshadows on the lakefront bike path, miles from home on a breezy-haired warm summer evening with an utterly unplanned plan. I love the quiet among the grasses; the honking and colour in the city. I love riding to the café for scones and cappucino. I love my version of freedom. I love my bike.
But is this romance clouding my brain? I also love my planet and it forces me to be rational. We’re out of time and we have to make hard choices. When we talk to our city planners, of course we want to talk about how we love our bikes; and we should. But first, we should talk about transit.
Rapid transit moves millions. Bikes move tens of thousands. Sorry to introduce reality, but we must. Good transit displaces far more gas-fuelled vehicles than bikes ever will; and transit serves people who cannot ride a bike.
Tell me if you agree: Does transit allow people to work in places they otherwise couldn’t, or to pursue passions that otherwise might be out of reach? Does it save hours every day moving people to and from their workplaces? Does transit support city economies?
Rapid transit is exploding with new possibilities. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is something you should Google if you are interested in city planning. Different shapes and sizes of electric vehicles, some of them driving autonomously, are about to flood into our world. Will they become extensions of a city’s rapid transit system? Not everything has to be an expensive subway or LRT, but each of these alternatives probably has a place in the mix.
We all know that in the past we have designed too much of our world around cars. We’re beginning to think about and implement different ideals, but don’t we also need to think about the transition from where we are at present, to where we want to go? To design workable remedies we need to think about cities. To implement workable solutions we need to think about how we explain them to people that are struggling with change.
By definition, urban areas offer things that rural areas do not. Many people who live in crowded places are okay with crowded places. People who prefer more space are likely to move to the country. But they need to visit cities, and cities need these visitors. It’s economics.
Travel to and from cities and between cities is unlikely to end any time soon. We need to think about the best, cleanest ways to accommodate this. We can’t slam the door on cars overnight, but I think we all agree that if it must be a car or a truck, it should be clean, probably electric. In German cities clean running vehicles enjoy more privileges.
How do we persuade people to buy electric vehicles?
DOWNTOWN COMMUNITIES BY DESIGN
We’re beginning to agree that in downtown areas we don’t care if cars and trucks are restricted to certain areas and forced to move more slowly. Quality of life, walkers, and cylists are beginning to get the respect they deserve.
In modern downtown areas streets are becoming two lanes or less with lower speed limits. Investments are being made in transit and electric chargers, and in general, there is less parking space available. Parking is becoming expensive, and that’s okay, when implemented well.
Shouldn’t rapid transit be the main focus downtown? And rapid transit could be more important for some of the visitors to cities too. Some cities have strong systems that serve surrounding suburbs and towns. London, England comes to mind.
Still there will always be cars, trucks and a whole group of new vehicle configurations in the downtown area. Can they be shared more? Can they be clean running?
Many of the world’s car drivers are busy, industrious people. Their attachment to their cars is both rational and emotional. I think there has been so much chatter about electric cars, that the most important rational message has not been getting through to this key car-driving contingent. Yes electric cars go farther now and chargers are springing up everywhere. Yes they are healthier, quieter, safe and low maintenance.
But above all, they’re inexpensive to run! Most drivers spend a few hundred dollars a month on their car payment and another few hundred on gas. What if 75% of the fuel payment was gone!
What if they could save $20,000 on gas? Because that’s what it is. You’ll save about $20,000. That’s a simple message. That’s a powerful message. You’ll save about $20,000 on gas!
I’m getting older. Soon I’m going to love something else. Maybe, even more than my bike. An electric three-wheeled sushi crate?