Forget about "balance" with cars; we have to prioritize walking, biking and transit

bike protest Amsterdam
© A 1970s protest with upside down cars in the Amsterdam neighborhood De Pijp via the Bicycle Dutch blog. "Car Free" is written on the toppled cars.

We have talked a lot about “balanced transportation” in TreeHugger; how the Netherlands and Copenhagen “shifted to a more balanced transportation approach that gave room, infrastructure, and funding to bicyclists and pedestrians.”

Brent Toderian© Brent Toderian

We were probably wrong, too. Speaking in Denver, former Vancouver chief planner Brent Toderian notes that “balance” doesn’t work when the roads are already filled with cars. He is quoted by David Sachs in Streetsblog Denver:

Traffic Pyramid© Bicycle Innovation Lab

Reconsider this word “balance.” Let’s say, for argument’s sake, your end goal is balance. Picture a 100-yard dash where you’ve given the car a 90-yard head start. That’s kind of where you are. Even if your goal is an outcome of balance, by definition you have to prioritize the other modes even to just catch up — let alone be where you should be in urban places.

Toronto sun on carsToronto Sun/Screen capture

He says that cities have to prioritize walking and cycling, which is a very different thing and which probably does not go down well with the the people in big metal boxes. (Where I live, "Hundreds of kilometres of precious car lanes have been handed over to cyclists for their wintertime amusement." If only that were true!) But Brent talks from experience:

The 1997 Vancouver Transportation Plan didn’t use the word “balance.” It prioritized. Walking first, then biking, then transit, then goods movement, then the single occupancy vehicle or car share. In Vancouver we don’t ban the car. We don’t talk about “car-lite” or any of those kinds of things. We just prioritize them last. And in doing so, we make all ways of getting around better. If you design and build a multimodal city, it works better for everybody, including drivers.

Brent also takes a position that we have taken on TreeHugger: Beware of Uber and self-driving cars being used as an excuse to kill transit and rail projects.

You’ve heard this before, right? “Uber is the reason we don’t need to fund public transit.” I’m not anti-tech. I’m anti-laziness, and I’m against using it as an excuse to continue to do the wrong things in your city.

But as transit expert Jarrett Walker has noted, Technology never changes facts of geometry.

However successful driverless cars become, transit will remain crucial for dense cities because cities are defined by a shortage of space per person. Mass transit, where densities are high enough to support it, is an immensely efficient use of space.

prioriteis© Justicia Unbana by Fabian Todorovic

I have taken the more provocative attitude that we don't need self-driving cars, but need to get rid of cars, not a particularly balanced or realistic view. But Brent is right: Prioritize. If you look back at those posts on the Netherlands, that is what they actually did.

Tags: Bike-Friendly World | Cities | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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