The value of private cars in cities

Squirrel near Mud Lake, Ottawa

In the midst of the discussion about the ethics of traveling to Vancouver, the issue of how cars have benefited and harmed people living in urban areas came up. It is undeniable that they have been a major transformative force, when it comes to the shape and character of cities.

To me, it seems that private cars in cities do more harm than good, for a slew of reasons:

  1. They kill a lot of people: both drivers and pedestrians.
  2. They take up a lot of space and alter urban design in negative ways, contributing to sprawl and vast areas of just residential or just commercial zoning.
  3. Sprawl reduces natural and agricultural space. It also leads to people commuting, which is a major waste of their time.
  4. They pollute and emit greenhouse gasses.
  5. They are loud.
  6. They cause neighbours to know one another less than they otherwise would.
  7. They help make many states dependent on oil exports, and frequently involve them militarily in Middle Eastern conflicts.
  8. They have made roads into hostile spaces for everything but automobiles, whereas previously they were more versatile public spaces.
  9. The roads they require are built with public money, though they do not provide value to everyone, and contribute to serious negative externalities.
  10. They use energy quite inefficiently, since they move faster than is sensible, and the mass of the vehicle itself far exceeds that of passengers and cargo.

If it were possible to re-design cities, I think it would be better if they excluded cars entirely within their cores and had a lot of dedicated transit and bicycle routes. Stores could be permitted to have delivery vehicles for large items, and taxis could continue to exist, but the use of private cars within city limits would ideally be eliminated.

What points would people offer to defend private cars in cities? Also, are there and indictments against them I missed?

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

47 thoughts on “The value of private cars in cities”

  1. Why do consumers who only use their cars a few hours per week need over sized polluting transportation?
    Around 1960 I was out to purchase my first new car. Having a long drive on weekends, I had set my mind on a particular smaller car to economize. There were only a few sub-compacts available and they were not that small. In a dealer’s showroom I was intent on completing a deal but I was continually steered to other larger models. It took awhile until I realized that he would not sell me the smaller car! The salesman and I both became irritated and I left. Not much has changed.
    Consumers buy these cars because the manufacturers want them to. Even though they will be forced into fuel efficiency you can bet they will push the larger models with lots of extras.
    This is gonna be hard to change.

  2. Is Desire For New Cars Dead?

    By Sara Behunek
    Posted Sunday, May 31, 2009 – 4:04am

    The New York Times this morning asks, “Can American drivers live without that new-car smell?” while Bloomberg reports that the unemployment rate has reached more than 9 percent for the first time in more than 25 years. Reuters zeros in on the expected General Motors (GM) bankruptcy, reporting that the deadline for bondholders to agree to up to 25 percent stake (or 10 percent with ability to acquire more if the company does well, according to the Detroit Free Press) in the restructured company has passed.

    It remains unknown how many of bondholders have agreed to GM’s offer, which, if accpeted, would ease the bankruptcy process. The Wall Street Journal says that it is likely the majority of bondholders approved the measure, but a final tally will not be announced until tomorrow. GM faces a Monday deadline to present a viable restructuring plan that would allow the company to access more federal aid.

  3. Another charge I would add to the list is that the existence of cars makes public transit worse, because relatively affluent (and politically influential) people do not use it.

  4. Having cities & lifestyles that involve a lot of car use also contributes to the marginalisation of people who cannot drive, including children, the blind, epileptics, elderly people who feel unsafe driving, and the very poor. Cities without cars would be vastly more child-friendly places than they are at present.

  5. it might sound odd, but i would not be in favour of wholesale banning cars from city centres.

    congestion is not necessarily a bad thing in all cases. when it occurs downtown, it often is a symptom of economic activity. in any case, in the early 20th century, cars managed to coexist with horse-drawn carriages, trams and pedestrians.

    i think the solution is not to ban cars outright (although on some streets, this is preferable), but instead to look at why people drive (convenience, speed, ownership as status symbol, etc.) and try to attack the problem there. thus, the carbon tax is a good start, but for people in urban areas to stop driving, there needs to be a wholesale change to transportation in general. otherwise, what might happen is a city centre will completely cease to be visited by suburban dwellers. basically, the solution is to tweak the market so as to give people a choice: you can drive, but it will cost you.

    don’t get me wrong. i hate the car. i just think that it’s here to stay, regardless of what fuel they burn.

  6. I’m not trying to troll, or go out of my way to be argumentative. But I think you’ve set up this conversation in a way that automatically sets you up for mass agreement. Witness this remark: “don’t get me wrong. i hate the car.” Which is sort of like saying “I know I should concur with you, but consider this…”

    Anyway, I think your list covers a wide range of things that many people wouldn’t refute. You haven’t included the pro section though:

    1. They are massively convenient for the user. (Getting groceries, moving families etc.)
    2. They allow people to travel long distances quickly, in ways that are hard to appreciate having grown up with them. Imagine trying to cross a continent via the Oregon trail
    3. They support a huge number of jobs.
    4. They have resulted in a lot of spin-off technology and investment in science. Specifically metallurgical gains have had huge funding from the automotive industry. A more well known technology is the modern assembly line / mass production.
    5. They give the user independence. The user is not affected by transit strikes, schedules, etc. Spontaneous travel is a possibility, as well as travel 24 hours a day.
    6. The are comfortable and provide heat on cold days and shelter from poor weather.
    7. They are fun to drive.

    Having cities & lifestyles that involve a lot of car use also contributes to the marginalisation of people who cannot drive, including children, the blind, epileptics, elderly people who feel unsafe driving, and the very poor.

    16 year-olds are allowed to drive, and they are still children. In fact, many view it as a rite of passage. True, young children aren’t allowed to drive, but nor are they allowed to drink, vote, or a great number of other things. I would really argue that they are not being marginalized, but rather they are just growing up, being prepared for the responsibilities of adult life.

    Regarding the blind and epileptics, again, driving isn’t the only thing that is off limits to them. Their handicap affects all aspects of their life; if being blind meant only that you couldn’t drive, being blind wouldn’t be so bad. As for the elderly, they are allowed to drive until physical/mental ailments prohibit them, in which case they are again prohibited from other things too. Such is life. There are services that seek to provide useful transportation to the handicapped.

  7. Whoops, HTML failure. There should be a after “young.” Possible to fix, Milan?

  8. Mike,

    The point of this list is not to consider the practicalities of actually banning cars in cities. Rather, it is just an attempt to list the pros and cons associated with the present arrangement.

    While it may well be the case that most people would be better off if city cores are car-free, the best that can be practically hoped for is more effort to discourage driving and encourage other modes of travel.


    Thanks for adding a list of advantages.

    I am not sure if I agree with (3). If people weren’t building cars, they would probably be doing something else.

    (5) I also think is somewhat illusionary. They provide independence as long as the conditions for their operation (roads, gasoline, etc) continue to exist.

  9. I closed your open HTML tag. Sorry users cannot edit comments themselves. Allowing it would require giving people access to the back-end of WordPress, with greater security risks associated.

  10. City Changing: Re-mixing Built Environments

    By Madeline Ashby

    Recently, Toronto’s city council approved plans to transform Jarvis Street from a five-lane car-only street to a four-lane street with bike lanes. This came after significant resistance from council members who claimed that an alteration of the street was but one battle in an alleged “war on the car”. Dissenting council members also claimed that all parties involved—the some 27,000 cars that traverse Jarvis Street on a regular basis—had not been consulted. Instead, the city had sponsored an ad in NOW Magazine querying public opinion on the idea of bike lanes. Because NOW is a local, youth-oriented publication, it was assumed that thousands of drivers were being excluded from the conversation at the expense of Toronto’s cyclists, who appeared at public planning meetings in droves to exhort city planners to move forward with the bike lanes.

  11. I am not sure if I agree with (3). If people weren’t building cars, they would probably be doing something else.

    (5) I also think is somewhat illusionary. They provide independence as long as the conditions for their operation (roads, gasoline, etc) continue to exist.

    Fair enough, I accept this. It’s undeniable there are many very bad things about cars. I also think it’s almost impossible to really know how they’ve shaped the world, and where humanity would be in terms of technology without them. Certainly, though, they’ve been universally adopted in all nations on Earth because their benefits are so great. With the exception of your points 7 & 4, I think most people are willing to put up with the other drawbacks. 7 & 4 are too intangible for most people to grasp, because they’re not immediately apparent. For that reason, and because the consequences are dire, they are also probably the most concerning drawbacks.

  12. It would be neat to see car-free enclaves emerging within cities. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for which a residential subdivision couldn’t require everyone who owns a car to keep it in a central garage at the edge, while allowing only unmotorized, or slow, or two-wheeled forms of transport within.

    It would be neater still to see them emerging in cities, where groups of blocks restrict auto traffic to going around them. University campuses would be an obvious place to start phasing out internal road access.

  13. Should the fact that cars allow some teenagers to engage in sexual experimentation be listed as a positive or a negative?

  14. Perhaps the savvy teenagers of the future will simply refuse to remove their garments in vehicles that emits more than 100 grams of CO2 per km driven…

  15. As a rule, teenagers should not be removing their garments in Ferraris. The owners are likely to be either balding middle-aged software developers, or rich kids whose parents have spoiled them shamelessly.

    Really, it seems more than 99% likely that a Ferrari owner will be an intolerable jackass.

  16. I would encourage much less use of cars in cities and increased car-free areas or car-free times in certain times. Vancouver is experimenting with this this year in 5 areas at certain times over the summer under the term Cyclovia. I hope the experiment succeeds to where it grows. I would encourage creation in North American cities the creation of areas to promenade car free in the evening particularly in the summer when the evenings are warm and long. European cities, especially in the Mediterranean have this feature.

  17. I don’t think the market can see very far in advance. As such, nationalization is an oppertunity to force the car industry to be forward looking. The state sector is always better at developing technologies which are unprofitable for the first decades of development. Revolutionary technologies tend to be longer before profitability. As such, if we want cars of the future, the state should build them. We’re already seeing shades of this in the conditions the US gov is giving Fiat on how it must run GM.

  18. Sorry, I cocked that one up. I should have written, “We’re already seeing shades of this in the conditions the US gov is giving Fiat on how it must run Chrysler”.

    Basically the Government, along with the labour union, is buying Chrysler, but something like 80% of the seats on the board are going to Fiat, who will have a smaller stake in owning the company than they have in running it. However, the US state is demanding they supply the American market with a particular kind of car, (small), which Fiat does not project to be the most profitable. The details will all be worked out soon.

    The only really sad thing is it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting Fiats, but restyled (i.e. ruined) versions of them, rebadged as Chryslers. The American market has not produced stylish mainstream cars, ever.

  19. Road particles pose ‘higher risk’
    By David Shukman
    BBC News, Environment correspondent

    Children may be at greater risk from the microscopic particles in traffic pollution than was previously thought.

    Early findings from a major study in London seen by the BBC show that the lung capacity of 8- and 9-year-olds is 5% lower than the national average.

    And 7% of the children – surveyed in the Tower Hamlets area – have lung function reduced to a level internationally regarded as hazardous.

    The London study is being led by Professor Jonathan Grigg.

    He works out of the Centre for Paediatrics at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

  20. July 3rd, 2009
    How driving a car into Manhattan costs $160

    This thing is so big and so complicated that even with all of the detailed explanations in it, it’s hard to understand — you really need Komanoff himself to walk you through it. But he recently did just that for me, and so I can point you to the “Delays” sheet, for instance, where Komanoff attempts to quantify the externalities imposed by any given car in NYC traffic.

    Being a cyclist, I’m acutely aware of the issue of externalities — it generally costs you nothing to blindly step off the sidewalk and into the bike lane, or to open your taxi door without looking behind you, but it can affect me greatly. Komanoff’s a cyclist too, but he’s concentrating in this spreadsheet mainly on vehicular traffic. After crunching the numbers, he calculates that on a weekday, the average car driven into Manhattan south of 60th Street causes a total of 3.26 hours of delays to everybody else. (At weekends, the equivalent number is just over 2 hours.) No one car is likely to suffer excess delays of more than a few seconds, of course, but if you add up all those seconds for the thousands of affected cars and trucks, it comes to a significant amount of time.

  21. ByWard Market plan would dedicate area to pedestrians

    By Patrick Dare, The Ottawa CitizenOctober 2, 2009 7:59 AM

    William Street in the ByWard market will be partially blocked to traffic and turned into a pedestrian area, if city councillors approve the change.

    The small street, which runs north-south between Clarence and York streets, is used mostly by motorists exiting the City of Ottawa’s parking garage. City officials propose to make the southern half of the street a pedestrian area and only allow cars from the garage to turn north toward Clarence.

    Rideau-Vanier Councillor Georges Bédard said the $275,000 project is aimed at making the ByWard Market more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

    The report on the project, which goes to the transportation committee for a vote Wednesday, says vehicle gridlock in the area will be eased by not allowing cars through to York. Instead, motorists will be encouraged to drive and park in the outer parts of the Market. As well, the quality of the air in the area should improve as more people are encouraged to walk or cycle to the centre of the Market.

  22. Barium can be used to trace brake pollution
    3 November 2009, by Sara Coelho

    One of the biggest causes of pollution in cities is particulate matter – tiny particles of metals or chemicals dispersed into the air by traffic and industry. Exhaust fumes are an important source of emissions and ‘we have very strict regulations to control the particulate matter that comes out of exhaust pipes,’ says Professor Roy Harrison who researches environmental health at the University of Birmingham. Despite falling levels of emissions from engine exhaust, concentrations of particles in urban air have not reduced significantly since 2000.

    Particulate matter can also be released by the wear and tear of car brakes and tyres, or even by the normal abrasion of road surfaces. Brake dust, especially, is thought to be an ‘important source of particulate matter pollution,’ says Harrison. Its emissions are not regulated, although ‘they need to be if particulate matter pollution levels are to be maximally controlled,’ he adds.

  23. Terry Tamminen lays out the unappetizing recipe in his book Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction:

    * Particulate matter—“large” particles of 10 microns or less and small ones of 2.5 microns or less pumped into the air by incomplete burning of petroleum fuels. (For context, a grain of salt is about 100 microns). These fine particles are especially toxic, causing respiratory ailments, cardiopulmonary disease, low birth weight, asthma, and lung cancer.

    * Carbon monoxide—Colorless, odorless, and highly poisonous. CO robs blood of oxygen. When inhaled by pregnant women, CO can threaten fetal growth and mental development of the child.

    * Volatile organic compounds—VOCs include substances that easily evaporate, hence the term volatile. The distinctive odor you notice when you pump gasoline is an example. The VOCs in petroleum products—including benzene, butadiene, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—are known carcinogens.

    * Ozone—Although ozone in the upper atmosphere shields Earth from the sun’s harmful radiation, high concentrations at ground level are a threat to human health, acting like an acid in the lungs, causing and aggravating asthma, harming the immune system, and causing fetal heart malfunctions.

    * Nitrogen dioxide—the brownish haze over most big cities comes from NO2, a highly reactive organic gas that irritates the lungs and causes both bronchitis and pneumonia, among other adverse health effects.

    * Lead—even though it was eliminated from most gasoline in the United States starting in the 1970s, lead continues to be used in aviation and other specialty fuels. And from all those years of leaded gasoline, the stuff that came out of cars as fuel exhaust still pollutes soil along our roadways, becoming readily airborne and easily inhaled. In men, lead reduces sperm count and creates abnormalities in what’s left. In women it can reduce fertility and cause miscarriages. As the brains of fetuses develop, lead exposure from the mother’s blood can result in significant learning disabilities.

  24. May 27, 2010, 8:46 pm
    Do We Tolerate Too Many Traffic Deaths?

    This holiday weekend marks the beginning of the summer road-trip season, and with it the attention to accident death tolls and pileups. While traffic-related deaths in the United States have decreased in recent years — even though more people are on the road driving more miles — the number still hovers around 37,000 fatalities a year.

    Should the nation work harder to reduce that number? What’s the one thing that could be done to reduce highway deaths?

  25. There’s No Such Thing as Free Parking
    How eliminating parking spaces could make cities more nimble and efficient.
    By Tom Vanderbilt
    Posted Tuesday, June 22, 2010, at 4:57 PM ET

    In reading a week’s worth of great reader proposals for creating nimbler cities, I have picked up a few discernible trends. One is a tilt in favor of the hypothetical: new technologies or entirely new types of transportation. While this blue-sky thinking is certainly welcome, I’d love to hear more about all the good ideas that are being tested out right now, in some city or another.

    Another trend: ideas for improving urban parking. And in particular, for reforming (or even doing away with) municipal parking codes. Such proposals appeal to me for a few reasons. For one thing, parking is a huge, if typically overlooked, part of the traffic equation. Storage is a key part of our automobile networks, and cars are stored quite a bit: Cars spend, on average, 95 of their time simply parked. For another, such plans are counterintuitive: It’s odd for planners (one took pains to indicate he was not a libertarian) to advocate actually doing away with planning regulations. The third is that many cities have already begun to experiment with their parking codes, providing not tantalizing “what ifs” but useful case studies.

    Unless you are involved in transportation, local government, or real estate, the words “minimum parking requirements” may be unfamiliar to you. And yet their influence is all around you. Parking minimums are municipal provisions that require developers building a new project—whether commercial or residential—to also construct a minimum number of new parking spaces, often without regard to the presence of nearby transit options or even actual need.

  26. “Greenberg once drove, as he grew up in Los Angeles. But he has since let his license lapse, an affliction apparently picked up—like something foul in a public bathroom—in New York City. Greenberg’s inability to drive is treated as a weakness—watch him flail hopelessly at the SUV that cuts him off at the crosswalk!—but also as a more insidious character failing. As the reviewer for the Guardian put it: “Greenberg takes emotional advantage of … quiet, compliant people, not least because he’s that classically dependent figure, a non-driver in Los Angeles who needs people to transport him around town.” Once we all buy into the idea that the car is freedom, not having a car reads as a form of clingy, needy dependency.

    Greenberg is just the most recent film in which a character’s non-automobility—whether for lack of a car or for lack of the ability to drive—is used for comic effect, whether as a metaphor for a deeper personality flaw or as a token of marginality and/or plain creepiness. As the humorist Art Buchwald once observed, “People are broad-minded. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn’t drive, there’s something wrong with him.”

    This attitude seems to flourish in Hollywood. I put a call out for examples on my blog, and readers found scads of them. Why does the film industry have such contempt for the carless? We could attribute it to the simple fact of the film industry’s base in Los Angeles, a place whose residents—film directors and otherwise—can hardly imagine life without a car. The essayist D.J. Waldie described telling people he no longer drove because of vision problems. “It’s at this point that the conversation gets awkward, for no Southern Californian can imagine that an otherwise fit-looking, middle-class male would not drive, however marginal his vision. The drivers are uneasy with my claim of disability. Maybe they think it’s something else that keeps me from driving.” The ur nondriver, in Hollywood terms, is that poster child of East Coast neuroses, Alvy Singer, dismissing Los Angeles for its right-turns-on-red and announcing that while he in fact has a license, he can’t drive, because he has “too much hostility.” “

  27. Pingback: Being a non-driver
  28. Yet there are very good reasons why public transit occupancy rates will never rise much above their current levels of about one-fifth full. Suppose you take a bus or train to work during rush hour and it seems full. But it really only seems full as it approaches the center of town. It is likely to be nearly empty when it starts its journey in the suburbs, and be nearly full only when it gets close to the city center. Over a single, one-way journey into town (or out of town in the afternoon), the vehicle is likely to average only about half full.

    Plus, that bus or train has to return in the other direction, and then it could be nearly empty. Now the transit line averages just one-quarter full. Add to that all the trips made during non-rush hours, and it is hard to imagine that transit vehicles can possibly average much more than one-fifth full.

    As shown in the table, some kinds of transit do average more than one-fifth full. Van pools run during rush hour and are probably the only form of transit that are truly energy efficient. Cable cars are mainly a tourist attraction and run through the center of one of the densest cities in America. Puerto Rico’s Publicos are privately operated and go where they can make a profit.

    Most forms of transit are not likely to replicate any of these very specialized cases. Even commuter trains, which often operate only a few in-bound trains in the morning and out-bound trains in the afternoon, average only 21 percent full.

  29. THERE are said to be at least 105 million and maybe as many as 2 billion parking spaces in the United States.

    A third of them are in parking lots, those asphalt deserts that we claim to hate but that proliferate for our convenience. One study says we’ve built eight parking spots for every car in the country. Houston is said to have 30 of them per resident. In “Rethinking a Lot,” a new study of parking, due out in March, Eran Ben-Joseph, a professor of urban planning at M.I.T., points out that “in some U.S. cities, parking lots cover more than a third of the land area, becoming the single most salient landscape feature of our built environment.”

    Absent hard numbers Mr. Ben-Joseph settles on a compromise of 500 million parking spaces in the country, occupying some 3,590 square miles, or an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. If the correct number is 2 billion, we’re talking about four times that: Connecticut and Vermont.

    Either way it’s a lot of pavement.

    As the critic Lewis Mumford wrote half a century ago, “The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is the right to destroy the city.” Yet we continue to produce parking lots, in cities as well as in suburbs, in the same way we consume all those billions of plastic bottles of water and disposable diapers.

  30. Meanwhile, over ninety Americans die each and every day thanks to automobile mishaps, and 1.2 million are seriously injured every year. There’s a social convention in the United States that we don’t talk about those ninety daily deaths as a serious problem, even though obviously if we had nine people getting killed by terrorists every month there’d be a perpetual state of freaking out. High-speed motorized transportation is a serious business, and conventional automobiles are held not to the same tough safety standards that we apply to most other products so it’s extremely difficult for something new to compete.

  31. The Invention of Jaywalking

    It happened again the other night.

    This time, the driver of a Jaguar traveling down 42nd Street in Manhattan struck another car and lost control, flipping onto the sidewalk and striking several pedestrians. Amazingly, given that this is one of the most crowded parts of town, no one was killed. Less amazingly, given the New York Police Department’s general approach toward car-pedestrian or car-bicycle crashes, the driver will apparently not face any criminal charges.

    Despite remarkable recent gains in pedestrian safety – thanks in part to design changes aimed at slowing down drivers – cars still jump the curb nearly every day. Drivers who kill or maim pedestrians with their vehicles are still only rarely treated as criminals in New York, as long as they are not drunk and do not flee the scene. Even that is sometimes not enough to merit serious charges.

    Twenty years ago, an out-of-control driver plowed through New York’s Washington Square Park, killing 5 people and injuring 27 others. That horrific incident caused a public outcry and galvanized advocates in what has become known as the livable streets movement. But the driver, a 74-year-old woman, was not charged with any crime.

    It wasn’t always like this. Browse through New York Times accounts of pedestrians dying after being struck by automobiles prior to 1930, and you’ll see that in nearly every case, the driver is charged with something like “technical manslaughter.” And it wasn’t just New York. Across the country, drivers were held criminally responsible when they killed or injured people with their vehicles.

  32. In July, 2010, a tripling of the tax on parking and the Harmonized Sales Tax, made the tax on parking in Vancouver, the highest in North America at a combiined rate of 35.52%.

    I agree with this.

    I hope other cities try to beat us.

  33. Driving
    The road less travelled
    Car use is peaking in the rich world. Governments should take advantage of that

    Sep 22nd 2012 | from the print edition

    IN 1888 Bertha Benz, wife of the carmaker Karl, drove 66 miles from one German city to another to prove to the world that the “horseless carriage” was suited to everyday use. Mrs Benz succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

    Modern life is unimaginable without the car. The automobile has powered the growth of cities and steered their sprawl. Its manufacture has created millions of jobs and eased the development of many millions more. In rich countries, 70% of journeys are now by car. More than a billion cars now roll on the world’s roads.

    Measured globally, car use will go on rising, for as people in emerging markets get rich, they want the mobility and status that car-ownership offers. But in the rich world the decades-long link between rising incomes and car use has been severed (see article), and miles driven per person have been falling. That is partly because of recession and high oil prices, but the trend pre-dates 2007. Other, longer-term, factors are at work. One is generational: car-ownership is reaching saturation. The current cohort of retirees is the first for whom driving was commonplace, so new generations of vehicle-owners will replace rather than add to existing ones. Young people, meanwhile, are falling out of love with cars. All over the rich world they are getting their licences later, and they use other forms of transport more than the young did a generation ago.

  34. All over the rich world, young people are getting their licences later than they used to—in America (see chart) and also in Britain, Canada, France, Norway, South Korea and Sweden. Even in Germany, car-culture-vulture of Europe, the share of young households without cars increased from 20% to 28% between 1998 and 2008. Unsurprisingly, this goes along with driving less. American youngsters with jobs drive less far and less often than before the recession. 16- to 34-year-olds in American households with incomes over $70,000 increased their public-transport use by 100% from 2001 to 2009, according to the Frontier Group, a think-tank.

    Cost is one factor: fuel prices have risen for all; insurance premiums for the young have soared. Youth unemployment has not helped. But there is also the influence of a new kid on the block: the internet. A University of Michigan survey of 15 countries found that in areas where a lot of young people use the internet, fewer than normal have driving licences. A global survey of teen attitudes by TNS, a consultancy, found that young people increasingly view cars as appliances not aspirations, and say that social media give them the access to their world that would once have been associated with cars. KCR, a research firm, has found that in America far more 18- to 34-year-olds than any other age group say socialising online is a substitute for some car trips.

  35. Cars take up more space per person than any other form of transport—one lane of a freeway can transport 2,500 people per hour by car, versus 5,000 in a bus and 50,000 in a train, reckon Peter Newman and Rob Salter of Curtin University in Australia.

    Environmentalists, though, should be cheering all the way to the scrapyard. The International Energy Agency in 2009 projected an average annual increase in global transport-energy demand of 1.6% between 2007 and 2030, though this represents a slowing from earlier growth. Past improvements in vehicle efficiency in America have often been negated by increases in the power and weight of cars, leaving fuel economy constant. Road transport accounts for around 23% of polluting carbon emissions in the OECD; an absolute decline in driving could help change that.

  36. Get out of your car

    Another way of looking at the future of urban traffic (Free exchange, January 20th) is to consider that the ease of travel is largely determined by questions of space. Cars need a lot of it, underground rail creates more of it by burrowing tunnels, buses use it efficiently (when full), but pedestrians even more so. Walking is the invisible and essential form of city travel. In central London it accounts for 78% of all trips, 47% in inner London and 35% in the outer suburbs of the city.

    The logic of this is that in busy districts walking should be given pre-eminence, as the City of London has recently recognised at Bank station. This junction, which used to be a maze of crawling cars, is now peacefully devoted to buses, walkers and cyclists. This is the way ahead for city and suburb. Private cars do not work in cities. They take up too much room, whether on the move or parked (as they mostly are). Driverless vehicles, the focus of your article, could play a vital part in getting cities moving again, provided they operate as taxis. But the emphasis should be on walkers, cyclists and buses.

    Living Streets

  37. Addressing ‘dear car drivers’, he said: “You didn’t pay for the roads. Neither do you pay enough taxes. Your favourite form of transport is massively subsidised as it is, by all other taxpayers and the next generation. If the prices were to reflect the real amount you should be paying, a parking space would have to cost not 30 Euros a year, but 3000.”

    The ensuing backlash saw Palmer stand accused by one Tübingen resident of “conducting a personal campaign against cars and their owners”.

    Palmer replied he was “only against people who want other people to pay for their parking space, and then go on to moan on top of that”, and accused Germans of getting too emotional about their cars.

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