Recently I went on an adventure around Europe and visited three major cities: Paris; Amsterdam; and Berlin. Throughout my travels I used many different forms of transport to get around including trains, buses, cars, ferries, and my own two feet. It was such a central theme to my adventure that I decided to research transportation within urban areas for this report.
It has long been a challenge to human kind to get from point A to point B. In the early days of humanity, people were limited to there feet. With the advent of the wheel, transportation became faster and saved time, therefore leaving more time for other activities. It also enabled people to go much greater distances. However, for many hundreds of years people were limited by how fast their horse could pull them, how fast their feet could peddle or how swiftly the current of the river could push them. At the end of last century human beings overcame this limitation with the development of the combustion engine and motorised transportation which enable them to go faster as well as further. Trains, planes, automobiles, space vehicles and many variations of each of these bring human beings to every corner of the world and beyond. However, motorised transportation is not only used in long distance travel, most automobile transportation takes place within urban and suburban centres. As the rate of urbanisation increased over the last century, so did the use of automobiles. Now there are more than 540 million automobiles on the roads of the world with most of these being in the developed countries 1 . Unfortunately cars cause problems, especially when there are many cars in one area such as an urban centre. These problems include, air pollution, noise pollution, and traffic congestion to name but a few. To solve these problems there must be a shift away from car-focussed urban centres and an increase in car alternatives such as bicycles and public transportation. An understanding of the current social and environmental problems in regards to cars must be achieved before feasible solutions can be offered.
Cars have become a common luxury in modern cities throughout the world. Being a vehicle of convenience and status, improving economies have made it possible for families to own 2 or more cars. Within cities many people view owning a car as essential. With busy modern lifestyles, a need for conserving time and getting around faster makes the car a handy tool. As well, many people living in the suburbs make a daily commute into the city for work. This supports the statistic that 95% of all car trips in North America are less than 105 miles . Another interesting statistic shows that in 1985, the total number of miles driven in western industrialised nations was 2 trillion miles (approximately a light year) . With all this traffic many problems arise such as air pollution, noise pollution, and traffic congestion and accidents.
The combustion engine, developed at the end of the 19th century, uses fossil fuels to drive its motor. This engine is present in almost every modern day vehicle including airplanes, automobiles, trains, and boats. Unfortunately the burning of fossil fuels is not a clean technology. Many different pollutants are released from these vehicles when used. As well, fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource. Due in large part to the high amount of vehicular traffic in urban centres, air pollution is greatest here. Air pollution has a negative impact on many things such as human health, damage to buildings and other structures, and harms crops and vegetation in the surrounding area . There are a few main classes of pollutants that are mainly emitted by the transport sector. The first of these is carbon oxides (both carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide). The production of carbon monoxide comes from the incomplete burning of fossil fuels and exacerbates and causes many different diseases. Up to 90% of carbon monoxide emissions from non-natural origin come from the transport sector . Catalytic converters have helped to stabilise the emissions of carbon monoxide throughout the world . Carbon dioxide is responsible for a smaller amount of car emissions. However it is the main greenhouse gas and may be contributing to global warming . Nitrogen oxides are another significant air pollutant from automobiles. In many areas nitrogen oxides are above the stated limit, which is having major impacts on human health and the environment. They are known to cause respiratory problems in humans as well as cause acid rain, which can disrupt sensitive ecosystems . Another major air pollutant is particulates. This suspended particulate matter can be in either solid or liquid form, and includes soil, soot, smoke, metals, salts, acids and pesticides . Particulates are responsible for many respiratory problems, and depending on the composition may be toxic or carcinogenic. High particle levels can also be responsible for the general dirtiness of the surrounding environment . Other pollutants are also emitted which have negative effects on health and the environment. Overall it is the high amount of emissions from cars in a city that make urban air pollution a large problem. Another form of pollution caused by vehicles is noise pollution. Although it does not seem as consequential as air pollution, noise pollution in urban areas is actually having a great impact on human health in the form of stress induced illnesses . Another major problem with the high density of cars in the cities is traffic congestion. The large number of cars can make it difficult and slow to manoeuvre around the city extending travel time. It has been shown that driving in slow moving traffic on a regular basis increases blood pressure . Another downfall of car centred cities is land use. In an average American city approximately 40% of the land is used for roads, parking lots and alleyways . Cars are also responsible for approximately a quarter of a million deaths world wide per year which make them seem not as much the lovely convenience machines that we have come to rely upon so heavily, but rather deadly machines that are killing us both slowly and quickly. It is important at this time to look at possible alternatives or solutions to the car problem of the modern world, particularly in urban centres.
The car is probably the least efficient mode of urban transportation however it is the most common. Many other more efficient forms of transportation are in use in cities but not to the extent of cars. These include cycling, walking, buses and trains. To shift cities from the cars to the more efficient modes of travel much change is needed both at the social and governmental levels, as well as in the structure of the city itself.
The improvement of public transportation within cities, especially in North America, is essential. Public transport needs to be fast, comfortable and have many well placed connection points to ensure that people can get close to there destination. It also needs to be cheap or free to encourage people to use it. It can be in the form of subways (underground trains), above ground trains, trams (bus on tracks), and buses. All should use efficient fuels such as natural gas or be powered electrically. Overall public transport is much less land intensive than car transport, with the passengers of two hundred filled cars being able to fill approximately one tram car .
Throughout the developing world bicycles are the main means of transportation (other than foot) whereas in the developed nations the less efficient car is the main means of transportation. Europeans also use this convenient means of transport to a greater extent then there North American counterparts, with 32% of the people in Denmark commuting to work by bicycle . The bicycle is a fast, healthy, and enjoyable way to make ones way around a city. It gives one more flexibility and is not harmful to the environment as you power it with your own two feet. Municipal governments need to ensure that the rights of the biker are met and ensure that they take precedence on the road. They can do this by building separate bike lanes, posting ‘make way for bikers’ signs and spread information about the rights of bikers. It is even possible that in the future some cities may be car free and bikes will be the dominant vehicle on the road.
Technology is increasing at such a rapid rate that new transportation methods are arising. One of the most comprehensive new types of transportation is the electric car. This car has virtually no emissions because it runs on a very powerful battery. This battery can be recharged at charging stations and will need to be done so every 50 to 100 miles which is the range of the current batteries . Most major automobile manufacturers have released electric cars with the most popular being the Honda EV plus. The state of California has even taken steps to ensure that electric vehicles are used by requiring all car manufacturers to manufacture an electric car and it must compose 10% of there sales by 2003. Other efficient technologies and renewable resources are being developed, such as solar powered cars and hydrogen fuelled cars.
The reorganisation of city centres into bike and pedestrian areas can also have a great impact on the amount of car travel. In Bologna, the closure of the city centre to cars has reduced daily motor vehicle volumes from 160 000 cars per day to 35 000 cars per day. There have also been many proposals for car free cities, which show the plans of cities that are designed around other means of transportation, mainly bicycles and public transportation. These cities tend to be highly dense with lots of upward development.
There are many unique and forward thinking ideas with regards to taking the focus off of cars within cities. It is evident that the use of cars is detrimental to both the health of humans and the environment and alternatives must be found to alleviate these problems. It is likely that in the future city centres will be restricted cars only to be used by public transportation, pedestrians and cyclists. People will get around outside these cities either by electric cars or high-speed trains run on natural gas or some other renewable clean gas. The quality of life within cities will improve due to better air quality and reduced noise as the result of no cars, lower stress levels due to the lack of traffic congestion, and better health as a result of more physical activity through biking or walking. What a wonderful world!
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