Making Driving Unpleasant to Discourage Car Use – Is it a Good Idea?

June 27, 2011 by Matthew Stewart

There was an article in today’s Austin American Statesman titled “Europe makes driving unpleasant to discourage car use”; you can view the entire article here:

The article is certainly thought provoking, especially when compared to some of the recent initiatives that the City of Austin has sponsored.

The article cites European cities such as Vienna, Munich, Copenhagen, Paris, and Barcelona as examples of places trying to encourage drivers “toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation”. These cities have reconstructed or otherwise restricted certain streets and/or entire sub-districts of their cities in order to making driving miserable enough so that their residents and visitors chose alternative methods of transportation.

In Austin, you see similar, albeit more benign initiatives. Downtown you’ll see extra wide sidewalks meant to encourage pedestrian activity. Streets which used to be two lanes in each direction, such as W. 2nd Street (Willie Nelson Boulevard), are now one lane in each direction, with a wide (12-ft) sidewalk on one side, and an extra-wide (18-ft) sidewalk on the other.

Second Street - A Pedestrian Friendly Environment
Second Street - Typical Cross Section

Throughout other places in the City, you’ll see traffic calming devices disguised as landscape planters. You’ll also notice that the City of Austin has taken to striping former 4-lane roads into 2-lane roads with bicycle lanes and parallel parking spaces; East 12th Street for Example has been reconfigured in this manner.

Traffic Calming Landscape Medians

In the United States in general, the design trend has traditionally been geared towards encouraging or accommodating the vehicular environment. Austin is on the forefront of trying to reverse that trend.

Dedicated Bike Lake between Parallel Parking and Drive Lanes - San Jacinto Street, Downtown Austin

What do you think about policies which are meant to discourage car use?

What do you think about Austin’s enhanced downtown sidewalk system?

Do you appreciate the way Austin is trying to incorporate bicycles as a valid and equal means of transportation?

What can Austin do better to calm traffic and encourage the use of non-traditional transportation – buses, trains, bicycle, walking?

Written by Matthew Stewart

Matthew Stewart

Matthew Stewart received his B.S. in Civil Engineering fromThe Ohio State University and is a registered Professional Engineer (PE) in the State of Texas. As a Vice President in our Houston office, Mr. Stewart has been the Principal in Change for hundreds of site development projects throughout the Houston area. He is responsible for managing our Raving Fans and prospective clients, overseeing the performance of our project design teams, and spearheading our community outreach and volunteer efforts.