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People over cars.

Among the most common city scenes are daily traffic jams. An estimated 10 million Canadians hit the road every day just to go to work. Some neighbourhoods want more parks than pavement. Neighbourhoods such as the Beaches in Toronto, an older area that stretches to the shore of Lake Ontario in the city's east end. When the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA) bought a century-old home there to enlarge a parking lot, residents kicked up enough of a fuss for TPA to drop its plans to purchase another historic home nearby.

Here's how carfree. corn, a group that favours banning private automobiles from city streets, sums up urban congestion:

"The industrialized nations made a terrible mistake when they turned to the automobile as an instrument of improved urban mobility. The car brought with it major unanticipated consequences for urban life and has become a serious cause of environmental, social, and aesthetic problems in dries. The urban automobile:

* Kills street life;

* Damages the social fabric of communities;

* Isolates people;

* Fosters suburban sprawl;

* Endangers other street users;

* Blots the city's beauty;

* Disturbs people with its noise;

* Causes air pollution;

* Slaughters thousands every year;

* Exacerbates global warming;

* Wastes energy and natural resources;

* Impoverishes nations.

The challenge is to remove cars and trucks from cities while at the same time improving mobility and reducing its total costs."

Dozens of cities around the world have banned cars from downtown neighbourhoods and historic districts: Prague in the Czech Republic doesn't allow vehicles in its medieval quarter; Venice, Florence, Rome, Siena in Italy; Geneva, and Zurich in Switzerland; Freiburg in Germany, Groningen, and Drift in the Netherlands; Paris and Lyon in France; Vienna and Salzburg in Austria; as well as parts of towns and cities in Spain, Portugal, and Greece all have car-free areas. Most of the old heart of Stockholm in Sweden is car-free during the day. In Copenhagen, 80 percent of the movement through the city centre is foot traffic. Over a period of 40 years, the city gradually transformed 100,000 square metres of its core area from a traffic-dominated centre to people-friendly public squares and promenades.

London, England has done much to cure its chronic congestion by charging hefty fees for vehicles entering the city centre. In February 2003, the British capital started a controversial experiment to reduce traffic congestion in its core. Grid lock became so bad in the city that average traffic speed in central London was the same as it was in horse-and-buggy days--about 15 kilometres an hour and as slow as two kilometres an hour in places. The city has done a lot to cure its chronic congestion by charging hefty fees for vehicles entering the city centre between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays. The $12.50-a-day charge--and a $200 free if the fee isn't paid--worked. A year later, traffic in the 20-square-kilometre designated area was down by 18 percent during the day. Bus ridership was up by 29,000 passengers a day, a 38 percent jump, and traffic delays were down by about 30 percent. One of the reasons it worked so well is thought to be the massive investment that was made in the bus network at the same time: new buses replaced some of the aging fleet, and bus shelters were updated with electronic displays telling riders when the next bus is due.

Many cities in North America have also closed off streets to cars or designed pedestrian mails that offer no access to vehicles. In Canada, Calgary has several blocks devoted to a pedestrian mall, and more than 16 km of passages connecting many buildings in the downtown area. Montreal has 30 kilometres of underground car-free passages that link about 60 large commercial, administrative, and apartment buildings in downtown. Toronto has a similar underground network downtown, and Ottawa includes six blocks of pedestrian-only shopping on Sparks Street just south of the Parliament Buildings.

In the United States, Minneapolis, Minnesota has eight km of enclosed overhead passageways in the commercial/retail heart of the city. Stanford University in California has designated 16 blocks on campus as car-free during the day, with only pedestrians, bikes, and some buses allowed. Berkeley, California has developed such a good public transportation system that it continues to deliver almost one in five residents to work every day--four times the national and state average. The heart of the commercial district in old downtown Boston, Massachusetts includes several car-free streets. Similarly in New Orleans, Louisiana. Cities in Central America, South America, and Asia all have car-free sections.

Bogota, Colombia has a huge network of bicycle paths and the world's longest corridor of pedestrian streets. The city of seven million people also has an acclaimed transit system in which buses have their own special roadways, outpacing private vehicles for ease and speed. On Sundays, 57 kilometres of major avenues are closed to traffic. Some of Tokyo's major shopping areas are also closed to auto traffic on Sundays, and these areas have come to be known as "pedestrian paradises." In addition, the city has a car-free network of underground passages and shopping centres used by an estimated three million people a day.

FACT FILE

In Canada, the Urban Futures Institute estimated that there were more than 16 million vehicles owned by households by 2002.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES:

1. Discuss how your life would change if you had to live with restrictions on car use.

2. It's generally thought that public housing projects destroy the networks of family and friends that poor people depend on to survive. Do a report on why these projects have such a negative effect on neighbourhoods both in North America, as well as in other countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, and South Korea, which launched public housing campaigns in the 1960s.

3. While The World and QM2 operators say the new ships are environmentally friendly, cruise ships in the past have been notorious polluters: a one-week cruise can generate as much as 50 tonnes of garbage, four million litres of grey-water (waste water from kitchens, laundry, and showers), one million litres of sewage, and 160,000 litres of oil-contaminated water, according to the Bluewater Network. Find out what is being done to prevent future environmental damage.

Websites

Car Busters--http:// www.carbusters.org

Bluewater Network--www.bluewaternetwork.org
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Title Annotation:car-free city areas
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
Words:1049
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