Car-free cities on RTE Brainstorm

RTÉ Brainstorm“We’ve built a car-dependent society.”

As heard on RTÉ Radio 1

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Opening with Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, this week’s RTÉ Brainstorm reminds us of the impact cars have on our cities. There’s no getting away from it, we’ve traded birds, bees and trees for parking lots. Geographer, Olf Straumeyer from NUIG and planner, David O’Connor from TUD, joined Ella McSweeney to explore the issue.

There are certainly potential problems with banning cars from our cities, from both a commercial and residential perspective. Some people are concerned with their rights being limited for example. People were concerned about the introduction of the smoking ban though, and look at how that turned out.

Olf Straumeyer made the point that we shouldn’t just be concerned with cars in motion (back to Joni and her parking lots).

“When we talk about cars we tend to think of them as moving across space, but of course most of the time they don’t move, they’re parked somewhere … 56% of the available space in the inner city in Galway is given over to the car in one form or another.

This is a problem that cities like Barcelona and Oslo have successfully tackled by pushing cars to the edges of their cities. The reclaimed space can be used for bike lanes, cafes, green space etc.

The notion of ‘car-free’ cities is also a bit of a misnomer. Car access is limited rather than eradicated. Reduced traffic means public transport starts to work more efficiently. This in turn incentivises more people to use it. Revenue goes up, services improve.

All of these benefits may seem clear, but there are nuances that may not be initially obvious. David O’Connor explained how in years gone by for example, Irish towns and cities were quite compact. Most people could walk or cycle to and from everything they needed in a matter of minutes. Not only did this improve the health of the city’s residents, but it also created a more sociable atmosphere as people were more inclined to stop and chat.

“We’ve built a car-dependent society and I think that’s a shame.”

Ella wondered what David and Olf believe the key initial steps are to reducing car volumes in our cities. Olf was clear that investing in public transport solutions was top of the list. In response to the question of expense he had this to say:

“We’ve costed a tramline in Galway, east-west… put a tramline of 18km in there, we’ve costed that at €280 million. We’re currently investing €740 million, and counting, into the construction of a possible bypass.”

David concurred with Olf, highlighting that in the current national development plan the top three biggest spends are on roads.

“We haven’t given public transport priority. We haven’t planned an effective high capacity, high quality, high frequency network.”

You can listen to this edition of RTÉ Brainstorm in full and read more about car-free cities here.

© The Listener 2019

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