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Why Automobile Dependence Is The First Roadblock To Building Sustainable Cities

Traffic and Urban Car Culture

In his book, "Overcoming Automobile Dependence", environmental scientist Peter Newman makes a very interesting point. He points out that developed economies; especially countries like the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have developed a kind of "addiction" to the use of automobiles to commute. This has given rise to an increase in the number of cars on road today. The call for wider roads and an infrastructure that can support faster travel has meant there is a gradual shift towards roads that do not have impediments like pedestrians and cyclists.

Newman calls for drastic changes to the urban living systems and a smarter growth methodology to beat autombile dependence. This does not necessarily imply a move from cars to bicycles. The urban landscape today is vastly different from what it was a hundred years back. People have a genuine reason to travel several miles every single day that a bicycle or pedestrian driven landscape is no longer realistic. 

In some parts of the world, there is a sustained emphasis on using fuel-friendly cars. One of the biggest polluters of the world is the United States where the use of gas guzzling large cars carrying a sole passenger is not uncommon. Today, there is a movement to encourage car pooling and the use of public transport for commute by several state governments in North America. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the country could save close to 800 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions a year for every worker who avoids the car once a week. Similarly, an average car can save close to 1000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year simply by having a fuel efficiency that is 1 mpg better

These environmental considerations are also a reason why electric cars are now increasing in popularity. Electric cars in general are known to deliver a vastly higher mileage (nearly 6.7 times higher) compared to gasoline-driven vehicles like the Fiat 500 that have a mileage of less than 18 kmpl. Electric vehicles could also save as much as 75000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year compared to fuel driven cars of the same size. 

Besides emphasis on electric driven vehicles and public transportation systems, a sustainable city also needs to accomodate living spaces that are green. New York City is one of the best examples for this. Despite being one of the most populated cities of the modern world, the NYC is still home to more than 28,000 acres of park land. More than 82% of Manhattan residents do not use cars for commuting to work. Sustainable living is a broad concept that extends right from sustainable transportation to green buildings, sustainable accomodations and sophisticated recycling of waste.

Having said that, most of these initiatives need to come from the federal governments. One area where the citizens can take the initiative directly is in their choice of transportation. By reducing automobile dependence and adopting transportation systems that are eco-friendly and sustainable, we can take the first steps towards ensuring a beautiful city for our children.

Photo Credit: Car Culture and Sustainability/shutterstock