<a href="http://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/blogs/leon#">The Business of Green</a>

The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

The end of the car?

No parking

Credit: sxc.hu

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Are we looking at the end of the car? Are cars becoming so yesterday?

A fascinating piece in the New York Times tells us that European cities are now creating environments that are openly hostile to cars. On street parking is disappearing from Europe. Cities like Vienna and Munich have closed streets to car traffic, Barcelona and Paris have bike sharing programs which can only mean less room for drivers, cities like London have a congestion tax that make travelling into the city by car prohibitive, and in Germany, there is a national network of “environmental zones” where only cars with low carbon dioxide emissions may enter.

Mind you, anyone who has spent time in Europe would understand why that’s happening. European cities were built hundreds of years ago so they’re not designed to take a lot of traffic. And petrol is extremely expensive over there. Still, the push by Europe signals a shift in attitudes towards cars. The question is how long will it take before we see something like that happening here?

Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy of Curtin University’s Sustainability Policy Institute in Perth, Western Australia say we could soon be looking at a concept here of “peak car use”. As they write in The Fifth Estate, the data from around the world suggests that people are now driving less. They say a number of factors are driving it. More people are now living closer to work, public transport is expanding and becoming more efficient, unless of course you live in Sydney, fuel prices are rising, there’s more urban density and we have an ageing population and as people get older, they drive less.

And then, as The Independent notes, the Internet is also having an impact on car use. Think about it. More people are working from home and telecommuting. If people are working, say, one day a week from home, that’s a 20 per cent reduction in traffic and driving time.

Newman and Kenworthy say we’re seeing a profound shift in lifestyles and that will have enormous flow on effects. “The phenomenon of peak car use appears to have set in to the cities of the developed world,’’ they write. “The implications for traffic engineers, planners, financiers and economists is a paradigm shift in their professional understanding of what makes a good city in the 21st century. It does however point to the demise of automobile dependence.”

In this interview with the ABC Newman says we are now entering a world where oil will be phased out. Dependence on the car might fade with governments investing more in public transport and young people giving up on the idea of owning a quarter acre block out in the fringe suburbs. “It is really time to face up to the fact that conservative and progressive politics needs to see that the physical determinants of our future are there,’’ Newman says. “Oil is running out, climate change is happening, people are moving back into cities and they are not wanting to be as car dependent as they were.”

If that’s right, the cities of the future are going to look very different. And when you consider that cities produce 80 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, the phasing out of cars is critical in our battle with climate change.