Thursday, August 6, 2009

We badly need a new American transportation model
(because the one you sent us is broke)

Ten years after system change and free market democracy was introduced here in Poland, the motor industry, car dealers and the road lobbies are coming on strong. Not exactly like in the USA in the glamour years after World War II (we have less money), but the general direction is pretty much the same.

- Marek Utkin reports from Warsaw, Poland

Some of our media (often nicely supported by car advertisements) are trumpeting public transport as non-efficient, the car as most convenient, and more highways as” The Roads to the New Bright Future”.

The decision-makers behind this are almost always men, often who started their careers in early seventies, when their studies (if any, apart from what they were taught by our glorious Communist Party at the time) were solidly based on the “amazing achievements” of the US motoring and road-building industry of the fifties. You were our new gods. We wanted to do just like you.

The result is anything but surprising. I think you have seen this in more places than one in America. Thanks to your old model we are clogging our cities with cars, making our towns in the process thoroughly unpleasant for human living, and forcing the beleaguered inhabitants to escape to the suburbs. This tendency is consistently and delectably covered by our tabloids, who write about new houses of the celebrities “far from the horrible city”. So we move out blindly following the trend, commuting distances increase and every day more cars enter our towns, making them even more non-livable.

Hardly surprising the developers and construction branch fuel these tendencies, which of course allows them build more suburban houses and make more excellent business.

Recommended patient treatment: (for Poland and – maybe two some extent the US):

1. More interdisciplinary research and strategies to clarify, give value to, and enhance intelligence and sustainable multi-modal living and moving: a high-quality mobility environment that lets people combine their own choice of “walk, cycle, public transport”, transportation democracy.

2. Change the public’s mind by running campaigns focused on different real-world target groups (children, students, young professionals, women, senior citizens, families, members of different classes) to attract them to the sustainable mix of walking, cycling, and high-quality public transport.

3. Make sustainable transport a fashion trend (for example today some young people from better-off families [i.e. natural trendsetters in their age group] already declare that they don’t have and don’t ever want to have a car, because it makes no sense in the city).

4. Prepare the essential hardware (i.e. the infrastructure), and implement Public Share Bike Systems.

5. Introduce changes in law, favoring vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists) and giving right of way to public transport.

6. Support development of sustainable technologies to create new jobs for employees of the auto industry. In the early stages, but subsidies if necessary.

7. Support introduction of vertical axis wind turbines on high houses, renewable energy generators, etc. to create a market for a re-wired car industry and to minimise dependence of foreign energy sources.

It will not be easy or nice. Did you ever tried to take a bowl of meat of the dog? And do you still have all your fingers? Did you ever tried to push a 1000-years-old sequoia back into its acorn? It will require similar skills...

Marek Utkin,
Wydział Transportu Rowerowego i Komunikacji Pieszej
Warsaw Poland

Contribution by the author to ongoing World Streets collaborative project “Messages for America: World-wide experience, ideas, counsel, proposals and good wishes from friends beyond your borders”.

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1 comment:

  1. I do not think that after 50 years of communism/nazism, the people of Poland are terribly interested in the government handing down solutions to imaginary problems. Some sprawl is inevitable as people move out of Soviet apartment blocks and into their own homes. The boom in car ownership is also inevitable as peoples income increases. The ideal solution will be to charge high taxes on imported oil and use part of the revenue as a general revenue source, discouraging driving, and to not subsidize home ownership like the US. Tax policies and Fannie Mae are the main reasons for the current financial crisis in the US and the ubiquitous single family detached home in the US.


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