Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Places That Aren't Car-free, But Should Be

The list of truly car-free urban settings in the world is surprisingly small, and for the United States, virtually non-existent outside of a few pedestrianized main streets. Tracy Gayton is leading a visionary effort to construct a completely car-free village in rural Maine according to traditional urbanist principles, in what would be the first such place of its kind in the United States, but I thought it might be worth pausing to consider what existing places would be best suited for a car-free retrofit.

In particular, I want to focus on those places in which the introduction or continuing presence of the automobile is seemingly irrational, yet the car appears in great numbers nonetheless. The incentives and motivations are simple: the first person to introduce a car to a given location obtains all the benefits of auto transport and suffers virtually none of the costs, which are instead imposed on others. Once a few cars are whizzing around, however, the collective advantage of a car-free city is lost, and a person who continues to refrain from purchasing a car only denies himself the benefits, as the costs have already been imposed on him by others.

Nathan Lewis talked about a similar phenomenon in the case of Juneau, the car-inaccessible Alaskan capital which has been built almost entirely around the needs of the automobile.  In the cases below, the towns and cities themselves are perfectly well-suited to pedestrian and/or bicycle transit, or nearly so, but have come to rely on motorized power to move human beings around anyways.  I'm sure readers can think of many others, but this is a start.

The City of Malé

Malé; the red line shows a 5-minute walk.
Malé, the capital city of the Maldives, accommodates over 100,000 inhabitants on a tiny island of just two square miles, roughly the same size as Barcelona's Gothic Quarter. Almost entirely covered with row houses and mid-rise apartment buildings along narrow streets, the island should be a pedestrian's paradise. It is ideal for bicycling, too, since the climate is balmy year-round and the island is flat.  The longest possible walk from one point to another on the island is just over 20 minutes, and the walk from the ferry to the center of town is less than 10. Commutes of longer than 5 minutes are impossible unless one deliberately forgoes a bicycle.  If that weren't enough, the island has a bus system as well.

In spite of this geography, photographic evidence shows the streets of the city utterly clogged with motorbikes, cars and trucks. One photo even shows a large commercial building with two floors devoted to a motorbike dealership. A recent article depicts the city government struggling to impose a driving ban on the single day of the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, suggesting at least indirectly an awareness of the effects of mass motoring on this island.

The situation of the nearby island of Hulhumalé, built up through expensive and laborious land reclamation, is even less forgivable since it has been deliberately planned.  The home page of the island's development corporation shows that the primary development strategy  is the construction of numerous wide and unattractive asphalt streets, which are prominently featured in photos on the website. This is confirmed by looking at an aerial view. A purpose of these streets, according to the developers, is to "reduce congestion."  The types of transportation modes that might cause this "congestion" are not mentioned, although by the dimensions of the streets the planners are clearly anticipating cars, and lots of them.  This on a flat tropical island which takes three minutes to bike across!  There is also a rigid system of Euclidean zoning in the works, with the purely residential areas located on the opposite side of the island from the shopping areas, with large green spaces, an academy and governmental buildings serving as a buffer between them. Perhaps this was to encourage residents to purchase cars and motorbikes lest the streets go unused.


This choice is only natural, since the island of Nantucket was one of the last towns of any significance in the United States to retain a ban on cars, only relenting in 1918.  Although the island is far larger than Malé, population is concentrated in a single town approximately a mile by a mile and a half.  (A small settlement on the eastern end of the island was formerly served by a narrow gauge railway, and today has seasonal bus service.)  Similar to Malé, the terrain is largely flat and the weather is mild for much of the year.  Like a handful of other fishing and whaling villages of the Massachusetts shoreline, it lacks most of the telltale characteristics of the 19th century hypertrophic American city. Streets are narrow, a grid is absent, and setbacks are frequently small or non-existent. In form if not architecture it very much resembles Japanese urbanism, and is particularly well-suited for a pedestrian or bicycling culture. Most residents already get about by walking or on bike and the island has an extensive network of bike paths – why not take the next logical step and reclaim the island entirely for human beings?  (At right, Nantucket street vs. Tokyo street).

Santa Catalina Island

Although California's Santa Catalina Island does ban large vehicles, smaller cars and golf carts are permitted, and flood the streets of the tiny town of Avalon. Why this is necessary is not obvious.  From one end of the town to another is a five-minute walk and, according to Google maps, a two-minute bike ride.  The island also has a near-perfect climate with mild weather year-round and little rain in most months.  There are no other large settlements on the island. Where are all these people driving to?  (One could also ask: since the town was platted before the invention of the car, why were the streets designed to be 28 feet wide?)


This one is on a slightly larger scale. The idea of banning most, if not all, private cars from Manhattan is not new.  In 1961, the same year Jane Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities, writer Paul Goodman and his brother Percival authored an essay proposing to pedestrianize the majority of Manhattan's streets and avenues.  The crux of the Goodmans' argument was that private cars, in the manner in which they are currently used in Manhattan, "are simply not worth the nuisance they cause."  Ahead of their time, like Jacobs, the Goodmans also suggested a congestion charge to achieve some of the same benefits.

Whether one favors a bold approach like the Goodmans advocated, or a Jacobsian strategy of attrition of automobiles, the fact remains that New York has failed during the half century since in providing much new permanently car-free space.  Only the recent and partial pedestrianization of Times Square stands out.  Manhattan and New York as a whole continue to lack a single pedestrian shopping thoroughfare, such as Buenos Aires' Calle Florida, Copenhagen's Stroget, or Shanghai's Nanjing Road.  As the Auto-Free New York site has recently pointed out, the city failed to even maintain Roosevelt Island, New York's island within an island, as a carfree sanctuary, although it had been planned as one. In spite of these disappointments, it is difficult to think of a better and more appropriate setting for the creation of new pedestrian areas.

Bonus: A Car-free Town That Behaves Like It's Not

Mackinac Island, along with New York's Fire Island, is one of the best-known of America's genuinely car-free summer vacation spots.  Truly living up to its billing, the island does not even have motorized vehicles for mass transit, and instead relies on horse-drawn wagons and bicycles. 

The design of parts of the town, though, is unmistakably 19th century American hypertrophic, with a wide main street that looks much like any other from its era.    Despite the lack of cars, there are raised sidewalks on each side of the street, and a blacktop-paved carriageway.  The street is still designed for the benefit of wheeled vehicles, not people on foot.  Subconsciously obeying these spatial cues, people walking about the town (see photo at right) appear to mostly remain on the sidewalks, while the street itself accommodates wheeled – although not motorized – traffic. So, although the town is in fact car-free, this has meant less than might be expected in terms of how people make use of public urban space.  

The example of Mackinac Island shows that the absence of cars, alone, is not necessarily sufficient to create a pedestrian-friendly urban space.  Design matters too.


  1. I think these illustrate one of the sad facts of auto-culture, which is that people often choose to buy and use a car not because it's more convenient or useful, but because it makes them feel successful.

    Thus you get absurdities like Malé, and more commonly, dense medieval city cores (where non-auto transit can be as fast or faster than driving) clogged with traffic.

    Unfortunately this makes it harder to institute sane controls on auto use, as many peoples' egos and sense of self-worth are embodied in their flash car...

  2. A new post on this blog is enough to make my day.

    Regarding Catalina, I'm assuming that most people own a car in order to access the vast expanse of the rest of the island, which would take over an hour to drive across and has some really nice camping and hiking spots.

    How often they actually use their cars for this purpose though, and not for short one minute trips across town, is another matter.

    1. Thanks, Jason.

      There is also an aircraft landing strip in the center of the island, ten miles along a winding road, but no public flights serve it. I'm not sure how common camping is, but a majority of the vehicles seem to be golf carts, designed for short, in-town trips rather than cross-island hauls:

  3. This begs the question: why should these places be car free?

    1. To minimize obesity, and so kids can play and roam around unattended without being hit.

  4. James, the argument is that the use of cars is understandable in places where your livelihood and mobility would be compromised without them (most of the US, because there are few viable alternatives), but that their use is questionable in those few instances where they would seem like unnecessary luxuries.

    And if they *are* unnecessary luxuries, why surrender (or explicitly dedicate) an inordinately large amount of scarce, limited public street space (and money) to an optional luxury that only interferes with and impediments the alternatives? It is debatable, though, whether the car is truly a 100% luxury in the places cited above, or if - for each person who decides to get one - it actually fulfills a mobility role we may be overlooking (like maybe elderly people driving to their daily needs because they have difficulty walking and don't want to deal with transit or wait for someone else to drive them).

    And since the car is one of those "necessary luxuries" of the wealthy, it's not surprising to see it pop up with such frequency in many of these examples (Nantucket and Manhattan especially). But that still begs the question Charlie raised: should the non-wealthy walkers/cyclists/transit riders in these places bear the brunt of the externalities from the luxury motorists?

    In the end, though, I think this is just a (perhaps understandable) example of the human tendency to take the path of least resistance. As with other things, if there is something that makes our mobility easier and more effortless, we will tend to use it regardless of its rational or practical applications. Why else would there be so many scooters and motorcycles (i.e. non-wealthy drivers) in places that are relatively flat and compact, when a bike could provide the same mobility options at less cost? Because a bike requires a bit more effort - all you have to do is stand on a scooter. (Hell, why did the Segway mania flare up briefly even though it was useful/necessary for maybe only a tiny fraction of the population - the physically impaired?)

    The brief discussion on pedestrianized Main Streets or shopping streets could probably warrant its own post. One of the biggest obstacles to promoting car-free streets or districts (let alone entire settlements) is the skepticism: "We tried it in the 70s and 80s, and it didn't work." Which is completely true - although Europe still has many examples, the few pedestrian streets that survive in the US tend to be those near university populations (where many of us have our first experience of living car free but which we curiously forget later in life). So to overcome the skepticism, there has to be increased discussion on the specific ingredients that might make pedestrian places viable. (Like a large-enough capture zone of voluntarily car free residents who would be immediately adjacent to the car free area and be able to populate it throughout the day. One of the common mistakes of 70s-era pedestrian streets in the US was that we plopped them down in monocultural CBDs - i.e. no nearby residents - that were dead by 5pm.)

    1. Marc,

      Far be it for me to defend the auto-centric lifestyle. Rather, in a country where the automobile has permeated the fabric of the country so completely can a car be considered a luxury anywhere?

      My own observation is that cars are used for two distinct transportation functions. Commuting for work and commuting for all else, be it shopping or recreation. Can any place really provide car free options for both, and especially for a two income household? Perhaps New York City. Again I don't want to sound like I am making an argument for cars or denying the externalities they create (which could be a long argument in itself) but rather I think that perhaps stating a place should be car fee is an ideal that could use more explaining.

      Perhaps car usage is a spectrum, from rural areas that are almost purely car dependent to hyper urban areas where cars aren't a convenience at all. Or perhaps not. I think it is a topic worth engaging, since car usage is a topic frequently discussed tangentially in urbanist circles.

  5. PART ONE (of two)

    Charlie wrote:

    Manhattan and New York as a whole continue to lack a single pedestrian shopping thoroughfare, such as Buenos Aires' Calle Florida, Copenhagen's Stroget, or Shanghai's Nanjing Road.

    Benjamin writes:

    Hi, Charlie! Haven't been to Buenos Aires, etc., so I don't know if Nassau Street is comparable to them or not, but this street in lower Manhattan is a shopping street that I believe has been pedestrianized.

    I say "I believe" because I just looked up the street on Google maps and it seems that they've taken away the 1970's physical pedestrianization (brick roadbed and sideways), although the street still seems to be a pedestrian one (e.g., no cars and no Google street view).

    Nassau Street is a narrow and "longish" street ("longish," at least for lower Manhattan) that's lined with shops and even a few 19th Century skyscrapers. I think it has been, arguably, lower Manhattan's "main" shopping street since at least the 1950's. But since lower Manhattan has during that time been mostly an office district, that's not really saying much -- the street is mostly busy during the lunch period only (and to a lesser degree during other parts of the business day) -- although this may have changed as lower Manhattan has gotten more residential in the 2000's.

    (To be continued.)

    Benjamin Hemric
    Thurs., 09/13/12, 7:20 pm

  6. PART TWO (of two)

    Sometime in the late 1960's, I believe, the roadbed of Nassau St. was, as an experiment, chained off to traffic during the lunch time -- and became one of NY's earliest (if not the nation's) streets to become pedestrianized (if, albeit, only for lunchtime). At the time it was done, it was big news -- and very strange and novel.

    Then sometime in the early 1970's, I believe, the street was totally rebuilt: the roadbed and sidewalks were taken up and they were both replaced with bricks that went from building line to building line.

    Personally, I never liked the 1970's physical pedestrianization of this street, and I almost wonder if it helped give pedestrianization a bad name in New York City. I liked the original pedestrianization better -- when the street was just closed off to traffic during business hours (with chained stanchions). When the street was still a real street that just happened to be closed to traffic, it seemed more real and lively to me. In that incarnation it was kind of liberating and fun to walk down a closed off vehicular roadbed, but with the physical pedestrianization of the street (roadbed and sidewalks made all solid brick from building line to building line), the street just seemed crowded (and tacky) -- the fun was gone. (The pedestrianization of this street seemed to illustrate some of the perils of pedestrianization that were pointed out by Jacobs in "Death and Life of Great American Cities.")

    Apparently other people felt the same way, since the physical roadbed has now been restored (along with the traditional handsome street lights).

    By the way, you are not alone in being unaware of the pedestrianization of Nassau Street. Actually it's kind of "bizarre," but even people in New York -- and even people LIVING in lower Manhattan! -- somehow seem to forget about Nassau St. being a pedestrianized street (if, indeed, it still is). For some reason, this street just seems to have a very low profile. I say this because during the rebuilding effort of the WTC site, pedestrianization was a hot topic and "no one" (including people who lived in lower Manhattan) seemed to remember that an actual pedestrian street was only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center site!

    Maybe this is because the street is so narrow to begin with and maybe because it has been pedestrianized for so long now that people no longer think of it as a pedestrianized street. Or maybe it's because it's just not perceived as a "special" street, so it drops out of people's consciousness (because people seem to think a pedestrianized street should somehow be "special"). (Or, perhaps, it is no longer a pedestrian street? But given the other evidence though, I doubt this.)

    Benjamin Hemric
    Thurs., 09/13/12, 7:25 pm

    1. Hi Benjamin -- thanks for sharing the history of this street. A 1997 plan for "Lower Manhattan Pedestrianization" (see link below) describes Nassau St. as "closed to vehicular traffic for the five blocks from Maiden Lane to Spruce Street," but Google Streetview as of June 2011 clearly shows car access as far south as Pine Street, where there is a security checkpoint (which blocks the street and is quite hostile to pedestrians -- I think, but am not certain, that this was installed post 9/11). Why Google's camera car did not drive down Nassau north of that point is not clear to me, as it appears to have been open at least at the time the car was there.

      A short stretch of Broad St. (which Nassau St. turns into south of Wall St.) is bricked over with movable fences present, and there are some bollards visible between Beaver St. and Exchange Place; however, cars are still present beyond the bollards:

      That doesn't leave much area as pedestrian-only, and the few side streets that have also received the security checkpoint treatment aren't exactly welcoming to people on foot:

      I'll need to wander down there after work one of these days to confirm how things are at present, but it seems things have changed significantly since 1997, which if true is very disappointing.

      1997 study:

    2. Nassau Street is blocked from car access, although cars can cross Nassau Street at intersections. Wall Street is also carfree, and has become quite a tourist destination as a result (the securities business has mostly relocated elsewhere).

  7. More on "Is Nassau St. still pedestrianized?"

    I did a quick search of "The New York Times" via "Proquest" (from about 1965 to 2007) and judging from the article titles it seems that the "novel" experiment was in 1969 ("Gawking Tops Hawking . . . ," July 2, 1969) and the plan for permanent pedestrianization was done in 1973 ("City Plans Nine-Block Nassau Street Mall," Oct. 18, 1973).

    Don't know when the permanent pedestrianization was taken out -- but I could only do the search up to the end of 2007.

    Benjamin Hemric
    Thurs., 09/13/12, 10:25 pm

    P.S. -- Doing the search of "the New York Times" via ProQuest (and using pedestrian as one of search terms), I was reminded of a number of other pedestrianization schemes in New York City: Madison Ave. (very temporary experiment, I believe), Mulberry St., Essex St., Fulton St. (Brooklyn), Jamaica Ave. (Queens).

    I believe the only one that was ultimately comparable to Nassau St. was Fulton St. in Brooklyn.

    It seems to me that most of these pedestriantizations have been very controversial and that pedestrianization has never really caught on in New York City because the ones that were done have never been widely considered to be a success.

    As mentioned, personally speaking I really didn't like the Nassau St. one when it shifted from ad hoc pedestrianization (similar to what seems to me to be the current condition shown on Google street view) to "permanent" pedestrianization. The street just seemed devitalized to me.

    Although less familiar with the Fulton St. pedestrianization, from the little I saw of it (years ago), it too seemed to make Fulton St. fake, less urban and devitalized.

    And to my way of thinking, the worst is the one on 164th St. (?) in Jamaica -- awful!

  8. The Nassau Street example is analogous to the many narrow streets in Europe that are not officially/formally closed to cars, but see few of them because the physical design of the street (narrowness, paving, and enclosure) and the residential/commercial programming along those streets can generate enough pedestrians to discourage regular auto traffic. These car-lite streets vastly outnumber the official pedestrian zones.

    In fact, save for exceptions like Times Square, I think the consensus among New Urbanists and others is not to create official pedestrianized streets where cars are formally banned, but to build streets that merely force the cars to go very slow and/or discourage them from using specific streets regularly because the alternatives nearby are so much better for through travel. So the only cars that end up on the pseudo-pedestrian streets are either from immediate locals, from the occasional outsider who needs to bring in a car for some task, or from visitors who got lost. Making auto travel along these streets enough of a nuisance to dampen its use seems to be working better than rather than outright banning cars.

  9. I do have to ask: why?

    Yes, yes, I know there is a whole litany of evils blamed on cars. But I also know that people like their cars, use their cars, and over the past half-century have (in the free developed world, anyway) reshaped their lives and their cities to accomodate cars.

    Creating car-free cities seems to be the equivalent of creating a human-free city: it solves a lot of problems, makes the design more simple and elegant, but kind of misses the point.

    How about trying to square the circle: create inviting, functional urban spaces which don't require major re-engineering of people's lives and preferences?

    1. Hi Cambias -- Matthew and Marc have said pretty much exactly what I had in mind, but I want to make clear that the post was not intended to advocate for car-free cities as a general principle, only to select some unusual cases where the car is clearly impractical (or at least highly questionable) as a transportation choice, and thereby to shed some light on individual choice vs. collective benefit.

      For a case like Nantucket, though, there is no re-engineering necessary. The history of the early 20th century auto ban there shows a dedicated effort by the citizenry to keep out cars for many years in the face of repeated court challenges (and defeats) at the hands of car-owning lawyers and the Massachusetts Automobile Association -- there was apparently a powerful democratic consensus that they would have a detrimental effect on the quality of life on the island:

      As Marc points out in the comment below, this was not an uncommon sentiment in the early 20th century. The car isn't going anywhere in the vast majority of places, but I agree that we can do a lot more to make these places more functional and inviting as you say, short of banning motor vehicles.

  10. Cambias, something that we all like as individuals (everyone wants their own car) can still aggregate into something larger that is collectively detrimental (no one likes other peoples' traffic*). So there's the unsurprising need to deal with all the externalities that no one likes.

    *There is the joke that if every neighborhood had their own way, they'd only allow their own local traffic and ban all outside traffic, preferring to push it to the next street over: "Make MY street car-free/car-lite, but I want to be able to drive freely on their street!"

    I also recommend Peter Norton's "Fighting Traffic," which discusses how people's lives and preferences were often re-engineered to impose cars in the first place. In places like Manhattan, the pedestrianizing experiments are merely reclaiming valuable and scarce public space from a minority of users (drivers). Hardly social engineering; more like returning from an extreme (a majority of public space dedicated to a minority of uses) to a common-sense mean.

  11. Funny, I would say that cars have gone a long way towards creating human-free cities. Everyone just gets in their vehicle and then there's nobody left on the street. That is the sad story of the typical American downtown.

    It seems Cambias and James have completely missed the point of this article, which is that bringing cars into these particular example cities is something that is extremely expensive and of near-zero utility for travel purposes.

    Take an island which is completely unreachable except by boat, and can be crossed on foot in 15 minutes. You couldn't drive for 2 minutes before running into the ocean. And yet, people bring cars. That's the absurdity that Charlie is pointing out.

  12. It is humorous to read about people who have never been to Catalina writing about Catalina. You can learn everything from google maps apparently.

    1. Fair enough. So what's it really like? Are the physical urban traits/reality dramatically different from the description above? Are what appear to be walkable streets in photos actually unwalkable? Is the climate too harsh for walkability?

      If the author's impression of the island's urbanity is markedly off-base, then please correct it or elaborate on what may have been overlooked. Snide drive-bys aren't helpful.

  13. You see this problem in Taiwan, though more in terms of there should be far more pedestrian space rather than that the entire city should be pedestrian free. Taiwanese cities tend to be dense and have mixed uses, and are often built up against mountains and around rivers that create conditions that should favor mass transit (as is the case in Taipei but not elsewhere). But there is little traffic enforcement, and pedestrian space is so small and so frequently violated that walking not only becomes less pleasant but actually significantly slower than is possible. Pedestrian improvements are little discussed, which I find odd as most auto trips would be easily replaced by walking and mass transit if the pedestrian environment were to improve, in contrast to the situation in the US where development is hostile to walking/ transit even with better walking conditions.

  14. If I remember correctly from my college days, there were at least parts of campus that were car-free (and, there were parts of campus that seemed to shoehorn cars onto cowpaths). Only problem was nearly getting killed by bicycle riders zooming through running down us pedestrians.

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  16. I still can't help but think of the "places that were car-free, but died" problem when reading the title of the post. The starkest example of a car-free street that seemed to have all the right ingredients, but still died, is the Old Town Mall in Baltimore:

    It was closed to cars, had attractive architecture and pedestrian-centric street detailing along a fairly narrow street (at least by hypertrophic 19th century US standards), useful commerce (including a public market), and lots of housing nearby, including lowrise and highrise public housing that funneled a lot of carless shoppers into the district. Officially dedicated in 1976, the mall bumbled along - not great, but hardly awful either - and began to disintegrate by the early 90s, though it still had some life even then:

    The soaring crime in the surrounding projects probably began to chip away at the pedestrian activity, but I'm guessing the eventual demolition of the projects killed the mall by removing the (often carless) patrons that relied on it. Although the urban form of the surrounding projects was poor (tower in the park or garden apartment style stuff in what had originally been a dense - and narrow-streeted! - rowhouse neighborhood), the projects at least funneled a lot of bodies into the mall. So when the residential context was removed, the mall died too. Only one fairly narrow-streeted rowhouse 'hood adjacent to the mall survives, and, surprisingly enough, it's held up very well:

    Except for a handful of exceptions, most other car-free streets in the US died too and were eventually reopened to cars (as the nearly-vacant Old Town Mall is today). Since you can't blame crime on the death of all car-free districts (not all of them were located near public housing or in other bad areas), I suspect this only shows the importance of having a fairly high-density residential context of mostly car-free residents immediately adjacent to a pedestrian zone to make it work. And many of the US pedestrian zones of the 70s and 80s didn't really pay attention to providing or maintaining that context: the pedestrian zone was often seen as just a different kind of discrete shopping mall that distant people would supposedly go out of their way to visit (and often without the convenient free parking).

    1. "[T]he pedestrian zone was often seen as just a different kind of discrete shopping mall that distant people would supposedly go out of their way to visit (and often without the convenient free parking)."

      I think that's exactly right, Marc. Perhaps the planners of the 1960s and 1970s looked at the suburban shopping malls and (correctly) perceived that their pedestrianized nature was an essential element of their success, but failed to appreciate the urban context necessary to support such an arrangement in the absence of the planning model that the malls were based on. Of course, many of those successful malls later faltered and shut down despite their accessibility to the car, and many hundreds of car-accessible main streets remain just as dead as this example from Baltimore -- for much the same reason.

      Looking at this particular example, I'm stuck by how denuded the immediate surrounding area is of any building stock at all. Except for the rowhouses of Stirling Street, and a few public housing (?) garden apartments, there's nothing. Beyond these are large vacant areas or parking lots, edged by the hostile arterials of Monument, Ensor and Orleans Streets. The streetview in this area is exceptionally bleak and barren. The old shopfronts along the car-accessible streets are in even worse shape than the Old Town Mall, which has some signs of life. The residential density may actually be less than in the typical suburban neighborhood of SFDR.

      There is a large public housing project south of Orleans Street which I was surprised to discover was a Hope VI project, since in the aerial view it looks almost exactly like the garden apartment projects of the 1950s and early 1960s. The only differences seem to be 1) the architecture has a few purely aesthetic traditionalist flourishes, 2) there is a substantially larger area devoted to streets and 3) there is an attempt to bring some of the buildings up to the sidewalk (although this isn't so much of a difference in light of 2), since in the older projects there simply wouldn't have been a street there at all). It even has the network of pedestrian paths so characteristic of that era. I'd like to think this project could support at least a few customers to the Mall despite the disincentive of crossing Orleans, but really, if it's truly intended to be an urban place, it should have at least a couple shops of its own, which it does not.

  17. We live on a small island off the coast of Maine, almost the size of Malé with only 250 year round residents, a population that swells to over a 1000 in the summer.

    Here are a few observations: many people walk but mostly for fitness or recreation, not really for going from A to B. Bicycles are used by a couple of dozen people only, and that include kids. Not all kids ride, some never learned, as they are usually carted around by their parents. This is the safest place for a kid to ride a bike as speed is limited to 15 and 20 mph and motorists look out for peds/bikes.

    Vehicles used on the island are for the most end-of-life cars and trucks that failed inspection on the mainland. It is not uncommon for a household to own two or more cars. The island had to impose a parking permit at the 100+ spaces wharf lot a few years ago.

    Gas price is over $5, frequent cold starts for short trips of a mile or two make it the most expensive per mile mode of transportation in the country. The ideal vehicle would be an electric car with sufficient cargo capacity and ability to sit five, something bigger than a golf cart and enclosed. These vehicles are not available for a price the average islander could afford, even used.

    People practice car pooling though not to even half its potential, and a few people walk to and from the boat year round even in winter, but that's about it. Some people have not walked from their home to the boat or store in years, if ever. Kids are fostered into a habit of getting rides by their parents or a neighbor. It is usually a struggle for us to make other parents understand that our daughtre doesn't need a ride and let her walk/ride home or wherever she has to go next. Beyond the economics and the benefit for exercise, it is also her time to herself or with her friends that they are unwittingly robbing. Letting your child walk in the rain or in temps below forty is often considered senseless.

    So, not to say that the island should be car free, the use of motor vehicles is necessary in many instances, we own one, along with six bicycles and good walking shoes, but it is true to say that the use of the automobile has reached senseless proportions.

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  21. I guess I'm not sure what the problem is.

    With regard to Santa Catalina island, one of the big negative impacts of cars on street life is that if a car hits you at 40mph, you die. Golf carts and NEVs are governed to 25 and are thus less of a menace. The Tokyo street you link to isn't car-free, but Tokyo street culture and design leads to peds walking in the middle and only getting out of the way if they need to.

    That Maldivian urban planning, on the other hand, is legitimately shit. I don't think we can underestimate the importance of emulation, here; China and Japan and Singapore all do identical suburban housing units in rigid zoning plans with wide roadways, so the Maldives is too.

    Most of Downtown Houston was originally constructed with multistory balconies, identical to New Orleans. But they were all ripped off in the 20's and 30's as part of a "modernization" plan; modernization, in this case, meant "looking like New York."

  22. Came across this plan to pedestrianize old San Juan:

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  26. I never would have even thought that there is a single area in the United States in which auto culture isn't present. I would pay anything to live on that island without cars, it sounds like absolute paradise. I can imagine significantly less noise pollution.

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  27. You wondered, why 28 foot wide streets, before the car? According to my small Oregon town's history, it was to be able to turn a wagon around.

  28. Great topic and great blog in general.

    I just returned from a trip to the Baltic states and was often shuddering in dismay how automobiles are screaming through narrow cobblestone streets in the medieval cores, parking all over the ancient squares, etc. Horrifying to watch these machines tear up history.

    My plan is to reclaim certain urban neighborhoods as "car-free" as step towards their rehabilitation.

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