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The Challenge of Space in Cities

One of the main reasons it’s important to prioritise public transport in our urban areas is that it’s better for their economy and for their growth. This is due to the simple fact that the movement of a lot more people can be enabled by bus, light rail or heavy rail than by car. Just consider Dublin for a moment. As bad as we think traffic might be in our capital city or how prevalent the car is there, just imagine what it would be like without Dublin Bus, the Luas and the Dart.

It should be (but perhaps isn’t) obvious to everybody that a small number of cars will quickly clog up a town or city centre and a city whose transport system is based primarily around cars is quite effectively shooting itself in both feet. Ambitious - and smart - cities, which have aspirations for growth and investment, will do whatever it takes to make sure they have an excellent public transport system, whether that is bus, tram or rail, or a combination of all these.

The hard part is that providing such a system in the confines of our urban spaces often means that the car must play second fiddle to the public transport. Smart cities won’t let buses get stuck in traffic and instead will provide dedicated lanes in order to keep the buses flowing and on time. Providing those dedicated bus lanes might mean less lanes for private cars or for on-street parking and in some cases there will be no space for cars at all. It’s an economic imperative every bit as much as it is an environmental one, and it equally applies to bike infrastructure. Safe, segregated, connected cycle networks enable the movement of more people and therefore are enablers of growth and investment.

This is not to say that there will be no cars in the cities of the future. Of course there will be. But they will be fewer because street space will be given first to buses, trams and bikes in order to ensure they can get around unimpeded because that is what’s best for the city. While on many streets there won’t be space for cars, the delivery of good public transport and bike networks will also dramatically reduce the need for them.

In the context of there being limited space for private cars in our urban areas, it should make sense to motorists, to city planners and to governments that if we are to have cars in our cities it is preferable that they are smaller rather than larger. However, to date there are very few efforts in Ireland or internationally to regulate the size of vehicles being sold. The focus is to transition to car fleet to electric vehicles but concerns around range have encouraged motorists to purchase cars with bigger batteries and therefore physically bigger too. Whatever about vehicles that will drive primarily outside urban areas, it clearly makes sense to incentivise smaller vehicles in our towns and cities, and it is quite remarkable that this isn’t already being done.

This blog post was prompted by a tweet from transport and sustainability expert, Conor Molloy. He noted that “cars have got 60% longer and 35% wider since 1950 while still only carrying 1.5 people on average” and he argues for size and weight restrictions, noting that this is now being done in Norway, the world leader in rollout of electric vehicles. There is a strong case for it.

Here are some relevant memes!


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