Car-Free Cities Need to be a Goal of Climate Justice

The prospect of car-free cities, or at the very least car-free streets in dense downtowns has been a goal of livable street advocates for decades. Their reasons revolve around safety and social connectivity, citing the envelope of harm and loss of humanity created in places overrun with automobile traffic. Rarely do such advocates talk about getting rid of cars for their most dangerous side effect: carbon emissions.

Cars kill about 40,000 Americans a year, about a million globally. As grim as those numbers are, within a few short decades they’re going to pale to the numbers of people killed by the effects of changing climate on our warming globe.

Climate justice advocates are heavily focused on the fossil fuel industry, occasionally pointing out the role of animal agriculture in creating climate change, but almost never criticize the automobile industry itself, or personal fossil fuel use by those driving cars.

That needs to change. We cannot expect to hobble the fossil fuel industry while continuing to provide them with an endless demand for their product.

Driving from city to city, or across country? Sure, cars make sense some of the time, though nothing beats the smooth, stress-free travel aboard Amtrak. But with half of Americans dwelling in urban areas now, cars make less sense than ever.

It’s estimated half of all trips in cities could be made with existing public transit infrastructure – in many cities more than half already do. A third more could be commuted by bicycle.

Most city trips are just a few miles – distances many of us can cover faster via bicycle than a car, once you factor in the time required to locate a place to park your two-ton land boat.

And all that starting and stopping at lights burns up far more fuel, and emits far more pollution and carbon than driving the long distances cars were originally designed for.

The average American is responsible for 40 tons of carbon per year. Without driving, and by eating a plant-based diet, that amount falls to just 0.4 tons. Imagine if we started getting people out of their cars, especially in dense urban centers, what a difference that could make. With a fossil fuel lunatic about to enter the White House, it’s up to cities more than ever to make these changes.

As it’s been said so many times before; you can build cities for cars, or you can build cities for people, but you cannot do both.

See you in the streets.




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