Generally speaking, cities are designed for the automobile. Even in cities like New York, where the public transit network is extensive and easily accessible, the city blocks are designed to accommodate cars and almost all pedestrian activity is directly affected by the flow of traffic and location of cars around the city. City codes are controlled by vehicle-related planning codes, and space that could be used for new business is instead dominated by expansive parking lots and “street parking”. Parking in cities is usually subsidized or free for the drivers, but the cost actually hits everyone in the grand scheme of things, due to the increased costs of goods and services as a result of the cost of parking. The following are three specific reasons that cities as a whole need to begin to move towards being more walkable and less car-centric:
Walkable Cities = Healthier Citizens
Living in a city where walking is encouraged and vehicles do not monopolize the transportation of its people, can improve both the physical and mental health of its citizens. In America, physical inactivity is the cause of almost 10% of its yearly medical bills. Bodies that don’t walk and engage in regular physical activity are more susceptible to hypertension, strokes, and heart disease. On the mental health note, walking requires less “stressful concentration” than driving does and also encourages healthy, unisolated interaction with other people (leading to friendship and networking opportunities.)
Parking Costs Much More Than You’d Think
In the early 2000s, the U.S. parking subsidy was within the range of $127 billion and $374 billion dollars a year, which made our nation’s parking budget close to the budget of our national defense budget. On a smaller scale, individual cities have been moving towards allowing businesses to pay towards farther, shared parking spaces, instead of requiring businesses to provide private parking. This has allowed cities to more accurately gauge how much parking is needed, and has increased the use of public transit and walking. The increased foot traffic has actually already lead to a healthier economy on this smaller scale.
American Downtowns are for People, Not Their Cars
This sounds like a pretty obvious point, but it’s worth noting. Narrow, shop-lined streets provide for a much more comfortable, and positive city experience than a heavily congested, parking lot/car lined street. Many officials believe that the solution to reducing congestion is to add more free-ways, and parking lots, but that’s not the case. The increase of spaces for cars just means that more cars will come. It’s in the reduction of vehicle-only spaces that we’ll be able to reduce the use of cars, and increase the quaint, comfortable feeling of traffic-less downtown spaces that we all want in our downtown areas.
For more information on why we need more walkable places, see this article.