Levy often mentions automobiles throughout the text and even states that “By 1990 there was one automobile for every 1.9 Americans.” That was roughly one car for every other person in the county. That number is over thirty years dated though, and a more modern statistic would say that there are now four cars for every five Americans. Further, it is estimated that there are also 8 parking spots for every car, and about 4 million miles of paved road for us to get to each of our 24 parking spots. So what exactly are we doing with all of that space?
Automobiles have become an ubiquitous part of the American lifestyle, and along with them come the limitations of road culture. Not only did automobiles facilitate easier transport, but their prevalence and widespread use fed into the sprawl of decentralization. Traffic requires that roads be built wide, and zoning regulations require that a certain portion of land be dedicated to parking. This all adds up to an environment inherently tailored to vehicles, not human beings. Air pollution contributes to global warming and has a strong negative impact on the health of the citizenry, along with the effects noise pollution has on local fauna. On top of the usual air and noise pollution that accompany automobiles, pedestrians often have tales to tell of unpaved roads or being too close for comfort to high-speed traffic. As a point of personal preference, this author also finds that parking lots and highways are often just plain hideous.
While there isn’t a quick and easy solution to overturn several decades worth of automotive city planning, many cities across the world are experimenting with ways to decrease automotive dependence. In Barcelona, the city’s Superblock design plan, where certain portions of the city are closed to many forms of traffic has increased pedestrian spaces in one Superblock from 45% to 74%, accompanied by drastic decreases in air and noise pollution. An optimistic estimate postulates that 60% of all road space in the city could be reclaimed for pedestrians to instead use for commercial and recreational use. Cities around the world are implementing Freeway removal projects, turning old highways into more attractive parks and other developments that increase walkability. Portland has implemented a rather successful streetcar system that transports as much as 16,000 commuters per day.
Walkability is increasingly an important aspect of modern planning, as more and more, the limitations of an automotive based transit system creaks and groans under the weight of more contemporary considerations.