The Car should be Safe, Legal, and Rare

As Bill Clinton said about abortion, we should advocate for cities where the automobile is safe, legal, and rare.

The car should be safe, both in the sense of minimising the consequences of the short-term crashes that auto drivers inflict on everyone else, and in eliminating the longer-term environmental outcomes and health effects resulting from tailpipe and other pollutants generated by cars. The recent lockdowns have demonstrated in many cities the improvement of air quality associated with the absence of cars.

The car should be legal, given it is safe. There are times and places for cars, for instance places poorly served by other modes, where multiple people are traveling in the vehicle, where things need to carried, and for people with mobility restrictions.

And the car should be rare. It should not be used as the first choice for most trips, and if it is, it represents a failure of urban planning and transport economics. People should be incentivised to align their locational decisions about home and work and other frequent activities with socially-beneficial transport choices like walking and biking and public transport.

We cannot truck with those absolutists who would ban the car everywhere all the time, the car has its place; but we also cannot abide the current state, where cars are allowed almost everywhere almost all the time. Many cities are now closing more and more streets to cars and through traffic to enable social distancing for those afoot. Let’s hope those changes are a lasting legacy, demonstrating a silver lining to this period.