by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
October 7, 2013 marks this year's World Habitat Day and the theme for this year is “Urban Mobility”. With this World Habitat Day 2013 acknowledges that mobility and access to goods and services is essential to the efficient functioning of our expanding cities and towns. Accessible cities encourage a shift towards more sustainable modes of transportation and draw more and more travelers out of cars and onto trains, buses, cycle paths, and footpaths.
Far too many towns and cities, especially in Britain, are no laid out well for alternatives for the motorcar at all and London, the capital, is no exception. So-called bicycle lanes and paths all too often are not separated from the main traffic and are actually more a hazard to cyclists than a help. Despite this, however, the Mayor prides himself of the x-miles of cycle routes. And things are even worse in other cities and towns and we do not even want to talk about the situation in most places in the United States.
If we are really serious about urban mobility and the possibility of people living in towns and cities to get about without the use of the motorcar then changes must be made to the infrastructure and cycle routes and foot paths be created that can get you anywhere without problems.
For this we must look to the European mainland, to countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany first and foremost, and especially the cities of Copenhagen (Denmark) and Amsterdam (Netherlands) from where to take the lead.
It is also necessary to breathe new life into the high street and make it possible for people to shop not at out-of-town supermarkets and malls but at shops just around the corner for about the same costs as in those huge places that are more often than not located well outside the towns and cities and require the car to get to.
This is as much part of urban mobility as the creation of the right mobility infrastructure with foot paths and cycle lanes, both needing to be physically separated from the motor traffic, and also a proper public transport infrastructure.
The lack of all of that – and laziness also – makes for people using the car for even the shortest of journeys even, such as going a few hundred yards, literally, up the road to the railway station, as can be seen daily in the area where I live. People will jump into the car to go the distance that would require but five minutes or such to walk then park for the entire day blocking parking spaces in the high street in order to travel into London by train.
The case just described above is down to laziness, without doubt, in this area there are sidewalks they could walk rather safely and much more conveniently than using the car and then having to park. Considering the time it takes to get into the car, get it out of the dive, get up the road and then park it, they could walk the distance almost twice.
Thus, it not just requires the necessary infrastructure but also a change in mindset of the people in general to get away from jumping into the car for such short journeys.
If we look at cities such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam and outside their railway stations we will find very few cars parked there but hundreds to thousands of bicycles. And if we but watch the arrival of the people commuting by train their either cycle to the station, if they come from a little distance away, or come on foot, unlike in Britain or the United States.
It is true that distances in the United States are greater from home to stores or station but in towns and cities the bicycle or Shank's pony would be faster even in there. It is different in rural locales but that is not what we are looking at here.
Urban living is on the rise and it is estimated that up to 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030. We thus must work harder still to create towns and cities where walking and cycling are primary transport options as such mobility is good for the environment, the economy and our well-being, providing a range of social and health benefits for individuals. Cycling and walking keeps people healthy and the fact that a bike can be parked almost anywhere, as long as there is somewhere to lock it to (bike racks are nice), and walking needs not even that consideration the high street can and will be revitalized as well and the local economy will benefit, as will air quality and thus all of us.