By Ryan McGreal
Published November 24, 2006
Part of the conflict between those who support conversion and those who oppose it seems to stem from a conceptual disconnect over how streets work rather than merely a logistical disagreement.
The difference between an urban expressway and a livable street is the difference between a street designed to move people across distances rapidly and a street designed to let people interact more or less in place.
A livable city in this sense is a city in which people do not have to travel far to get where they're going. Rather than making it easier to travel, a livable city brings destinations together so less travelling is required.
The preferred modes of a livable city - walking, cycling, and transit - are characterized by:
Contrast the preferred mode of an auto-centric city, which is characterized by:
In an auto-centric city, destinations do not have to be close together. Zoning encourages the strict separation of destinations: houses, stores, offices, and factories are all sorted into different zones, and a car is necessary to get from one zone to another.
Today, Hamilton is a zoned city stuck in a self-reinforcing cycle of car ownership. The separation of uses requires universal car ownership; universal car ownership requires streets to function as expressways; expressways destroy street life and relegate homes, offices, and stores to specially-designed zones; and we are back where we started.
Changing from a city of zones to a city of neighbourhoods will not happen overnight in any case, but it will never happen until the vicious cycle of car ownership cum expressways cum macro destinations is broken.
The best way to start breaking the cycle is to stop making it as easy as possible to drive everywhere, and simultaneously start making it easier to walk, cycle, or take transit.
People respond to incentives, and today all the incentives encourage people to go on driving. The following changes will shift the incentives away from driving:
Again, this isn't just logistics. It's a conceptual shift away from a transportation system designed to move people long distances from one macro location (a single-use zone) to another, and toward a transportation system designed to optimize density, diversity, proximity, and short-distance modes.
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