One of my hopes after the recent terror attacks using motor vehicles in London and New York, and the many other crashes involving drunk and elderly drivers is a rethinking of the automobile in our cities. Cars are noisy, smelly nuisances in the cities; they are dangerous when motorists are distracted, drunk, or have evil aims. They should be reined in.

How do we rein in the automobile in the city? One option is to prohibit private automobiles in the central city, replacing it with free public transportation and pedestrian or bicycle walkways. This works best when the layout is pretty compact and where you have tunnels or other protection from the weather in the cold weather. Sometimes prohibiting motor vehicles can lead to a decrease in traffic to businesses, this has to be weight against the decreased noise, air pollution and increased space for things like park benches, picnic tables and  the alike. One option would be to close streets down on certain days of the week, especially when lots of people are out and about, especially during protests, marches, concerts and major events like Friday nights when people are out drinking and socalizing.

Another option is protecting the pedestrian and bicycle space from the motor vehicle. Jersey barriers are excellent methods of keeping automobiles where they are supposed to be — in the street. Jersey Barriers will help keep road noise in the street, while making pedestrians feel safer. They keep children, dogs and pets out of the street and ensure people only cross at safe intersections. Jersey Barriers need not be ugly — they could be worked in with street planters and have decorative concerete on the pedestrian side. One concern with Jersey Barriers is storm water — steps would have be taken to ensure they aren’t blocking the flow of water into street drains. Done right though, Jersey Barriers could do a lot to improve city life. I guess they might also somewhat block the motorist view of buildings and parks, but that’s not a totally bad thing — if it encourages people to park and take a look around.

A lower cost hybrid option might be concrete planters or wooded guide rails like they use in some parks nowadays. They could also use stainless steel guardrails like they use on rural highways, but I would argue they would be rather ugly in cities and should be avoided. The key is keep errant and intentional acts from allowing vehicles to depart the roadway and invade the pedestrian space.

Safety improvements for the pedestrian in the city, should not be funded from multimodal funding but from regular road construction funding. Build less new roads, focus on making existing ones safer. It’s not the pedestrian or bicyclist that’s causing the problem, it’s the errant motorist who is leaving their designated spot with their 2 or more ton vehicle, posing a grave threat to public safety and well being.

Automobiles are great devices; driving is a lot of fun. But they really do not belong in congested downtowns, but instead should be parked in lots on the outskirts of cities. For too long we’ve been too permissive towards motoring, failing to consider alternative uses of our urban lands that aren’t so noisy, so polluting and dangerous. Simply said, private automobiles don’t belong in cities.