Portland, Oregon and the hegemony of the automobile

Straddling Bus Environment Green

In the 11 years that I’ve lived here in Portland, it has been very disheartening to see the continual rise in single-passenger-only cars clogging our roads. Yes Portland is well known and famous for being one of the nation’s top bicycling cities, and our public transportation network is robust – yet the hegemony of the motor vehicle continues to rule.

When gas prices were pushing $4.00 there was a discernible drop in car traffic as people moved to traveling by bus, bike or light rail. As soon as prices slid back down they took to their cars again.

The Shenzhen Hashi Future Parking Equipment Co., Ltd who have proposed the Straddling Bus [pictured above] a vehicle powered by electricity and solar energy, say it would reduce traffic jams by 20-30%. Yet I can’t help but feel that just as when cities and states build new highways to ease congestion, traffic actually increases, traffic will also increase in cities that build a Straddling Bus system. There’s actually a term for it – induced traffic.

The answer is higher gas prices on cars via increased taxes, [BTW, not on trucks and other service vehicles] and a continued effort to pedestrianize downtown Portland by banning the car in certain parts of the city, while also increasing and encouraging bike use. The city could also follow London’s lead by introducing a Congestion Charge for drivers who insist on commuting downtown by car.

Six months after the Congestion Charge was introduced in London in 2003 a report found “.. that the average number of cars and delivery vehicles entering the central zone was 60,000 fewer than the previous year. Around 50–60% of this reduction was attributed to transfers to public transport, 20–30% to journeys avoiding the zone, 15-25% switching to car share, and the remainder to reduced number of journeys, more traveling outside the hours of operation, and increased use of motorbikes and bicycles.”

That may sound extreme, but if public safety and clean air is paramount we need to start paying more attention to studies that show how car’s drivers actually “consider themselves” when in the act of driving. For instance one study found that drivers ignore 70% of all traffic signs.

Psychologists have long revealed the senselessness of such exaggerated regulation. About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What’s more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also foments resentment. He may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow. [Article]

The town of Makkinga in Holland reduced traffic and increased the safety of pedestrians and cyclists by doing away with all traffic signs ten years ago. It has been a huge success and has been taken up by other European cities.

So, to coin a phrase our city planners need to Think Different.

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