Redesigning American Cities for Less Driving

This 16-minute radio interview of Forbes writer Micheline Maynard and Cornell urban planning professor Michael Manville explores how and why to redesign cities to make them less auto-dependent to match reduced driving.

2 minute read

August 1, 2013, 7:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Host Jeremy Hobson's first guest is Micheline Maynard, editor of the journalism project, “Curbing Cars: Rethinking How We Get Around.” She explains the cultural shift away from cars, particularly with millennials who accounted for a notable part of the shift in the May, U.S. PIRG, "New Direction" report that detailed the reduction in driving and implication for changes in U.S. transportation policies (also discussed here).

Hobson's second guest, City and Regional Planning Professor Michael Manville of Cornell University, explores how accommodating cars has reshaped American cities, with a particular focus on parking requirements and their impact on low income residents.  

“If you have zoning codes that force developers to provide housing that comes with parking spaces, what you are implicitly saying is that it is illegal to build housing explicitly for people who are too poor to own cars”.

He's also fond of the woonerf streets in Copenhagen [actually a Dutch word] where all road users must learn to co-exist. "These streets have little signage, and no demarcations, such as lanes. Instead, pedestrians, cars, bikes and other vehicles have to be attentive and make their own decisions about how to occupy and share space together.  While it sounds chaotic, Manville says that it’s actually much safer."

Hobson's final question allows Manville to explain how he sees cars fitting into American cities, and how cities can accommodate cars without reshaping themselves to do it. It's clear from his summary statement that he is not "anti-car", far from it; he appears to like driving. It's the car subsidies that he advocates changing.

HOBSON: So big picture, Michael Manville, are we moving toward a society that is less focused on cars, and are we ready? Are cities ready for what that means for them?

MANVILLE: I think that cities should be organized in a way that encourages people to drive less. And we should do that for environmental reasons; we should do that simply for efficiency reasons because a lot of our cities are terribly congested. So I think that it's up to cities to take the lead and have these policies [e.g. parking minimums] that say, you know, we're going to make it so that we no longer sort of subsidize driving, but rather we're going to encourage other modes of travel and, you know, make driving easy because driving is great but also make it sort of pay its full way.

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