City planners and urban developers are setting out to tackle an issue that plagues most metropolitan areas around the world: traffic congestion. Los Angeles is notorious for slow moving traffic and painful commutes, and it was ranked the number one most congested city in America with an average of 104 hours in congestion per year. Washington D.C. commuters spent an average of 60 hours sitting in traffic. This massive waste of time and money gobbles up billions of dollars in various costs to the city, commuters, and the environment. So what is the solution? The old answer would be mobility: creating more roads that give drivers more options and direct routes. The new answer is accessibility: making it easier for residents to access all of their needs.
Many developers have turned to “mixed-use” neighborhoods that provide a mix of residential, commercial, and public spaces. The benefits of this system are two-fold. First, residents benefit from a living area that provides the essential shops, parks, and public spaces that many people would traditionally have to travel to (often by car). Second, cities benefit from the influx of tax-paying residents who are drawn to these people-friendly neighborhoods. They also see a decrease in costly road-traffic as more people choose to walk or bike to their desired locations.
Some have also have emphasized the development of highly efficient and clean public transportation systems. There are hundreds of electric buses running in transit systems across the country from Chicago’s Transit authority to Pennsylvania’s SEPTA. Improved public transportation also provides the added benefit of being cheaper than paying for fuel in a private car, and provides fare revenue and decreased idling time which benefits cities.
The adoption of bike share programs is also a growing trend that provides similar benefits. Developers in cities like Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston provide hundreds of bike stations where users can pick up and drop off bicycles on-demand. An increase in public transportation utilization provides immense benefits to everyone involved, and of course, fewer idling cars means less carbon dioxide to pollute the local environment and the global climate.
Hal Harvey, CEO of environmental policy think tank Energy Innovation, notes:
The iron law of transportation is: If you build it, they will come. Build highways and wide streets, and cars fill in. But build an efficient subway, or streetcar, or bus rapid transit, and transit riders will show up. Install bike paths, and people ride bikes. Make a street vibrant, safe, and shaded, and walkers arrive.
As city populations rise to record levels, urban planning is more important than it has ever been. Developers are shifting their focus from planning cities around roads and businesses to creating efficient, clean, and livable systems that benefit the individual, government, and the environment.
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