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Dethroning The Automobile In The People’s Republic Of Cambridge

July 25, 2012

(One in an occasional series of posts on removing cars from their privileged place in American society.)

This is the kind of story that confirms everything Texas conservatives suspect and fear about Massachusetts liberals:

“Since 1998, [Cambridge] has required commercial and institutional developers who add parking spaces to active­ly discourage people from using them. The policy is supported by statistical targets and annual monitoring, tools that have made Cambridge’s Parking and Transportation ­Demand Management Ordinance not just a pie-in-the-sky resolution but a case study ­examined by local and national planners.”

Orwellian-sounding social engineering, government-mandated targets (e.g., “When Novartis moved into the renovated Necco candy factory in 2004, the city set its driving target at 44 percent, meaning the company had to persuade more than half its workers to use other modes of transportation.”), compliance monitoring by city bureaucrats, and what’s worse…it appears to be working.

“Despite the rapid expansion in and around Kendall Square in the last ­decade — the neighborhood absorbed a 40 percent increase in commercial and institutional space, adding 4.6 million square feet of development — automobile traffic actually dropped on major streets, with vehicle counts falling as much as 14 percent.”

Where did all those drivers go?

  • Into car pools facilitated by online “matchmakers”.
  • Onto buses, subways and commuter rail with (pre-tax) employer-subsidized monthly passes.
  • On foot, taking advantage of Cambridge’s well-built sidewalks and well-marked street crossings.
  • Onto bicycles, riding along off-road bikepaths and on-street bike lanes and parking at a growing network of secure, enclosed parking areas for bikes.

Defenders of the solitary car driver commuting to work will object to this kind of excessive governmental interference with the “free market”.  The problem with that argument is that when it comes to traveling long distances (e.g., over 1 mile), there’s no such thing as a free market.  Roads, bridges, highways, zoning ordinances that encourage (or discourage) the proliferation of parking spaces—they’re all built and maintained by one branch or another of our (democratic, elected) government.  (In the rare cases where corporations run roads, they do so under contract from the state.)

The question isn’t whether government intervenes to create and encourage transportation options, but how it does so.  As Cambridge is demonstrating, economic growth is not inevitably tied to increased automobile traffic.  In fact, economic growth can happen because of decreased automobile traffic.

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From → City Life, Politics

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