What Does it Mean to be a Carless City?

ARTICLE | Feb 13, 2017

I lead what's sometimes referred as a 'carlite' lifestyle - that is, in my case, I take a light rail train to work and back, then walk home and otherwise share a car with my significant other.  None of this mix of transport methods would be possible ten years ago without the foresight of local leaders and agencies (thank you @valleymetro, @Tempegov, @CityofPhoenixAZ, & @MesaAzgov to name a few!).  My commute now involves zero traffic and while I sit, I get to read or check emails, but mostly read.

But enough about me. Two years ago, the Alliance for Innovation Board of Directors commissioned Rebecca Ryan to answer what exactly are the Next Big Things Facing Local Government? After countless pages reviewed, numerous interviews with member communities and partners, the Next Big Things Report was released in the fall of 2015. Among the 44 trends that will possibly affect our communities, lies Carless Communities, which reads:

"Helsinki, Finland conducted research and found that the next generation “no longer considers cars as a distinctive social marker or object of emancipation.” As a result, they’ve set an ambitious goal: to eliminate private cars and create a public, on-demand mobility system by 2025. The system will operate through mobile apps, which will be used to book and pay for any multi-modal trip (bus, train, taxi, bicycle and car-sharing) within Helsinki in one click. While Helsinki’s model may not work for all cities, the trend towards fewer next-geners buying cars is global, and future-ready cities will be prepared to mobilize citizens without private cars."

Mobile apps; system; multi-modal.  The reasons are plenty and will vary for each community, but as evident in recently submitted case studies, all flow from an increase in mobility options, which leads to greater accessibility:

For example, in the case study “#TPSRides - A partnership unifying transit, students and technology”[1] the City of Tulsa, OK took on the high truancy rates at Tulsa Public Schools by providing high school students with free access to the city transport network.  Better yet, the local transit services were all viewable on a smart phone app. They have now answered the age-old question of what happens when you miss the school bus – just take the next one!

The City of Aspen, CO launched a “Drive-Less Initiative for Parking in the Downtown Core”[2] since parking in their downtown was so limited, especially during peak hours. They found that many of the parking spots used during the day were from the local shop owners and employees.  Instead of building a new public parking garage, they opted to incentivize alternative transport options; namely a bike share and even a "door-to-door electric shuttle.”

Even in my hometown of Tempe, AZ a new State Farm regional office is being completed near light rail and a representative from their company recently declared: “Access to public transportation and multiple transportation options is critical to our operations going forward.”[3]  More and more employers want to locate near transit since it connects them to a reliable, skilled workforce.  As described in a report by Brookings Institute; “[t]he lack of reliability caused by persistent traffic congestion reduces the size of labor catchment areas.”[4]

Perhaps another name that is more apt to our possible urban landscape is 'Carlimited cities.' Cars, scooters, any motorized vehicle for that matter, they aren't going anywhere soon, nor should they. These transport options are all part of the puzzle that breathes life into our local economies.  BUT enhancing and increasing mobility through a range of options will benefit everyone within city limits. Once we start connecting once inaccessible parts of our community, the impetus for innovation will blossom. 

What does a 'Carless Community' mean for your organization?  Let us know in the comments section below!

[1] http://transformgov.org/en/knowledge_network/documents/kn/document/308869/tpsrides__a_partnership_unifying_transit_students_and_technology_case_study

[2] http://transformgov.org/en/icma/knowledge_network/documents/kn/Document/308840/DriveLess_Initiative_for_Parking_in_the_Downtown_Core_Case_Study

[3] http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/tempe/2015/02/20/state-farm-exec-transit-helped-tempe-get-hub/23734761/

[4] https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/11-transit-labor-tomer-full-paper.pdf, pg. 2

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