Sunday, July 10, 2011

New York Times Article Review

Bike Street, Cars are Guests

A New York Times Article: Across Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy, by Elizabeth Rosenthal
NY Times: In Europe they "make car use expensive and just plain miserable", by Jonathan  Maus

In the Elizabeth Rosenthal article “Across Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy” only the negative aspects of limiting car use in European cities is highlighted. Car use has many hidden costs that all of us bear; Government subsidies to the automobile and fuel companies, environmental pollution, public health, and expensive infrastructure projects. Increasing multi-modal travel increases the livability of a city.  There are many positive aspects that Rosenthal could have added to her one sided article.
I question Rosenthal’s journalistic integrity.  Her choice of words and phrases to describe the situation is more suited to an opinion piece; “Creating environments openly hostile to cars”, “Paris have had car lanes eroded by popular bike sharing programs,” and  “On street parking is vanishing,”  hype the negative stereotype that Europeans live in a un-free, limiting, socialist society.
This New York Times article does give good quotes from government officials and scholars that compare the difference between the attitudes of Europeans and Americans.  Europeans tend to perceive the auto as only one part of a practical, efficient transportation system. As quoted in Rosenthal’s article, “Peder Jensen, head of the Energy and Transport Group at the European Environment Agency. ‘Here there has been more movement to make cities more livable for people, to get cities relatively free of cars.’” Autos are correctly perceived as having a high “social safety” cost. Social safety is a term used often in Netherland’s municipal planning departments to describe the a policy’s overall effect on a community’s livability.
Americans tend to view transportation for daily trips as generated only by car. We are so used to a car for errands. We have a hard time thinking about the option of carrying groceries on a bike or by public transportation. But, as we have seen in the Netherlands, picking up groceries or taking children with us on a bike is the most efficient and convenient (and fun) way to get around.
The US also has a hard time bridging the gap between the entire car dependent system and getting to a more multi modal system. For example, in Eugene, Oregon a popular shopping area in the center of the town was rebuilt into a European style pedestrian mall.  Mixed use buildings with luxury condominiums were added to the area as were other apartment buildings in the center of town, nearby. Soon after, most of the businesses failed and homeless teens took over the area. Eugene replaced the pedestrian mall with a new road. People were unwilling to park one block away in a convenient and free parking garage to shop.
As stated in the response; NY Times: In Europe they "make car use expensive and just plain miserable" by Jonathan Maus in the bikePortland website, “It's a fascinating article that shows very clearly that in the U.S. we let politics and fear of unsettling the status quo rule our policies — even in cities like Portland where our leaders are well aware of how they do things in Europe.” I agree with Maus that although Portland is moving towards a more multi- modal transportation system, it is not moving at a fast enough speed.  Many Portland business owners are at odds with those that want to increase facilities for better bike and pedestrian access and decrease on-street parking. 
But the City of Portland’s is working with local business to replace on-street parking spots with bike parking. This genius idea not only increases an existing need for bike parking but also lets local buisnesses test the idea of bikes=more customers. I do believe that soon enough businesses in Portland will realize that improving bike and pedestrian facilities near their locations will increase the amount of shoppers to their stores. Once we get the businesses on board, the speed in which multi-modal choices will appear will increase. But, as “they” say, if it can’t be done in Portland, chances are it won’t work anywhere else in the US.
With article writers such a Rosenthal exaggerating and reinforcing the negative, and somewhat unfounded, aspects of increased transportation choices, many in the US will never open their mind to more convenient, fun, and healthy alternatives to their car dependent lack of choices.

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis of the article. It seems strange that a writer for the NYT would focus on the negativity. You would think someone using transit daily (hopefully?) would embrace the concept, but perhaps they are doing as most media outlet are and trying to sell papers? has to do the same, railing against the poor treatment of cyclists when the City is trying to make compromises on projects that result in incremental change. Even the president finds himself in this sort of predicament. Tough issues for leaders of all sorts.