Progressive Vehicle Registration for Urban Areas

“The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is actually the right to destroy the city.” —Lewis Mumford, “The Highway and the City”

Are vehicle registration policies in line with the aspirations of our urban areas? Practically every city in North America is striving to become more friendly to pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders. Research shows that families who own fewer cars are more likely to drive less. These households generate a host of benefits for their communities through reduced air pollution, impact on roadways, and improved health.

However, to my knowledge, state vehicle registration policies generally do not discourage people from owning multiple automobiles in urban areas. (I would be happy to be wrong about this – if there is an example of a state that has a separate registration policy for urban areas, please let me know.)

Continue reading

What is your second car worth?

Your family’s first car is incredibly valuable. In the US, a family’s first car represents a tremendous increase in mobility. It exponentially expands the number of places you can work, study, shop, and visit. The first car makes it possible for you to get a better job, get an education, and ultimately improve your social standing.

But your family’s second car is not quite as valuable. While it might seem like it’s necessary to own two cars, in fact, there are millions of American families who live happily in suburban locations with only one car.

How do these families get around? They use public transit, bicycles, and their feet in addition to that first car.

Continue reading

The Revolution will not be Motorized

Over a year ago we became a one car family. After a decade of owning and maintaining two cars, we made a conscious decision to simplify our lives.

We rely on bicycles, public transit, and walking for most of our local travel. We still use the car to get groceries and make trips throughout the region.

My home’s walkscore

This decision has helped us become richer, stronger, and more creative. We are confident that we can go where we need using a wide range of options.

Of course, this decision was only possible because of the location of our house. We live in a neighborhood that has good sidewalks, street lighting, and a wide range of stores nearby. It has a “WalkScore” of 90 – which is elite for the Southeast.

Unfortunately, not everybody can afford to live in neighborhoods that support walking, biking, and reliable public transit. The scarcity of these places in the housing market leads to higher prices. (In my neighborhood, pressure from tourism and student rentals also drive prices higher.)

But that can be changed. Cities have the tools to expand opportunity to enhance affordability in neighborhoods like mine. However, we have to address one substantial assumption first: families do not need two cars.

When regulations require homes to provide two parking spaces they make explicit an assumption of the automobile age – the idea that all trips should be made by private automobile. Furthermore, this requirement distorts the urban form by expanding distances between destinations artificially.

The revolution taking place in urban design is not technological. We have all the gadgets we need. The revolution taking place is merely a shift in perspective and the recognition that great cities should not rely on private automobiles.