When we envision what a picturesque European environment might look like we see clean old Roman roads, a crystal clear brook gurgling through the Alps, limitlessly stretching woods and forests or abundant green within a huge metropolitan.
Europe has a squeaky clean image about its environment record precisely because of the regulations and government oversight in ensuring that eco-hegemony. The strategy that has succeeded the most in ensuring it has been discouraging motorists and drivers from using their vehicular transports and to switch to more public or eco-friendly modes of transport.
This strategy of making conditions miserable enough for drivers to tilt towards environmentally friendly ways has been put to use effectively in several cities (eg: Vienna, Munich, Copenhagen) where they have closed off wide tracks of roads to car traffic, whereas Barcelona and Paris have had their car lanes gradually taken over by popular bike-sharing programs.
London and Stockholm have taken different steps by charging drivers ‘’Congestion Fees’’ just for entering the heart of the city. Germany has one of the most interesting solutions where several cities have instituted a nationally-mandated program in which they have formed ‘’Environment Zones’’ where only low carbon-dioxide emitting cars are permitted.
In the U.S and Canada there has been a greater focus on making conditions more amicable for drivers. These changes include increasing the number of parking spaces for malls and facilities while Europe’s opposite policy has deterred car usage.
Closely spaced red lights have been placed while pedestrian underpasses that caused free-flowing traffic have been removed to hamper traffic in Zurich as intentional method of irking drivers. Driving cars has become a stop-and-go experience in Zurich which is their tactic to re-conquer the roads back to pedestrian use.
Europe’s cities generally have stronger incentives to act. Built for the most part before the advent of cars, their narrow roads are poor at handling heavy traffic. Public transportation is generally better in Europe than in the United States, and gas often costs over $8 a gallon, contributing to driving costs that are two to three times greater per mile than in the United States.
The European Union has also signed the Kyoto Protocol (unlike the U.S) and has been actually making efforts to abide by its rules (unlike Canada). Therefore they can’t curb their carbon emissions unless they decrease car emissions drastically.
Globally, emissions from transportation continue a relentless rise, with half of them coming from personal cars. Yet an important impulse behind Europe’s traffic reforms will be familiar to mayors in Toronto and Vienna alike: to make cities more inviting, with cleaner air and less traffic.
Contact your city councillor and make sure they hear about these reforms.
‘’Think globally, act locally’’ is as much a mantra of policy as of the environment and both ought to go hand in hand to ensure a healthier and cleaner city for tomorrow. And it starts now.