Not content with simply raising the price of gasoline through regressive tax policy, European governments have gone even further to make driving insufferable. According to the New York Times, city planners in Zurich have been especially malicious:
“Closely spaced red lights have been added on roads into town, causing delays and angst for commuters. Pedestrian underpasses that once allowed traffic to flow freely across major intersections have been removed. Operators in the city’s ever expanding tram system can turn traffic lights in the favor as they approach, forcing cars to halt.”
Additionally, the city has closed streets entirely and lowered speed limits to the point that crosswalks are removed entirely and pedestrians can cross “anywhere they like at any time.”
The author of the article, followed up on the New York Times Green blog with a quote from a city official who said their goal is simply “to keep car traffic capacity on a reasonable level — our goal is not to willingly annoy car drivers.” I don’t see how his words can match his actions.
For one, removing intersections and crosswalks makes streets more dangerous for drivers and pedestrians. This paired with artificially low speed limits could create a chaotic driving experience lacking the norms necessary to ensure road safety.
As the National Motorist’s Association has advocated, speed limits should be set at the speed that 85 percent of traffic is travelling at or below. This optimizes enforceability and safety by providing the lowest speed variance. I can’t imagine that any speed study was completed to set limits so low as to intentionally frustrate drivers.
Additionally, the environmental benefits may be overstated if the traffic conditions are more congested which requires a greater amount of energy than smooth-flowing traffic. There is a reason why mileage is better on the highway than in the city; more energy is required to alternate acceleration and braking then simply accelerating.
Most of the cars that are left on the road after high taxes and miserable driving conditions are likely those without other adequate transit options: emergency personnel, trucks transporting goods to stores and restaurants, people with disabilities, families carrying extra cargo, those not living in close proximity to transit options, etc.
One European building mentioned in the article had 150 bike spaces and only one for a car to “accommodate a disabled person.” Do the designers of that building not understand how insulting that is? Only a single individual with mobility issues is allowed to work or visit this space at any given time.
What is more disheartening about this article is not that Europeans are engaging in some environmental nonsense, which is more or less to be expected, but the way in which the New York Times lovingly admires their gumption.
The author herself noted in the accompanying blog post that “the short trip to drop children off at school” was a “Silly Car Journey.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t think forcing a child to walk three miles, which would classify as a silly car trip under that definition, is a good idea.
Instead of recognizing the negative impacts on quality of life and safety, or the marginal environmental effects, the only quote of dissention was from a Jaguar-driving consultant who “grumbled” about the added stress of reduced speeds. Was any effort made to understand and report on these consequences or was the New York Times using its mouthpiece to wax poetic about European central planning?