8 Days to the World Congress: A U-turn on Automobile Dependency?

Increasing levels of congestion, poor air quality, reduced road safety, lack of footpaths and reduction in the number public spaces are signs of increasing priority being given to personal automobiles. Several cities perceive increasing motorisation as an inevitable trend, and to cope with the change they provide infrastructure for automobiles, thus fuelling the growth. This creates a vicious circle that ultimately lowers the quality of life, economy and public health in cities. A very common sign is people moving out of the city, catalysing urban sprawl. All these conditions are visible predominantly in many North American cities, and are increasingly visible in developing cities.

In many European cities the symptoms are less visible. These cities may have high rates of automobile ownership but the usage rates are lower. The reason for the contrast between European and North American cities is simple: it is a function of how the cities are planned and the mode of transport that was prioritised.

After World War Two, when countries in Europe and North America were rebuilding their cities, the choices they made resulted in their future mobility patterns. Several European cities chose to build cities oriented towards people and to preserve their original compactness. This also helped the cities to be walkable and easily accessible on a bicycle. Several American cities, meanwhile, designed their cities around the newest mode of transport: the car. Cars needed wide streets, and to enable a speedy journey the streets were cleared of any obstacles i.e. pedestrian or bicycle traffic. As time passed the cities were increasingly planned for cars and the infrastructure required for cars grew in terms of magnitude and number. More people drove, increasing the dependence on fossil-fuel; while across the ocean, cities were planned around pedestrians and bicycles. The numbers of people using these modes increased and the quality of life also increased.

Present day developing cities are at crossroads: decisions made today will impact the way our cities will evolve in the future. With climate change, rising sea levels, increasing global temperatures and diminishing fossil fuel reserves, are we headed towards a future dependent on fossil fuel-powered automobiles? If yes, then is it worth the price we pay in the form of reduced road safety, air pollution for current and future generations, and a decrease in quality of life?


(Pictures from the EcoMobility World Festival 2013 in Suwon. All photos © ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.)


The time for cities to change is now. Our cities need to prioritise walking over cycling, cycling over public transport and public transport over personal automobiles; this is the cornerstone of EcoMobility. EcoMobility advocates an innovative way of planning our cities, where city planning and transport planning are integrated. Designing a neighbourhood means thinking about the modes of transport required in the neighbourhood and also enabling a higher quality of life and increased safety in the neighbourhood. EcoMobility aims to reduce the need for personal automobiles by embracing shared mobility, where every citizen need not own a vehicle but one vehicle can be shared among a community.

These practices may sound new but in reality they are already being implemented in various cities. EcoMobility – through its various projects, such as the EcoMobility Alliance and EcoMobility World Congress – brings together cities that are interested in saying “enough” to automobile dominance and that are willing to replicate the experiences of other cities. The EcoMobility World Festival project is a unique project that allows city leaders to implement a month-long car-free event, giving the citizens of a city the experience of living car-free.

In conclusion, the answer to the increasing negative effects of automobile dependence is clear. Cities need to steer-away from providing for personal automobiles. The change can happen only when cities implement policies and practices that encourage walking, cycling and use of public transport. Cities will also need to implement car-restraint policies and practices to make personal automobile use unattractive. In short, cities need to implement EcoMobility.

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