As an awareness campaign and as an experiment, the measures introduced in a number of cities yesterday on Car-Free Day may all be very well, but we should not delude ourselves about their effects. Greater public awareness will not amount to much until there are efficient alternatives to private transport.
It is true that many people use cars because they are more comfortable, but it’s wrong to think that it’s simply a matter of choice. Most of those who use private transport to get to work are forced into doing so, especially if they have long-distance commutes to make.
If it all boils down to a lot of empty gesturing, little will be achieved
People cannot be blamed for a mobility model that they chose out of necessity, not pleasure. It is only by offering an equally fast and expensive alternative that can we hope for significant change in how we get about.
The increase in city traffic and the higher proportion of cars running on diesel has raised pollution levels to dangerously high levels in our larger cities, where tolerable thresholds are routinely passed. There are an estimated 3,000 premature deaths a year in cities such as Madrid and Barcelona because of air pollution.
There is an urgent need for measures that will lead to less polluting forms of transport, fewer traffic jams, and that will allow pedestrians to gain back city spaces for themselves. But this will not be achieved through populist speeches criminalizing car owners and laying responsibility for the problem at taxpayers’ doors, when the solution is largely out of their hands.
Most of those who take private transportation to work at rush hour are forced into it
If all we can expect from our politicians is empty posturing, little will be achieved. Local authorities must summon the courage to address mobility by detailing substantial improvements to public transport, a review of access points into city centers (including the possibility of congestion charges), and a reorganization of traffic that prioritizes the two most important variables: cost and time effectiveness.
English version by Susana Urra.