|Parents’ worst fears are often misplaced. The automobile remains the leading hazard to children.
by J.H. Crawford
In Venice, small children wander safely in the street
I call Mr. Beasley’s pronouncement the “good for kids yardstick.”
|In cities, however, cars are an unnecessary evil. Let us first look
at the problems, and then consider a cure. We’ll begin by looking
first at some appalling numbers:
No wonder so many parents drive their kids to school (thereby aggravating the problem). And notice how much safer public transport is than driving.
- Cars cause heavy-metal pollution. Lead is released in huge quantities
because it is added to gasoline as an octane booster; leaded fuels are
still used in many areas of the world. Even tiny amounts of lead inhibit
the mental development of children. While the use of lead in motor fuels
has ended in the USA, the compounds that replaced it (such as MTBE)
may be just as harmful.
- Research by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that emissions
from car exhausts are responsible for more deaths than road accidents themselves.
The WHO study reviewed data from Austria, France, and Switzerland and found that
exposure to pollution caused an estimated 21,000 deaths a year in these three
countries alone. Car emissions cause 300,000 extra cases of bronchitis in children.
- Millions of the worlds’ children
are exposed to air pollution levels that are two to eight times higher
than allowed by World Health Organization standards. In developing nations,
more than 80% of deaths related to respiratory diseases occur among children
under the age of five; air pollution contributes to many of these deaths.
- While newer cars are cleaner per vehicle-mile traveled, total US highway
emissions during the period 1960-1995 have increased 73% for NOx and 1% for CO.
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) did actually fall, by 41%. The increase in
vehicle miles traveled is negating improvements in emissions control.
- Every parents nightmare: a child stricken by cancer. It now appears that
growing up near a transportation corridor with more than 20,000 daily vehicles
causes a six-fold increase in the cancer risk for children. It may be this,
and not power lines at all, that is causing “cancer clusters.”
- Kids think the streets are dangerous. It’s not kidnappers they’re afraid of.
It’s cars. Two out of every five children between 7 and 9 years old think the street
where they live is dangerous to play in. Almost one third say they have trouble with
cars that drive too fast.
|That’s the statistical picture. What about the social aspects of urban car usage?
The automobile has isolated the young, the elderly, and anyone who does not drive.
Most suburban children grow up with a very narrow experience of the world and
remain dependent on their parents for mobility until they reach driving age.
This delays the development of their independence and self-reliance.
It also delays their entrance into their community:
As the awareness of the dangers posed to children by cars has increased,
Parents have thus been saddled with the chore of chauffeuring their kids almost
As parents are spending more and more time stuck in traffic on the way to and
Before leaving this subject, let’s briefly summarize the other disadvantages
Many of you will be saying to yourselves at this point, “Yes, we know about
It’s true that if you live in an American city designed mainly for cars,
I believe that the solution lies in completely carfree cities. The New
Fortunately, we don’t have to depend entirely on our imagination to
Venice during rush hour
Venice is known by Italians as “Il Serenissima,” the serene one.
Venice is the least stressful urban environment I have ever seen.
A main street in Siena, Italy
Siena, like Venice, is a fairly typical medieval city, characterized
They are usually
The evening promenade, Parma, Italy
When the form of the city is right, and no cars intrude,
In environments like this, casual social contact is facilitated.
Four-story buildings at Washington Square Park in New York City
In mixed-use medieval areas, most buildings are small and
just a few stories high.
These smaller buildings are highly popular in European cities as
well as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. These are
actually quite flexible. Indeed, most of them have known many different
uses since they were first built. While it’s not always quite so simple
to adapt them to a new purpose as bulldozing a cornfield, tilting up
some steel megalith, and surrounding it with acres of asphalt parking
lot, the result is more permanent and infinitely more
Interior courtyard, the Begijnhof, Amsterdam
One of the big advantages of moving cars out of cities is that there
In fact, almost every block ought to have this kind of green space
The carfree center of Freiburg, Germany
Suffice it to say that carfree cities can be built with excellent,
The only real question is whether we have the will to build
Images and text copyright © 1996, 2008 J.Crawford
All rights reserved.