The Globe and Mail had an excellent article yesterday about a panelist at the Detroit Auto Show daring to go against the conventional wisdom and point out that electric cars will not save the world. Nor will cars running on hydrogen, hybrids or even recycled bovine flatulence. Why not? Cars causes many ills for society, including urban sprawl, air pollution, high costs of road construction and maintenance, and health problems due to sedentary life styles.
Notice that exactly one of those problems is solved by alternative fuel cars: air pollution. The rest are all caused by the inherent nature of the car and they will only be solved by returning our cities to a more balanced mix of travel choices. This doesn’t mean that cars are going to go away anytime soon, rather that again they will merely be one of many choices. And despite what the car-shilling Frontier Policy Institute tells you (Globe and Mail article, original paper), this will be a good thing for poor people.
How do we get from here to there? We need to start investing in improvements for biking, walking and transit and some of that will require giving exclusive road space to transit and bikes, which is not very politically popular. Cities need to be bold and try and get ahead of the curve, as Vancouver and Portland did with their streetcars, both of which were funded by the city rather than the local transit agency. For bikes we need to move beyond bike lanes, to protected paths and bike boulevards. Pedestrians need wider sidewalks and shorter crosswalks. None of this will be cheap, but then again nor is the status quo.