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Monday, June 18, 2007

A Better City

I want to build a better city, a city where I can walk where I want without having to watch out for traffic, a city where I can drive where I need to without having to watch out for pedestrians. Mixing pedestrian and vehicles is a bad idea, but this is the way we have been doing things for years, and changing it is going to take some doing.

The primary idea is that pedestrian traffic would be separated from vehicular traffic. One way to do this would be to have separate levels for pedestrians and vehicles. Relegate all motor vehicles to the ground level, and build a level above that for pedestrians. You would need a way for people to get from their vehicles on one level to the pedestrian level. However, wherever there are people entering or exiting vehicles, there should be safeguards in place to keep the vehicles out of the pedestrian areas, and pedestrians out of the areas assigned to vehicles.

I would like to see us move to a completely automated transportation system, but given our investment in out current transportation system, I think this is unlikely. I think a better approach is to adapt the way we build cities to a model that separates pedestrian traffic from motor vehicles.

Building a city with separate levels for pedestrian and vehicular traffic would be expensive. However, consider the cost of land in downtown areas, and the amount of land given over to motor vehicles. I think if you look at most any urban area you will find that roughly half of the land is given over to motor vehicles in the form of streets, parking facilities, dealers and repair facilities. Building a separate level for motor vehicles could essentially double the amount of land area available for buildings, parks and sidewalks.

Carry this idea a little further and imagine multiple levels devoted to transportation. We could start by devoting ground level to trains and heavy trucks. The next level up could be devoted to utility lines like water, electricity and communications. Having utilities on a separate level would eliminate disrupting traffic to make repairs. It would also make repairs and installation of new lines much more economical. The next few levels would be devoted to automotive traffic, parking and services. For areas with large populations and high density, we might even want to devote one level to traffic traveling North or South, and a second level to traffic traveling East or West. Finally, at the top, we would have the pedestrian level. It could be indoors like a shopping mall, or outdoors like a park. Narrow walkways between skyscrapers would probably not be a good idea. We are trying to make a better city, not just a more economical one.

To put this idea into action it would not be necessary to transform an entire city all at once. Any moderate size redevelopment effort could make a start. Any adjacent buildings or areas could be redone when the opportunity arose. I just hope we can make a start on this before our cities get any worse.

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