[A trimmed down version from Bike Portland's blog:]
Jeff Olson, a planner with Alta Planning and Design asked:
If you were able to ask Mayors of large cities in the U.S. to go and ask Congress for anything, what should they ask for?
“I’d ask for money”
“Two things: Change the guidelines, and second would be parking. Change dramatically the way of parking. Allow no more parking in the streets 1/2 mile from homes and businesses so you remove all the short trips and people will know they don’t have the car in front of their door. You would also remove all this traffic noise and small particles in the air.
I don’t know if it’s true but I’ve heard Americans even use a car to post a letter around the corner. If you had to walk a 1/2 mile to get your car you wouldn’t do that anymore.”
City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield got the last question of the night (and it was a good one):
I want to ask about pricing the use of the automobile. In most of your countries and cities, it’s expensive to purchase a car, to get fuel, to park — and in addition, you’ve put restrictions on cars within your city. It’s simply not convenient to drive.
In the the U.S., that pricing is very absent. There’s very little political will to disincentivize the use of the automobile. We’re concerned that our goals for reaching higher mode split will be difficult to reach because of our inability to put price disincentives on car use. Is that a valid concern? How is it that you’ve come to have that political will?
“While in Beaverton I saw all of these enormous rooms for all these cars… even a parking garage for cars! I asked, are you subsidizing this? If so, it’s socialism. You’re subsidizing a parking lot… and that’s out of the mouth of somebody from the business community.
In our country, every square meter is money and you have to use it as good as possible so it gains as much money as possible. And I know one thing, parking cars is not a beneficial way of industry.
Why are the tariffs for parking in the city so high [In Amsterdam, they're about $7 an hour, 24-hours a day]. First, it’s good for quality of life and second, for the people who really need to be in the city — like the people with their big Mercedes to go to the Gucci shop, or the business man who needs to go to an important meeting — now he has a place to park. In the old days, when parking was much cheaper, they had to search for a spot… so that’s good for business.”
“One of the things is, if you would ask the Dutch public, ‘Would you rather pay less tax on your cars and pay less tax on your fuel,’ everybody would say ‘Oh yes!’ But the thing is we don’t ask them!
You shouldn’t ask all the time, ‘Do you want to spend money?’ Of course they say no. The thing is, if people are so narrow-minded, you need politicians… Democracy is not about doing the will of the people; it’s about choosing the best men and women out of the people who make the wisest decisions.
The costs of maintaining a road network is high and the users should pay for them… there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Fees work very well to affect the behavior of the people, but it also works well is to reward the people who do the desired behavior. In some cities, they have sort of a reverse congestion pricing: People whose cars aren’t seen in rush hour get up to 8 euros a day.”
Adelheid Byttebier chose not to directly answer the question, but instead shared some general advice for how to promote bicycling:
“Maybe we should look for best practices not only in the field of mobility or cycling but best practices that have worked in a completely separate field. What we have with our mobility problem is the means of transport itself — the car. It’s very socially accepted, it’s — certainly here in America — not so expensive, you can get everywhere with one, etc… On the other hand we know it’s not good for your health or for society in terms of sustainable living and so on.
This reminded me of the debate we’ve all had on smoking.
My father was a smoker and it was very social, not so expensive and it was about having a good time. But, at a certain moment, the decision was made to no longer have ads for smoking and to make it an issue and talk about the health aspects. it’s been a long struggle, but in Belgium we’ve just had a report on health and heart attacks and they’ve found we’ve had great results since we’ve restricted smoking.
Perhaps that experience will give us a good inspiration to try and do it a similar way concerning better modes of being mobile.”
As Portland (and the rest of America) strives to emulate places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, we’ll come face to face with some of these hard truths about our transportation culture. Are we ready to face them? Are there limits to how much we can emulate Northern Europe?
These questions are sure to play out in the coming years.