Reducing Auto Dependency

This letter came into MOTU not too long ago:

Hey MOTU, I thought you might find this interesting.

My parents moved from Narberth to San Francisco last week. They took with them three cars (2 low-rise sports cars, which make 0 sense in SF and 1 Mini Cooper). They are renting an apartment in Dog Patch for the next year. Their plan is to buy a condo in the city as soon as possible.

I spoke to my mother 1 day after the cars arrived in SF and she announced that they will probably sell one of them, if not two, in the next year. Why?

“The new construction we’re interested in doesn’t have enough parking. There’s some sort of city ordinance against too much parking. I guess they want us to use public transport.”

My dad has been taking public transport to work everyday (“It’s much more convenient!”) and they’ve been walking almost everywhere.

These are two people who until very recently drove everywhere (even within Narberth). They had 4 cars 2 months ago; now they are thinking of going to one or two! If San Francisco had made things easier for their car-ways, they never would have thought of changing.

Yay! City ordinance and a little planning!

Take Care,

A San Francisco Muni Trolley Bus

A San Francisco Muni Trolley Bus

This letter brings up an interesting issue in urban transportation planning.  Suburban and exurban areas are planned to separate origins and destinations, such as home and work, or home and shopping centers.  This spacing means that transportation is easier to do with a private automobile than it is to do by walking, bicycling or transit.  This eventually creates a cycle of automobile dependency, where people need to have cars to meet their daily needs, and then more space is needed to make automobile ownership more convenient (such as free parking and expanded freeways).

Todd Litman, of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute explored the implications of automobile dependency in a 2002 paper and re-examined the issue in a 2010 paper.  He argues that by focusing on multi-modal transportation and increasing density, it is possible for cities to alleviate the automobile dependency.  This is what is happening in San Francisco, by discouraging drive-alone automobile use, and encouraging public transit use, expanding pedestrian facilities and adding bike lanes, city residents are less likely to be reliant on their cars, but can still keep one automobile to maintain multiple transportation options.

Cities like Philadelphia are already in a good position to help reduce automobile dependency, by expanding the bicycle network, making it safer for pedestrians, and improving transit Philadelphian’s are able to live happily with one fewer automobile.

Want to more about Auto Dependency?

Accessibility, Mobility, and Automobile Dependency

Evaluating Transportation Economic Development Impacts


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