By: Muna Agwa

Vehicle carbon emissions are hitting an all time high in this country despite the pandemic halting things. The EPA has estimated that the average passenger car emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide in a year alone. The transportation sector is notorious for being the biggest contributor to American greenhouse gas emissions, taking up a whopping 29% of the emissions pie graph. And although the advent of electric vehicles is marketed as a viable solution, creating walkable and bikeable cities would be the real triumph. Car dependency is an ever growing issue for many suburban Americans who commute to work, school, and events in their greater city.

As more people than ever become car-owners, cities have become less walkable, favoring the vehicle over the pedestrian. A striking 91% of households across America have access to a vehicle, revealing a somewhat American obsession with our cars. They were a symbol of independence and being the captain of one’s ship. But suburbs are now separated from cities by a long series of highways, increasing people’s dependence on cars for daily transport. The average amount of time spent in a car has trended up to roughly 100 minutes per day. Riding in a car is a small but luxurious experience, and it’s the favored option of many. But in favoring cars, the pedestrian population seems all but forgotten by city designers.

If car emissions in urban areas are going to be addressed, city design must create favorable conditions for pedestrians, so that there is less incentive to use a vehicle. This means that sidewalks need to be broad, well-kept pathways that seamlessly connect from one area to another. Sidewalks should not be spliced up by several crossings and tracks to ensure pedestrian safety. Walkability also relies on having a variety of businesses and activities in one place for increased convenience. Adding scenery to the route will improve the walker-experience and actually help convey a city’s exploratory nature. 

Walkable cities might feel unattainable in a vehicle-dominant society, but if we work to change the poor design that plays a role in our car dependency, then all these edits could pave the way for a more sustainable, connected city.