Jun 22 • 43M

Volts podcast: Kimberly Nicholas on the best ways to get cars out of cities

Lessons from Europe.

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Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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In the US, the movement to get cars out of cities is … what’s the nice word? … nascent. But in Europe, where many cities were built before cars and big-box sprawl never completely dominated, there is growing agreement that cars need to be reigned in. It’s partly about fighting climate change, but beyond that it’s about quality of life — living without air and noise pollution, using your legs to get around, and enjoying public spaces.

More and more European cities are discovering what Copenhagen found when it studied the problem in earnest: every mile traveled on a bike adds value to a city, whereas every mile traveled in a car subtracts value.

The pushback against cars in the Europe has been going on for decades now, but there has been little effort to catalogue and rank the various policies and initiatives involved. What works and what doesn’t? What should other cities prioritize?

Kimberly Nicholas
Kimberly Nicholas

Into that breach came a recent research paper in Case Studies on Transport Policy that dove into the academic literature (surveying 800 papers) to rank the top car-reducing strategies. It was co-authored by Paula Kuss (based on her master’s research) and Kimberly Nicholas of Sweden’s Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies. Nicholas later wrote a summary of the research for The Conversation that received an enormous amount of attention.

As it happens, driving cars out of cities is one of my enduring obsessions, so I eagerly accepted Nicholas’ offer to review the research, discuss the themes evident in the top-performing policies, and ponder whether such policies could ever take hold in the US. Our conversation was enlightening and heartening, despite making me want to move to Europe.