Monday, 16 June 2008

car dependence

I'm writing this from Houston, Texas. I've only been here for two days so far, but first impressions are that the land is flat, the weather is hot - and the city is highly dependent on the car. There is very little public transport outside the city centre, the suburbs are well spread out, and getting anywhere from where we are staying in the suburbs requires a car. You see few pedestrians in the suburbs.

I don't travel overseas all that much, but last year I spent a week in the east end of London, where the population density is high, there were crowds of pedestrians, public transport has its problems but can get you anywhere pretty quickly, and there is a tax to deter cars from entering the inner city.

So I thought I'd check out how London and Houston compare to Sydney in term of car usage and population density. The classic graph for this is shown by Wikipedia:

I was pleased to see that all three cities appeared on the graph, and my observations confirmed. Houston has the lowest population density of the cities shown and by far the highest petrol consumption. It is an oil city, but you can't help feeling it will suffer the most when the oil prices rise even higher, and eventually the oil runs out. Reduced private transport will be inconvenient in London, but will make life very difficult in Sydney and almost impossible in Houston.

We need to be planning cities differently, I reckon.

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