Balancing Car Accessibility and Good Urban Environment

Balancing Car Accessibility and Good Urban Environment


SVENSSON T, Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, Sweden


This paper has been produced as part of the research project "Optimal balance between access by private car and the environment in town and cities". (See-Gustavsson 1995, Gustavsson,' 2000, Grudemo and Svensson, 2000, and Svensson,-2000. All report


This paper has been produced as part of the research project "Optimal balance between access by private car and the environment in town and cities". (See-Gustavsson 1995, Gustavsson,' 2000, Grudemo and Svensson, 2000, and Svensson,-2000. All reports in Swedish, but with English written summaries). The background to the project is the increasing use of cars in towns and cities, which has been a major problem for town planners and politicians during the whole post-war period. The increasing use of private cars threatens the safety of other road users, for example pedestrians and cyclists. It is also related to a reduction in the number of people using public transport systems which, as a consequence, forces the operators to raise fares, run fewer routes, reduce frequencies and so on. There is no doubt that the increasing volume of motorised traffic has negative impacts on the environment in towns and cities. Important, but analytically difficult, values such as "beauty, comfort, and safety" are under constant pressure from the space-consuming private car in urban settings. The underlying objective for the entire research project is to investigate if the documented development in this area is in line with the public interest, or if there is an imbalance between the actual outcome and the inhabitants' preferences.

The central issue concerns the balance between the benefits to an individual of car-access and the public benefit of a good urban environment. There is no functioning market where this balance can be effectivelY settled because "urban environment" is an example of a public good that can not be purchased in desired quantities on a traditional market. Problems of non-rivalry in consumption and free riders hamper the functioning of the market as an efficient mechanism for allocating scarce resources. The isolated behaviour of an individual, or a household, has a negligible impact on the total outcome, which in turn influences the behaviour in certain directions.

An individual, or a household, may find it very attractive, to use the car frequently, due to its advantages in terms of carrying capacity and travelling speed, over walking, cycling or public transport. The private car facilitates transportation over large distances, directly monitored by the individuals own decisions concerning departure times, routes, frequencies and so on. The car facilitates, for instance, the transportation of heavy carrier bags between stores and homes.

' However, the efficiency of an individual's use of the car is dependent on other car-users decisions. The ideal situation, from the point of view of a particular household, can only be reached if everyone else chooses not to use the private car as a means of transportation. The possibility to use the car in an efficient manner, on an individual level, is threatened by increases in the total usage of cars in urban areas. Congested streets, noise and emissions also reduce the general attractiveness of inner cities and residential areas, with negative consequences for commercial activities such as stores, restaurants, bars, cafes, and for "beauty, comfort, and safety" etc. There is no mechanism a single individual can use to alter the situation in a more favourable direction, due to the absence of functioning markets. The revealed preferences, manifested in the actual car usage, can, at least in principle, result in a situation that is demanded only by a minority of the individuals. This discussion can perhaps be seen as an application of the well-known theorem "the tragedy of the commons", as far as urban traffic and local environmental consequences ai'e concerned.

In order to prevent major costs occurring due to the possibly presence of market failures, town planning and other policy measures have to work as a proxy for an ideal consumer acting on a well-functioning market. Town planning should, at least ideally, function as an institutional regulation capable of mitigating the problems associated with market failures. Therefore, it is necessary in order to foster right decisions, that the planning measures and policies are based on relevant research and knowledge The rationale for this study is to contribute new knowledge to this problematic, but nevertheless, important and interesting research field.

This can be achieved in several ways. One alternative can be labelled "social engineering" and involves identification, quantification and evaluation of different environmental factors in an expanded cost-benefit framework, where different methods can be used in the analysis, especially when evaluating.

There are, however, major obstacles to be overcome when' applying a traditional cost-benefit framework to these research questions. "An attractive inner city" is a very complex commodity with several attributes and qualities, difficult to decompose and value separately, which is necessary when performing cost-benefit calculations. Without rejecting the possibility of using traditional cost-benefit methods entirely, one must accept the severe problems associated with the approach in this particular case.

There is also the political alternative of asking people directly through a referendum, which in a sense would make the research discussed in this paper somewhat superfluous. The actual approach chosen in this project is a survey by means of questionnaires, the purpose of which is to determine the preference structure of individuals regarding different urban designs, with respect to the balance between individual car-access and the public benefits of a decrease in motor traffic.

By allowing individuals to choose between different scenarios =packages" of environmental effects and transport benefits are in focus, thereby, at least in the ideal case, bypassing the decomposition problem following the traditional cost-benefit approach. If this approach is successful it can be used as an alternative to costly referendums and the results can be interpreted in economic terms and give the same information as a traditional cost-benefit calculation. All approaches, following traditional economic theory, must in an analytical sense be founded on the same balance between costs and benefits that would have been reflected in the equilibrium conditions and solutions on an ideally functioning market.

The approach applied in the study is best suited for situations where the same individual confronts both costs and benefits as a result of different level of car access. The actual choice between different scenarios should in this'case be the outcome of individuals balancing costs against benefits. This should be the factual situation for households living in residential areas in suburbs, and when the motor traffic in the inner city is in focus. Households living in the inner city can achieve individual gains from an extensive car access but encounter costs caused by the increase in the total motor traffic volume, in the same manner as the suburban inhabitants in their residential areas. Moreover, the quality of the inner city environment concerns everyone in the actual city, including those who travel to the central business district for shopping, recreation and, of course, work purposes.

The approach adopted here is, however, not suited for analysing the problem of private car traffic in the residential areas located around the inner city. Motor traffic in this part of the city is to a large extent characterised by through traffic to and from the inner city. Therefore, it would be wrong to assume that winners and losers are the same individuals. Contingent Valuation Methods (CVM) and other approaches can be used in order to deal with the problem of evaluation in an analytical economic framework. The essential research problem to tackle is the optimal balance between ordinary traffic benefits "on the road" and environmental costs suffered by the,households in the nearby surroundings. Studies using CVM have been carried out as part of the project, but the results will not be discussed in this paper. (See Grudemo, 2000).

The challenge confronting the research methodology is to construct and describe different scenarios correctly and in such way that the individuals answering the questionnaire can absorb and understand all the information given. This is extremely important when focusing on the differences between the various alternatives and the associated trade-off between individual car- access and the public benefits of a decrease in motor traffic.


Association for European Transport