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How many lanes do cars need to carry 50 thousand people to their workplace?

March 7, 2011

The public space of a city is a scarce resource and a valuable commodity. We need to make the best use of it, and public transport serves this purpose compared to cars, which consume so much capacity area in terms of roads and parking space. I do not see much disagreement among observers on which mode of transportation is most air polluting when moving people around. However, it is not the first thing that comes to my mind how much more space cars need as they spend most of their time sitting idle in a parking lot, an estimate suggests 95%, occupying space citizens would rather see employed for alternative uses. But remarkably few of us can visualize how much more space cars require to move people from home to their offices and back. The International Association of Public Transport, a network of public transport authorities, provides a way to visualize this.

To carry 50 thousand people in an hour, in one direction, requires a 175mt wide road dedicated only to cars, that is, a 46-lane highway in one direction. Got the picture? If the road were only half that wide, those 50,000 people would take two hours. Fortunately, there are more efficient ways to carry the same number of people. If those people traveled by bus or street car they would need a road fourth fifth smaller, or a road of only 9 lanes, saving 37 lanes compared to a 46-lane highway full of cars. By metro or train, the saving is even bigger: only two lanes suffices.

How people travel from home to their work has a tremendous impact on city congestion and the use of urban space. Despite a trip in a car from home to work consumes much more urban space than the same trip made by metro or bus, car drivers get subsidies to drive their cars through free road infrastructures and free parking, most of the time and almost everywhere.

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