For those of us who drive, we are well aware of how unavoidable major traffic can be. While en route to work or on a road trip, it can be a nuisance to have your estimated time of arrival continually pushed back. But can you imagine consistently attempting to travel somewhere, while living in a city with congested roadways? In Dubai, this is a daily reality. As an affluent city in the United Arab Emirates, the number of cars has grown so much that traffic is a rising issue for the country. Orthodox methods to combating the problem such as increasing prices of parking, fuel, and insurance have proved fruitless so government leaders are seeking a new strategy: putting in place an income threshold for the ownership of vehicles.

Plans for this change in policy were revealed in a recent conference by the Director-General of the Dubai Municipality. It would cause the proportionally larger portion of lower-income citizens of Dubai to take to public transportation while the richest of the Emirates would be able to easily navigate the streets in their expensive cars. Other countries have used a variety of methods to decongest traffic. Singapore has implemented inner-city tolls while in Paris, France, specific plates on cars are needed for tourists to enter the city.

Even more extreme are those cities which have eliminated the use of personal vehicles altogether. Small tourist destinations such as Sark Island in the English Channel and Mackinaw Island in Michigan use this policy to maintain historical authenticity for its visitors. In most large cities, the substantial geographic land area prevents cities from going completely car-free, but they may soon need to search for a solution.  According to IHS Automotive, the number of vehicles sold globally each year is expected to jump from 80 million to 100 million by the end of the decade, causing city leaders to push the boundaries with how they can control or ease the situation.

The income threshold policy for vehicles in the UAE is unlikely to be imitated, but the mayors of other large cities can sympathize with the high traffic levels. In 2007-2008, previous mayor Bloomberg of New York City attempted not once, but twice, to enact a policy that would charge vehicles to drive in congested areas of Manhattan. The plans were rejected by lawmakers, but proponents of the idea are encouraging his newly-elected successor, Bill de Blassio, to try again.

Another example of changing city infrastructure to better command traffic is the city of Hamburg in Germany. The city is planning to soon implement a “Grunes Netz”, or green network, which contains parks, playgrounds, sports fields, and bike paths. The aim of this project is to make 40% of the city car-free by encouraging the public to move on bicycles, by public transportation, or on foot. Additionally, the green network would aid in regulating the city’s climate due to the increased carbon absorption of these green areas.  

Even in Houston, Texas, lawmakers are interested in pushing the boundaries to see how people will respond. On April 6, the city plans to close off automotive traffic on 2.5 miles of major roadways from 11 AM - 3 PM. Although it is not a permanent policy, Mayor Annise Parker explained that “it is a way to acquaint ourselves with what is around those streets in a way we don’t normally experience it going by car.” The test will help to determine whether Houston is ready to go car-free in zones, or whether they will continue to operate in the same manner.

Opponents of the restriction of vehicle mobility are holding out hope that the invention of autonomous cars will enable an increased number of vehicles to travel more smoothly. The global product chief of Nissan even explained that autonomous vehicles would have the capability to “dramatically increase roadway throughput by allowing cars to platoon a few feet away from each other”. In order to ensure the efficiency of these vehicles, transport manufacturers would need to create a computer language so that all cars could communicate with each other. Although this may sound ideal, these vehicles are unlikely to be introduced before 2020. Until then, observing the effects of the policies implemented by various cities should help point to the best future option for those cities growing in both population and vehicles.

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