Worldwatch Institute

City Limits: Putting the Brakes on Sprawl


Today, every world region suffers from sprawling, car-choked urban areas. Accidents and pollution-related illness take lives, while traffic delays sap human productivity and waste fuel. Part of the reason that Americans now guzzle 43 percent of the world’s gasoline is to wheel around expansive metropolises. Transportation, spurred by road traffic, is now the fastest-growing contributor to climate change.

Decades ago, Copenhagen, Denmark; Portland, Oregon; and Curitiba, Brazil, made tough choices to give precedence to pedestrians and cyclists, steer new construction to locations easily reached by a variety of transportation means, and reserve green space for nature and people. Today, their economies are thriving, and their children are enjoying safer streets and cleaner air. These stories show other places how they could gain by revamping government agencies and policies to link transportation and land use decisions and remove incentives to sprawl.

In this Worldwatch Paper, author Molly Sheehan reports that citizens and local leaders around the world are using the political process to demand attractive public spaces and better transportation choices. “We realize that … traffic is a major problem,” says Patricio Lanfranco, who is involved in an effort to take back the streets of Santiago de Chile from private cars. “But it has a bigger context: What kind of city do we want? What kind of quality of life do we want?”

Authors / Editors:
Print ISSN:
Jun. 2001

How Motor Vehicles Take Over Cities
The Costs of Sprawl
Three Cities that Chose Livability Over Sprawl
Linking Transportation and Land Use Policies
Erasing the Incentives to Sprawl
Restructuring Government Institutions
Creating Constituencies for Change
Table 1: Total Population and Share That is Urban, by World Region, 2000 and 2030
Table 2: Indicators of Automobile Dependence in Selected Cities
Table 3: Commute to Work in Selected Cities, Early 1990s
Table 4: Number of Cities with Rail Systems in Operation, by World Region, 2000
Table 5: Changes in Portland and Atlanta Regions from mid-1980s to mid-1990s
Table 6: Gasoline Prices, Selected Countries, Fall 2000
Table 7: Automotive Sector Ranking in Advertising Spending, United States and World, 1998
Figure 1: The Bus System in Curitiba Brazil
Figure 2: Automobile Operating Costs, United States, 1985

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