Conference highlights the problems with car dependence


Traffic and congestion are major problems that face any large city in the world, and Prague is no exception. The city centre was built centuries before the car was invented and the suburbs were designed by communist planners at a time when cars were less numerous. Today, the city is having trouble coping and things are not getting any better.

"The Czech Republic is undergoing a transition to car dependence from a more sustainable, a more green and healthy transport system. Many of the speakers have experienced world wide with cities that are trying to overcome car dependence and move away from the failed US model."

That was Randy Ghent who is the co-director of Car Busters, a Prague based non-profit organization which focuses on building and maintaining the international car-free movement. The organization is currently holding a conference in Prague entitled 'Towards Car-Free Cities III' bringing together a number of experts from the world over to discuss and promote alternatives to car dependence and car culture.

Increasing traffic and congestion problems were highlighted by a recent survey conducted by Mercer Human Resources Consulting. The survey ranked Prague 73rd out of 216 cities in the world. Air pollution and traffic congestion were cited as the main problems facing the city.

John Whitelegg is a professor at John Moore's University in Liverpool, England who is an international expert in transport and the environment. I caught up with him at the conference and first asked him why he had come to Prague.

"Because it's an opportunity to bring into a country that's about to join the European Union, which is about to take off into much higher levels of traffic growth it's an opportunity to make it very clear that all the experiences we have in other place is very negative. And in Prague and the Czech Republic there is a really good chance to get it right, where the rest of us got it wrong. So I am hoping to discuss that subject very closely."

Mr. Whitlegg highlighted the fact that in accession countries the European Union encourages the construction of more highways and roads but is not so keen on putting money into really good public transport.

"I know Prague a little bit and I think, in my own opinion, that it has a really good public transport system. I think that's in danger because of privatization, and fragmentation. That's what has happened in other countries, you lose. So you already have a good system and I think you're in danger of losing it. So I want to point out those dangers and to say that there is now at least a good chance of avoiding a decline in public transport, avoiding a decline in walking, avoiding this huge increase of cars and trucks. Because I think if the Czech Republic just follows the model of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain then you will have three or four times as many cars, eight or nine times as many trucks, pollution, noise, a loss of country side, your children will have asthma and respiratory disease, and there will be a lot more deaths from traffic accidents and I don't that's a good deal. So I would really like the Czech Republic to avoid that."