10. December 2012
“Before the American city could become a largely automotive city, the automobile had to win a superior right to most of the street’s surface. Unless it succeed in this claim, in crowded towns those motorists who were unwilling to run down pedestrians would be forced to a virtual stand-still. Yet before 1920 American pedestrians crossed streets wherever they wished, walked in them, and let their children play in them.”—Peter D. Norton, Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, The MIT Press, 2008.
One of the things that most of us probably don’t think about is the fact that during the early 20th century in the U.S., automobiles were not fait accompli. Streets were not for cars. They were for people and other forms of non-necessarily engine-driven transportation.
The infrastructure had to change. So organizations, including vehicle manufacturers, had to work to accomplish that.
A Twizy in the Twizy Way store (no, we don’t understand the lighting, either)
Which is certainly the case now that more and more people—and vehicle manufacturers—are beginning to think about “mobility,” with that term encompassing more than personal cars and light trucks. Far more.
On the one hand, there is the technological issue related to coming up with things like batteries that can be charged quickly and that can provide range. With vehicle structures that are significantly lighter and yet safer. And with different means of getting from point A to point B, especially when those two points are not necessarily on a fixed route.
On the other hand, there is the issue of rethinking the physical patterns upon which vehicles drive. One of the ways this is being manifest is through the growth of planned communities, not just those gated compounds in places like Palm Springs, but entire urban areas that have been pre-thought and deliberately organized.
Case in point: Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, a community southwest of Paris. It is called a “Communauté d’ agglomeration” in French. It is a 10-square-mile area where 150,000 people live and 107,000 people work.
Renault has opened one of its “Twizy Way” stores in the train station of the agglomeration. Which is essentially a carsharing service predicated on the Renault Twizy EV. This is an Internet-based system that allows people to order vehicles via their smartphones. They can drop the cars off wherever, within a prescribed area.
Speaking of the transportation infrastructure, including the Twizy Way, Robert Cadalbert, president of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, said, “In transport you have to use all the options open to you. Having an electric carsharing fleet helps us fight not just against pollution but also against the space-invasive nature of the car. This original service reasserts Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines’ innovative approach to sustainable mobility.”
The point is: automotive companies are going to have to become as engaged in community development activities today as their forerunners were 100 years ago.