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No Road Room

Car Culture in Russia Shifts Into High Gear

While many Russians consider a car a blessing, it may turn into a curse. The rise in car ownership is taxing the country's already crumbling highway system.

"Cities weren't intended for this number of cars," says Alexander Lubovsky, a university administrator and a pedestrian by choice.

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City planning during the Soviet construction boom of the 1960s and '70s didn't take into account personal car ownership. As a result, little provision was made for construction of garages and parking spaces. "They assumed most transport would be public," Mr. Lubovsky notes.

Historically, Russia's roads and transportation infrastructure were designed to prevent internal movement by large groups of people and to keep invaders from moving deep into the country. Even the width of railroad tracks is different from the rest of Europe.

By contrast, the federally funded American interstate highway system was built in the 1950s and '60s to allow easy coast-to-coast travel by road, ostensibly for military purposes.

Since World War II, some money in Russia has been committed to street building and repair. Russians "now understand the commercial value of having good roads," says Tim Tarrant, director of the American Business Center in Nizhni Novgorod.

The need for parking is as pressing here as in other cities. Concerned about theft, most drivers lock their cars away after dark in tiny steel shacks barely bigger than the vehicles they house.

An alternative is to pay about $2 a night for a gated outdoor parking lot rimmed with barbed wired and watched over by armed guards.

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