Welcome to Sunday reading- a bunch of links and media that I found interesting over the week. Please add your links in the comments section below.
There were a lot of stories last year about how big European cities are actively de-caring their centres. The trend continues with news from Paris, Madrid and Lyon (image above).
Kim Willsher, “Paris mayor unveils plan to restrict traffic and pedestrianise city centre“, The Guardian.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has unveiled plans to restrict traffic in the French capital and pedestrianise the city centre in an attempt to halve the number of private cars on the roads.
The move comes as arguments continue over the closure of roads along the Seine last summer and other traffic reduction measures introduced after dangerous spikes in pollution led to a cloud of smog over the city.
Hidalgo told the Journal du Dimanche she wanted to “divide by around half the number of polluting private cars” in Paris as part of her ongoing campaign to “reconquer the public space” for pedestrians, cyclists and other non-polluting transport, including electric cars and scooters.
Feargus O’Sullivan, “Madrid Will Ban Cars From Its Main Street“, CityLab.
The plan shows impressive, even daunting ambition. An antidote to images of European cities as quaint and crooked, Gran Vía is a blaringly busy, six-lane road smashed through the city’s heart in 1910. Appearance-wise, it’s arguably closer to New York’s Broadway than it is to the Champs Elysées, not so much an elegant refined boulevard as a loud, brash masonry canyon flanked by boxy, elaborate, neon-clad buildings from the 1920s and ‘30s. It’s currently an essential route bisecting the city center, and rerouting car traffic away from it is likely to prove an intricate task—and one that risks being highly controversial.
Luckily, Carmena already has some strong arguments on her side—not least the success of a temporary nine-day closure of the street and its surrounding area last month during a long string of national holidays. A classic objection to pedestrianizing major shopping and entertainment areas such as Gran Vía is that the move makes it harder for car-driving customers to reach businesses and thus slashes the number of shoppers.
In her interview with Cadena Ser, Carmena said major businesses along the road had told her that their year-on-year turnover increased 15 percent in the time when the road was closed. Moreover, Spain already has a successful model for this kind of car-free makeover: the city of Bilbao’s identically named Gran Vía, where sidewalks have been extended into the roadway (as you can see in this Google Street View image) to leave just two lanes for buses, taxis, and deliveries.
When car capacity is removed there is always fear of major traffic problems – carmageddon. This never materialise since motorists are sentient beings that can make alternative travel choices. Here Nicholas Kevlahan provides a solid summary of the phenomenon of disappearing traffic. “Remove it and They Will Disappear“, Raise the Hammer.
The Monde article quotes Phil Goodwin, honorary professor of transport policy at University College London, saying that traffic problems are only temporary and the results are far less severe than predicted. In fact, after studying 70 cities in 11 countries, he found that traffic is actually reduced by 11 percent on average when motor vehicle lanes are removed. In Paris, the removal of the left bank expressways increased travel times by only 2-3 minutes, much less than the seven minutes originally predicted.
What happens to the traffic? Goodwin says that drivers change their behaviour.
Some people change their route. Some switch to another mode, like transit, cycling and walking. Some reduce the number or length of trips. Some try tele-commuting or carpooling. Over the long term, some people even move to be closer to their work.
In the end, it is perhaps not surprising since this is just the flip side of the “build it and they will come” phenomenon when a freeway built to ease congestion quickly fills up.
If you make it easier and quicker to drive, more people drive. If it is not so easy to drive, fewer people will drive or they will drive less. What is surprising is that the net result of reducing lanes is most often less traffic, not gridlock.
Here’s another Main Street survey showing how customers get to the shops. This one is from Parkdale a dense city fringe neighbourhood in Toronto. It made me think of Ponsonby Road. Lloyd Alter, “Taking back the streets: Most businesses on urban streets make their money from pedestrians and cyclists“, Tree Hugger.
-72% of the visitors to the Study Area usually arrive by active transportation (by bicycle or walking). Only 4% report that driving is their usual mode of transportation.
Yet the merchants grossly overestimated the number of their customers who arrived by car. 42% of merchants estimated that more than 25% of their customers usually arrived by car. One in four say that over half of their customers do.
And when you look at who spent the money, the locals arriving on foot or bike are by far the biggest spenders. So for me the question is, are the merchants willfully blind to what is going on around them, and about who their customers are? Or is it just that the cyclists are finding them anyway, so why not just keep things the way they are? In fact, that is what over half the merchants preferred.
Here’s a fascinating video on affordable housing in Tokyo.