Toward a new paradigm for transport in cities: Let’s see what Carlos Pardo has to say

The Stuttgart conference of Cities for Mobility this year represented an important step forward in the construction of a well-defined agenda for new mobility that up until the present time has been sadly lacking. But what we have managed to develop over the last two decades is a certain number of basic principles spanning many different areas and kinds of operational situations, but somehow until now we have failed to put them all together into a well-defined, convincing operational and policy package. We think of this as the move toward a new paradigm for transport in cities – and it all starts with . . . slowing down.

A number of the colleagues made presentations in the context of the chosen theme during our two days together in Stuttgart, namely the concept of “social space”. And in the process they have helped us to understand that what we have defined as social space is something that is quite different from either the public or private space views of the city which are the usual optic. Through their presentations they have instructed, at least this observer, that this quite different way of looking at transport and space in the city can lead us to some important advancements in our own perceptions and understanding.

Today I would like to extract and comment on some of the graphics and thoughts that were developed by our colleague Carlos Felipe Pardo in his presentation to the congress which he entitled “The psychology of urban mobility”. I have extracted from his presentation three sets of images which I would now like to present you and comment briefly. (For the full presentation please click here.)

Diagram 1: Speed, impacts and the probability of death

Most of us here have seen this curve in various forms in our work, but no matter how familiar it may be its terrible message is one that all too often seems to be forgotten when it is time for cities and policy makers to figure out how they want to organize their day-to-day mobility systems.

If ever there were a clear, consistent, incontestable argument for our recommended policy for lowering traffic speeds in our cities within a consistent pattern, this diagram sums it all up. It illustrates why each of these three thresholds of 21st century thought-out city speed — namely, 15/30/50 km/h — need to be respected and put into the heart of transport policy and enforcement in every city on the planet.

What can I say? You either get the message or you do not. So for this diagram we can stop right here.

Diagram 2: Perceptions and speed

This one is in four parts which taken together point up Carlos’s central theme in his presentation, namely “it is all about how you perceive things”.

In this drawing what you see is the field of vision of a driver when he motors down that street at twenty-five km/h — basically he has a full view all of the people walking on the sidewalks. That is good.

But now what happens to his field of vision when he speeds up. have a look at how it narrows considerably and, if you think about it, dangerously as his speed increases.

Oops. And what happens when he steps on the accelerator and just adds five km/h to his previous speed?

Hmm. And only ten km/h more? (It all seems so reasonable. Only 10.)

Clearly a recipe for disaster.

Moreover it we bear in mind that this is in many ways a best case situation — that is one in which the sidewalks are clearly delineated and there may be a difference of coloration or surface which will somehow catch the drivers. And in addition to this there is the slight elevation that such sidewalks provide, every one of these people who are now well outside of our drivers field of vision are potential victims.

Were we in a situation in which the sidewalks were not there or somehow configured so that people must step into the traffic lane, we have here all the makings of an even greater and more likely tragedy.

Is Carlos getting through to you on this? Or should we just wait for a coffee break and then think about something less disagreeable?

One-minute movie

Against this background let’s have another look at that very short clip about . . . “a bare five miles per hour over the speed limit on a city street, and . . .+

And in closing, a thought from Donald Appleyard.

It is a terrible irony that this wonderful far-sighted man — right up there with Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs when it came to seeing clearly what very very few people were even able to perceive at the time — was killed by a car on a street. Life can be so unfair.

But in this last and very famous sketch, he shows us that, in fact, we the people are not stupid and that we do indeed modify their day-to-day behavior when confronted with new realities. (Though this does not mean that we like it.)

This famous sketch shows what happens when the public authorities permit speed increases on a street that he observed and counted in person. Light traffic: Leads to a daily life situation where you know and have contact with lots of people in your neighborhood. Heavy traffic: and not only do you no longer cross the street for a visit, but you rarely even go to visit someone living on your own side of the street. The increase in speed has destroyed neighborliness and human contact. It’s that simple.

Conclusion:

Thanks so much Carlos. Your excellent eye-opening presentation underlines and points up once again why we need to lower speed limits on our streets, and to my mind points up once again the validity of our 15/30/50 kph (or 10/20/30 mph) proposal for enhancing quality of life, safety, health and well-being in our cities.

It’s our choice, you know. All we have to do is take it!

- Eric Britton. World Streets. 12 July 2011

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Cities for Mobility presentation by:

Carlos Felipe Pardo is a psychologist interested in transport. Mainly, any strategy that reduces the dependence to car use and improves access of all population to affordable transport modes.  He has worked in urban transport issues in Asia and Latin America since 2002 in work that has involved organizational, advocacy and policy-related activities. He is Director of Slow Research, served as Country Director for the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) in Colombia and previously worked with a foundation in Bogotá as mobility coordinator and coordinated the GTZ Sustainable Urban Transport Project in Asia and Latin America. He can be reached at carlosfpardo @ gmail.com

# # #

Eric Britton, editor

Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is MD of EcoPlan International, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. His work focuses on the target of equity, economy and efficiency in city transport, and helping governments to ask the right questions and from this starting point to find and implement practical solutions to climate, mobility, public space and job creation challenges. He is currently working on a book for publication in early 2015, “The General Theory of Sustainable Transport in Cities” which is being presented, discussed and critiqued in a series of international conferences over 2014.

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5 thoughts on “Toward a new paradigm for transport in cities: Let’s see what Carlos Pardo has to say

  1. Speed is indeed the “elephant in the room.”
    Thanks, Eric for spreading these excellent graphics around. I plan to use for my “sustainable transportation” lecture.

    Speed is much of the ‘benefit’ purchasers of cars are seeking. Reducing limits is seen as taking away a right, one that the driver has pre-paid for (and won’t get a refund), but is central to making the small-footprint modes more ubiquitous. As speed increases, the driver see less of the rest of the street’s ambience, too, making distance just an obstacle to reaching his destinations, rather than a place of interest, which is what those on foot (and less so, on bicycles) treat it.

    Ottawa here just opened its first “protected” bike lane, to lessen cyclists’ feelings of vulnerability vis-a-vis drivers. Seven blocks cost $1.3 million. But reducing the speed of motorized traffic to the average speed of cycling — about 20 kph — would do even more for just the cost of replacing speed-limit signs.

    Reply
  2. Meanwhile a smart, though tough decision, taken by the spanish socialists, of reducing the speed in highways to 110 km/ph, in order to reduce petrol costs, has been rejected by most of social statements and political parties. As a result of it the government has decided to revoque it and, we have 120 km/ph back.

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  3. Thanks for that informative piece Eric

    Here in Galway, Ireland there is some strong resistance to the proposed infrastructural altering of very oversized roundabouts, which simply encourages increased traffic speed often in built up residential areas, to traffic light junctions which are more cyclist and pedestrian friendly. The objections remain fundamentally ‘the council have no right to slow down or stop vehicles’. I will be gladly promoting your message as a bit of common sense in opposition to any diminution of the proposed changes, thanks.

    Smart Moves, Galway (http://smartermovement.org)

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  4. Very impressive…This item clearly shows how social space is degraded when auto speed takes precedence over people.
    In America–even in a “walking” city such as New York–the pedestrian is in real danger. In LA, they seek protection in their own cars.

    I live on an island in winter where over 20 miles of bike paths are bisected by in/out driveways to commercial and residential spaces and accidents and near-misses are frequent (mainly because vacationers are rushing, trying to maximize vaca time and $$$). You are doing great work. I bike 10 miles a day–very defensively!

    Stefanos Skopros
    Sanibel, FL

    Reply
  5. Reblogged this on salvolomas and commented:
    No podemos aceptar una sola muerte de peatones y ciclista por colisión de automotores. La manera más sencilla, económica y eficaz de lograr el objetivo de “VisionCero” ( cero muertes x atropellamiento) es disminuyendo la velocidad máxima en las ciudades. Este artículo explica las razones físicas por las cuales debemos adoptar la política de zonas 30 en la ciudad.

    Reply

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