Each year our friends over at STREETSblog in New York City publish a heart-rending testimonial to the mayhem that automobiles have wrought over the year on their city’s streets and the cost in terms of lives lost by innocent pedestrians and cyclists. Putting names, faces and human tragedy to what otherwise takes the form of dry numbers, faceless hence quickly forgettable statistics is an important task. We can only encourage responsible citizens and activists in every city on the planet to do the same thing, holding those public officials (and let’s not forget, we call them “public servants”, and for excellent reason) responsible for what goes on under their direct control. Continue reading
After considerable and at times quite contentious discussions over the last months with colleagues around the world through various discussion fora, social media, programs, conferences and personal visits, we have decided to make one of the principal themes of our work here at World Streets for the coming year that of Safe Streets.
Oops. I have been asked to open the plenary on “Urban mobility: Achieving social efficiency” at next week’s Smart Cities conference in Barcelona (full details on which available here , and one of the central themes of the talk is the high importance of taking a strategic approach to slowing down and smoothing traffic in cities. As part of my due diligence I decided to check out the Zone 30 and Twenty is Plenty entries in Wikipedia. Where I found to my disappointment: (a) that there was no entry on Zone 30 in English (and if in French, German, Italian and Dutch, not (yet) in Portuguese, Spanish, etc.) and (b) nothing at all on the important Twenty Is Plenty program out of the UK. Continue reading
It is the consistent position of this journal that much of what is wrong with our current transportation arrangements in cities could be greatly alleviated if we can find ways just to slow down. It is very powerful — and it’s just not that hard to do. Get comfortable and have a look. Continue reading
Dear Porto Alegre and Brazilian Friends,
With all due respect, I propose that you give some thought to organizing to get strong citizen and multi-party support to exact “appropriate compensation” for Friday’s horrible, dumb and indeed tragic event on the streets of your beautiful city. I would imagine that this is a one-time, not to be repeated opportunity to get something very important and far-sighted out of a shaken city administration. Timing is everything in cases like this. You should thus be able to exact what you need today far better than just one week ago. Or a month or more from now once the heat has dissipated. So go for it!
Porto Alegre Brazil. 25 February 2011. At least forty people were injured when a mad driver slammed his car into a pack of more than 100 cyclists in the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil. The cyclists, mainly young people, were staging a peaceful demonstration calling for a reduction in the number of cars on the streets. The 47-year-old male driver fled the scene of the incident Friday evening and was later arrested after authorities found his abandoned car over the weekend.
Each year our friends over at Streetsblog in New York City publish a heart-rending testimonial to the mayhem that automobiles have wrought over the year on their city’s streets and the cost in terms of lives lost by innocent pedestrians and cyclists. Putting names, faces and human tragedy to what otherwise takes the form of dry numbers, faceless hence quickly forgettable statistics is an important task. We can only encourage responsible citizens and activists in every city on the planet to do the same thing, holding those public officials (and let’s not forget, we call them “public servants” and for excellent reason) responsible for what goes on under their direct control. Continue reading
Viral: Our piece on this of 25 March (click here) got picked up by Tree Hugger’s reporter April Streeter and is getting an interesting range of comments, positive and negative, over there. Click here to check out their article and its comments. Thanks April. Thanks Treehugger. Thanks virus.The Editor.
by April Streeter, Gothenburg, Sweden on 04. 3.09
Photo Julia Fullerton-Batton via Foxtongue @ flickr.
There is a highway code – a set of expected rules, best practices, and behaviors when manipulating your vehicle on those long ribbons of public road. There isn’t, as of yet, much of a corresponding city street code – a set of guidelines that help walkers, bikers, scooter, truck, and car drivers – maneuver the streets of a city in a safe and (as important) polite way. New mobility consultant and WorldStreets editor Eric Britton is proposing the street code start with a fairly simple rule.
The biggest vehicle bears the burden of responsibility, and in the case of an accident, also the burden of proving innocence. If streets are for cars, as Britton says, than there isn’t much need for this type of street code.
But if streets are multiple use vias (and in the U.K. 12 towns are adopting the ‘shared space concept’ to improve quality of life) where cars are just one player, Britton says:
“The idea is…legal responsibility for any accident on street, sidewalk or public space, is automatically assigned to the heavier faster vehicle. This means the driver that hits the cyclist has to prove his innocence.”
The idea of a street code is not entirely new, but is starting to gain a little more traction as city planners think about designing streets on more of a shared use model.
Lest you think this seems utopian and far-fetched, in Belgium the insurance company automatically pays damages in collisions between cyclists or pedestrians and motor vehicles, no matter who’s at fault, according to a document on street codes on Livable Streets. Via: World StreetsNote: Graphic adapted by John Brooks via Livable Streets.
The Highway Code: a collection of laws, advice and best practice for all road users, which mainly functions as a written basis for learning to drive as well as stipulating the letter of the law (licensing, required safety equipment, default rules, etc.) In Europe this happens at a national level, with room in some places for stricter local ordinances. In the US mainly a state prerogative. In all cases the code itself is the creature of the automotive age and is primarily concerned with defining the role and characteristics of motor vehicle driver and owner behavior.
Many European cities are of late starting to advance on the idea of establishing a far tougher “street codes”, specifically adapted to the special and more demanding conditions of driving in city traffic. This is becoming especially important as we start to see a much greater mix of vehicles, speeds and people on the street. If streets are for cars, well this is probably not a priority. But if they are “public spaces” and open to the full range of uses and users, then perhaps something along these lines is called for.
The idea is works is that legal responsibility for any accident on street, sidewalk or public space, is automatically assigned to the heavier faster vehicle. This means that the driver who hits a cyclist has to prove his innocence, as opposed to today where the cyclist must prove the driver’s guilt (not always very easy to do).
This is not quite as good as John Adams’ magnificent 1995 formulation whereby every steering wheel of every car , truck and bus would be equipped with a large sharp nail aimed directly at the driver’s heart– but it can at least help getting things moving in the right direction.
We propose to make this a major campaign theme of World Streets in 2009 and invite our readers to submit their reports, ideas and comments over the course of the months ahead.
If you look over toward the top of the left menu here, you will see that we have opened up a reader poll in an attempt to get your views as well. We also invite comment here on the results.
Livable Streets discussions of Street Code
What is Street Code? (Thanks for use of your graphic)
Code de la rue – Belgium (Use Translate here as needed)
Code de la rue – France
Code de la rue – Wikipedia
Your suggestion that, in the case of a collision in a public street, regardless of fault, the larger, faster party bear the responsibility for redress. This is close to my proposal that the party in the larger vehicle (who usually doesn’t get injured) lose their privilege to drive for as long as the smaller (usually also slower) party takes to recover and to resume the mode of travel they were using at the time of the collision.
Your proposal could be a little even-handed if the fault principle (based on the Highway Traffic Act) would apply to that portion of the outcome that _would_ have entailed had the two parties been the same size and moving at the same speed as the more benign party, while the rest of the outcome fall at the feet (as it were) of the larger, faster party, regardless of fault.
BTW, the other posting on the new SeeFlickFix.com site is very important. I used it for a missing set of stairs in a small park near my home a few minutes ago, and it took my material, including a photo, quite well. However, I had to reply to my own post, to correct the software that would not let me reposition the icon to a more accurate location. I also posted a second photo, getting it properly turned upwards (mea culpa).
I see this as the way to create stewardship over public places, and to remove from cities the right of controling the records of complaints (“Oh, you’re the first person to complain.”)
The following posting was drafted yesterday in response to a discussion on www.LivableStreets.com looking at different approaches to providing cycle paths and other forms of street architecture modifications, major and minor, to protect the cyclist. The discussants were partially looking at this in the context of New York’s ongoing vigorous efforts to develop a major cycling program after many years of neglect.
- Eric Britton, Editor, World Streets
Lessons learned in Europe
International experience at the leading edge, mainly in European cities that are doing the job, put some interesting lessons on the table.
For starters, let’s make sure that we do not allow ourselves to get too comfortable too fast. By that I mean I am not at all sure that the best approach to safe cycling is to start by shopping around for the most attractive cycle path designs to be put in your city’s streets here or there. I can understand the temptation but we have here a systemic problem which requires more than occasional attractive street architecture.
Safe cycling is based on the existence of networks which provide a safe travel environment over the areas and routes most taken by cyclists. By which I mean to say that a lovely cycle facility here and there does not by itself promote safe cycling (in fact conceivably it can make cycling even more dangerous). What is needed from the beginning is without letting up to drive toward that basic network. To accomplish this, it means targeting a solution set that is pretty pervasive, far more so than most plans today even dare aim for.
What do you do when what you need to do definitely outstrips the resources, approaches and plans that are traditionally available to you? The only way to do this is to change the rules. That happens in five main parts.
1. Speed reductions: (“Don ‘t leave home without them.”)
The first pillar of new mobility policy is to slow down the traffic on EVERY street in the city. I do not say this lightly and I understand the extent to which this runs against long-standing practices and what people regard as their fair interest. But there is no longer any mystery about this at the leading edge. I do not imagine that there is a competent (note the word) traffic planner today who will argue for top speeds in excess of 30 mph in the city. 30 mph is terrific, and though too fast for safe cycling is something which we can reasonably target for the Main Avenue’s and thoroughfares. For the rest a policy of 10/20/30 is feasible, fair and do-able. Once you get over the shock.
2. Reclaim street space:
The second prong of the strategy is that the creation of a safe network requires taking over at least portions of a quite large number of streets in the city. This is accomplished in two ways, the first being the alteration of the street architecture, taking over lanes for fully protected cycling. The most popular, parking lane out/bike lane in, often works very nicely when the cycle lanes work against the flow of traffic. The second prong of street reclaiming is the hard edge of speed reductions. In these cases top speeds on the side streets drop to something like 10 to 15 mph, with 10 leading better than 15. Again for most cross-town traffic in Manhattan this should not be a problem.
3. “Occuper le terrain“: (French for safety in numbers. )
You are seeing that in New York already, though I have to guess you are not yet at the tipping point on that. But the more people you get out on the street on their bicycles every day, the more that everybody involved moves up a couple of notches day after day in the learning process. The cyclists learn how to behave better to protect themselves in traffic, drivers get accustomed to looking out for those small wavering frail figures, the police learn how to play their part in this learning process, and the system they have today learns and adapts.
4. “Street code”:
The Highway Code, a collection of laws, advice and best practice for all road users, which mainly functions as a written basis for learning to drive as well as stipulating the letter of the law (licensing, required safety equipment, default rules, etc.) In Europe this happens at a national level, with room in some places for stricter local ordinances. In the US mainly a state prerogative.
I understand that you are looking into this for New York. Many European cities are advancing on the idea of establishing a far tougher “street codes” specifically adapted to the special and more demanding conditions of driving in city traffic. This is becoming especially important as we start to see a much greater mix of vehicles, speeds and people on the street. The idea is works is that culpability for any accident on street, sidewalk or public space, is automatically assigned to the heavier faster vehicle. This means that the driver who hits a cyclist has to prove his innocence, as opposed to today where the cyclist must prove the driver’s guilt (not always very easy to do). This is not quite as good as John Adams’ magnificent 1995 formulation whereby every steering wheel of every car , truck and bus would be equipped with a large sharp nail aimed directly at the driver’s heart– but it can at least help getting things moving in the right direction.
5. It’s a Learning System:
Once you start to break the ice to the point where provision of cycling facilities even starts to be an issue, it is probably best to think of the city and the street network as a learning system. And learning of course takes place over time, and if you are lucky leads to a continuous stream of adjustments as you go along. There may be a bit of comfort in that, if you are patient enough, because what it definitely means is that any cycling improvements you can conceivably come up with today has to be thought of not as a solution but as the start of the path. This is very definitely process oriented planning.
* * *
So we really do know what to do, and we do know that it requires a combination of foresight, originality, guile and pragmatic planning from the beginning. Fortunately there is plenty of international experience which backs this up.
Paris is an example of one that I live with and cycle in every day over a decades-long period of steady adaptation and change. It is definitely not Copenhagen or Amsterdam. It is work in progress. Only a few years ago Paris was a city that was planning almost exclusively for cars and yet over the past decade has gradually began to build up a network for safe cycling. Perhaps not so much safe as safer, and the role of the planners here is to use the full cookbook of approaches in a dynamic organic manner so that each day things get a little bit better. Because all this has become part of the culture, the mainstream culture, it is no longer a big deal and so do the good works are able to go on every day.
Of course if cycling is your game it would be great to be able to import whole hog those terrific physical infrastructures that are found in Dutch and Danish cities. But this takes decades and I do not see it happening overnight in most US cities, New York among them. What is interesting about the Paris example, and we are certainly not the only one, is the manner in which safe cycling infrastructure is being built up step by step and day by day. We are not yet at the point at which we can feel comfortable with Gil Penalosa’s “8 to 80 rule”, remember, where cycling is safe for your eight-year-old daughter and your eighty-year-old grandfather. But give us a time and we will get there – and I hope you will too.