MANAGING THE SAFE CITY TRANSITION: . . . . . Notes for a Thinking Exercise . . . . .

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The New Mobility Safe City approach to bringing sustainable transport to your city .

The Six Pillars

  1. CLIMATE: The most  dire problem threatening our society, the planet and our collective future in this mid-21st century – such that any decision, act or initiative in any sector, mobility included,  must be able to demonstrate by very specific measures how it is significantly reducing GHGs
  2. SPEED: Slow traffic strategically and significantly across target region to reduce accidents and death on the roads, and at the same time reduce emissions, improve quality of life for all..
  3. VKT: Reduce the quantum of Vehicle Kilometers Traveled (VKT) by motor vehicles in target area. (Better Choices)
  4. SPACE: Reduce the volume of space given over to moving and parked motor vehicles.
  5. TIME: Focus on preparing packages of NEAR TERM measures and policies that can demonstrate concrete measurable improvements in period 2018-2020
  6. LEADERSHIP: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

First demonstration project: Slowing the system down

The idea of slowing top speeds of traffic in the city to reduce accidents and achieve other important systemic benefits would seem like a pretty sensible, straightforward and affordable thing to do. For a lot of reasons.  Let’s have a look. * To get started you may also want to check out our Slow City 2017 Reader and Slow City: Start here.

The first goal of a Safe City Speed transition project is to demonstrate that it is possible (a) to substantially and strategically reduce and rationalize top speeds of motorized traffic in the city, in a first instance targeting to reduce  significantly the number and severity of accidents (As for example we can see in the numerous excellent Vision Zero projects that follow the original Swedish model — with the non-trivial difference is that  while VZ sets out to cut back accidents radically (“No loss of life is acceptable”), SC targets specifically to reduce speeds (and in turn to . . .) Similar certainly, but strategically not quite the same thing.  In the event there is a great deal to be learned from the numerous experiences around the world with VZ since it first entered Swedish law back in 1997)                                            

But beyond this initial goal such a Safe City program has all the advantages of an especially good idea, to the extent that it is: (a) a straightforward, non-abstract, easy-to-remember concept which can be readily understood by all. Moreover it is (b)  entirely feasible since it has been achieved with success in different cities, (c) readily achievable and (d) affordable. It also has one very strong advantages, and that is (e) that it is measurable (if you can’ measure it, you can’ manage it) and (f) the results will be immediately and palpably visible and open to public scrutiny.

There is also the considerable advantage that (g) this particular approach has a strong track record of successful on-street  experience in a substantial cross-section of real-world cities.  It is not theory.  So we and all can readily see that managing such a transition is possible and there have been numerous examples of how this can be made to work at the level of the city or the neighborhood.

While there is ample evidence showing that this can be done., one lesson that we can take from this experience is that every city has to find its own path and unique combination of related policies and tools. There is no one-size-fits-all or off-the-shelf solutions to their problems. But the tools, practices, examples and proof are there and simply waiting to be put together by engaged and prepared policymakers, scientists and civil society in a coherent policy package for their city and its neighborhoods, with deep technical support and understood and supported by the people of the city.

Once a city, its administration and its citizens sign on for such a transition project, it sounds the beginning of a new era, a major change in ways of thinking,  doing  and  behaving in the mobility sector — and in parallel with that of the way in which the city values and treats its public space.

Such a policy signals a major pattern break and opens up a whole range of new, potentially linked range of sustainable transport innovations for the city which can become part of a far more extensive program. There are numerous advantages that accrue directly as a result of strategic, sharp speed reductions, and all the more so if the program is supported by additional cost-effective innovations and measures which can be brought into the overall policy package.

Let’s consider just one example of the potential for synergies:. What happens if we link the low-speed program with a complimentary  effort which has as its target to achieve significant reductions in stop-and-start driving.  Stop-and-start is the worst way to get around in a city. It lowers overall traffic efficiency and travel times at very high cost to the city in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, pavement ware, fuel consumption, vehicle wear and tear, and driver irritability and aggressiveness. So if we can find parallel measures (and they do exist)  which help us to smooth the overall traffic flow, this will also have the advantage of reducing overall travel times and costs.

And that is just one example of the kind of synergies we can now build into a slow city program. There are many others which we and others shall be exploring in the weeks and months ahead. We haven’t even stated to talk about the role of walking, cycling, playing, wandering, shared mobility, taxis, Uber, security, equity, gender, noise, public health, obesity, respiratory infections, isolation, loneliness neighborly behaviour, shifts to electrification, parking, VKT, last kilometers, school trips, and more  . . .  but these are definitely part of the greater puzzle, challenge and opportunity.

The transition to a Safe City opens up opportunities which are not only numerous but also clearly related to the overall central thrust of the program — as opposed to the ad hoc policies currently practiced by most cities around the world. In a way the entire concept of moving over to a slower city provides a new and exciting — and above all consistent — framework for innovation and change in a way which is clear to all.

It is likewise important that the planning, decision and implementation process needs to be supported by first-class scientific analysis and in due course technical modeling and simulations in order to see where the change package is going to take the city and its people in their day-to-day lives.

Driver fields of vision at alternative speeds:

At 25 kmph

Can you see the person who is starting to cross to your right?

At 40 kph

You can still make him out at 40 kph.

At 55 kph

At 55 kph our pedestrian has slipped out of the driver’s  focus

And at 70 kph:

You can no longer make him out. If he crosses  the odds are 9 to 1 that he dies

“We are the inventors of a New World, My Sir”

To round out this first introduction, let us point you to a short film (90 seconds) recorded on the occasion of his first visit to Groningen by an old friend, Robert Stussi, an engineer and policy wonk who has worked in cities around the world on these issues for decades. The title of the video is “Homage to Hans Mondermann, himself an early hero in the Slow City revolution. (See for more.)

As you viewed the film I very much hope you were able to make out the short welcoming message from a man in the street, the affable gentleman with  his bicycle, whom we did not know but later learned is an architect living and practicing in Groningen. More than a decade later his words still ring very true. Let us repeat them here.

Hello. Welcome to Groningen?. The best town of the whole world. Because we are so far away from everything that we can be very creative and nobody cares about our creativity, because they don’t know about our creativity. 

We are the inventors of a New World, my Sir. And statistically you can prove it.

Quite right. And statistically you can prove it.

Incidentally, for those of us who may tend to see cycling is a strategy appropriate for lower income people and places, the average income Groningen is close to €50,000 per capita. Just in case you were wondering about that.

Fast and Slow / Reflections

ABOUT “SPEED” (REMINDER): (a) Speed kills.  (b)  Speed (predicating distance) eats up public space.  (c) Speed pollutes. (d) Speed is inefficient in a tight, populated urban geography. (e) Speed is by nature inequitable.  (f) Speed separates people and communities. (g) Speed increases social indifference. (h) de facto increases distances (sprawl). But speed also has deep psychic roots in mankind, which we must understand  if we are to make wise policies.

ABOUT “SLOW”:  “Slow” is more often than not treated as a negative value: a slow child (not too bright), witless, obtuse, stupid, unperceptivebovine, stolid, slow-witted, dull-witted, etc. . . . not necessarily descriptive of the qualities of a well working, many-layered 21st century mobility system

In the context explored here  however “slow” means or suggests: gentle, unhurried, calm, leisurely, long-lasting, relaxed, unrushed,  sedate, measured, peaceful, deliberate, careful, cautious, and more along those lines. (It is important to get this straight from the beginning, that is to say we explore it here as a positive human concept in a world  all too often obsessed with speed at all costs.)

What is  more important to you this morning?  That your trip is fast?  Or quick?

Leadership: Selling your good idea

How easy is it to sell to the public and all the concerned actors this idea of a more effective and beneficial speed policy for the city? The answer is: it’s a real challenge!

No ws-roadragematter what and how strong the justifications – safety, public health, amenity, equity and many other — the hard fact is that people, all of us, are change-resistant and in particular when it comes to anything that is important in our day to day lives.  And when it comes to cars, for those of us who have them at least, the resistance is visceral and often very strong. So, given this, we can be sure that there will be plenty of opposition to such a strong policy shift, and moreover that it will not go away at the first challenge.  This needs to be brought into the core of the strategic plan.

How does one deal with this? First of all, you need your well thought out plan, reinforced by strong and science-supported arguments for both costs and benefits. And then, once you have your strong technical project in hand, comes the challenge of selling it and keeping it sold to the voting (and driving) public. This requires very strong media, communications and leadership skills. (One might even say exceptional media, communications and leadership skills).  Good intentions will not  be enough.

What you have to your advantage as an agent of change is that you know that there will inevitably  be fierce resistance, — and if you have done your homework and have listened to enough people in your community, including those who object to the plan, you should be totally prepared to take into consideration, deal with and parry these objections and arguments. Not ignore them, but listen to the opponents with respect.  After all you just may learn something from them. On the contrary if your tendency is to become impatient and close  off the debate, the odds are you are going to run into some heavy traffic  later and .quite possibly not reach your desired destination.

Better Choices (This is your key.)

The final bottom line of the program is that your plan must offer the great majority of people a wide variety of  BETTER CHOICES. Nobody on this planet wants to trade down in terms of quality of life, and passively accept something that is going to leave them worse off.  So it is your job as planners and policy makers to make that crystal clear to the voters and all  involved.

So not every city, not every government is going to be able to make such a major policy, such a major idea change work, no matter how desirable it may be. And if the already hard enough first step is to develop a careful well thought out plan for moving ahead, the second and every bit as challenging is to have the foresight, tenacity and political skill to make it work. So good luck to you.

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A researcher’s toolkit to get you started

  • 25 Feb. 2016 – to be updated to safe city

To get started –  1, 2, 3.

  1. Slow City Transition: Notes for a thinking exercisee  –
  2. Organizing our thoughts on Slowth (Slow Cities)  – –
  3. A Slow City Primer from the World Resources Institute —

That should start to get you in the picture. And now to dig deeper:

Supporting media

* Slow City: Notes for a Thinking Exercise:

Slow City on World Streets:

Slow City on World Streets:

• Slow City on Facebook 

* Via World Streets on Twitter:

* Via World Streets on LinkedIn :   

*  Slow City on the Planners Bookshelf  –

And deeper: World Streets Universal search

* (1) Click HERE  and (2) pop  [“slow city”OR “slow streets’“] into open tab (With quotation marks but no brackets.  Then (3) click upper right for Sort by Date.

More useful you can use this engine to see what our top 802 sources have to offer on your topic or question. This combined search engine builds on the latest Google search engine, but greatly tightens the focus targeting selected coverage of, as of this date, 802 specialized international sources.

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About the editor:

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | | #fekbritton | | and | Contact: | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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