We often hear that transportation reform in Penang is going to require massive public investments, large construction projects, elaborate technology deployments, and above all and by their very nature are going to take a long time before yielding significant results. This is quite simply not true. This approach, common in the last century and often associated with the “American transportation model”, no longer has its place in a competitive, efficient, democratic city And we can start tomorrow, if we chose to.
To get a feel for this transformative learning reality let’s start with a quick look at a first lot of ideas for Slow Street Architecture as a major means for reducing traffic related nuisances, accident prevention and improving quality of life for all. These approaches are not just “nice ideas”. They have proven their merit and effectiveness in hundreds of cities around the world. There is no good reason that they cannot do the same in Penang. Starting tomorrow morning.
(For further background on external sources feeding this listing, see Sources and Clues section below.)
This out of control bulimic spiral begins with man’s uncontrollable tool-making itch, and from there, and utterly unknown to us at the time, to tools which take on transforming lives of their own — one of which in the domain of mobility being ever-increasing speed, which in turn leads to ever-increasing distances, and which finally and in largely unnoticed fatal tandem destroys the reality and oh-so important qualities of proximity and community. What we thought at the time was merely more convenient transportation, has snuck up on us and turned into very inconvenient and altogether unanticipated transformation — in fact one of the most intractable challenges of transport policy and practice of the 21sr century
How to break this vicious spiral? Well in cities anyway the key is clearly significant, strategic speed reduction in combination with a phased, multi-step systemic overall as needed to create a truly optimized mobility system for all. And happily we now have the technical tools (the technical virtuosity) to get the job done. We shall see this spelled out more clearly here over the course of the coming months, but before leaping ahead, let’s step back a bit in time and see what Contributing Editor Professor John Whitelegg had to say on this subject in the pages of the Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice, way back in 1993.
Upon reading the World Streets article of 25 Oct. on ‘The Psychopathology of the Everyday Driver’, Dr. Mah Hui, a city councilman in George Town Malaysia, commented:
It is very interesting and promising proposition which i can agree with substantially. But suddenly you break off when you just made the point that its more effective to design the roads to slow down vehicles. Do you have section 2 to suggest what types of designs have been used and might work?
In Penang, our council is using speed tables to slow down cars with limited success partly because it’s not well designed as I see the motorists and especially motor cyclist speeding up and crossing the speed tables at over 30 kph ! Even with better designs how do we reduce their speed over stretches without the tables?
Regards/ Mah Hui
Oops. You are so right Ma Hui. I admit I was being a bit lazy in that first blast, but as luck would have it I have given this quite a bit of attention over the years and have had a chance to observe both better (less) and worse (more) treatments in cities around the world. And while I am by no means a traffic engineer, what I can offer this morning is a quick shortlist as it comes off the top of my head and memory, and with more than a little help from US Institute of Transportation Engineers Traffic Calming Library (www.ite.org/traffic/), along with an article just in from Partners for Public Spaces by Jay Walljasper entitled “How to Restore Walking as a Way of Life”.
And now, in to the answer to your query, starting with a first lot of ideas for Slow Street Architecture:
Sometimes life is simple:
Question: How fast will car drivers speed on any given stretch of road or street?
Answer: As fast as they can.
Qualification: And if that is not true for every driver on the road, it is true for enough of them that if road safety is the goal, then this brutal, uncompromising reality must be taken into serious consideration.
Question 2: Now what if anything can we do about it?
Before your blood pressure start to go off the chart dear colleague, have a careful look at what Dr. Aaron Carroll, also known as the Incidental Economist, has to say on what may appear to be a counterintuitive approach to our favorite topic (or at least one of them) speed and safety.
A great many people apparently, to judge by the reaction to our yesterday’s World Street posting on the decision of the city of Paris to limit virtually all traffic in the city to a top speed of 30 km/hr. That article literally blew the lid off of the normal reader reaction to postings here, which commonly run in the hundreds at most in the several days immediately following publication. In this case we were deluged by more than three thousand readers who checked in from more than 50 countries to see what all this is about. Here you have a map of the showing where the last 80 of these readers came from:
The just-elected new Mayor of Paris, Madame Anne Hidalgo, has prepared a revolutionary sustainable mobility project whereby virtually all of the streets of the city will be subject to a maximum speed limit of 30 km/hr.
The only exceptions in the plan are a relatively small number of major axes into the city and along the two banks of the Seine, where the speed limit will be 50 km/hr, and the city’s hard pressed ring road (périphérique) where the top permissible speed has recently been reduced from 80 to 70 km/hr. At the other end of the slowth spectrum are a certain number of “meeting zones” (zones de rencontre) spotted around the city in which pedestrians and cyclists have priority but mix with cars which are limited to a top speed of 20 km/hr. A veritable révolution à la française.