EARNING A PUBLIC SPACE DIVIDEND IN THE STREETS
– Paul Barter, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, University of Singapore
Abstract: Experiments with shared space or “naked streets” have captured imaginations and considerable media coverage in recent years. Most of the excitement stems from surprise that streets without kerbs, road markings or signage can work well and achieve “safety through uncertainty”. This paper looks at another equally important insight from shared space.
It focuses on a series of innovations that, like shared space, re-arrange the roles of streets in new ways to yield a “dividend” of expanded urban public realm, with little or no loss of transport utility. Such a space dividend should be especially welcome in dense cities that are both congested and short of public space.
What are streets and roadways for? An obvious answer is traffic movement. But that is clearly not the whole story. A second role is to allow the reaching of final destinations— the role we call “access”. Thirdly, streets can be valuable public places in their own right. In addition, moving high-speed motor vehicles differ enormously from movement by low-speed, vulnerable modes such as bicycles. Unfortunately, speedy motor traffic movement and the other roles of streets are in serious conflict. For almost a century, the tension between these roles has been at the heart of debate over street design (Hass-Klau 1990; Jacobs et al. 2002). This article reviews emerging resolutions to this tension.
The Battle for Street Space
Vélib’ station in Paris in happier days – 2008
Vélib’ was for ten years an exemplary large-scale public bicycle sharing system in Paris, France. Launched on 15 July 2007, the system encompassed around 14,500 bicycles and 1,230 bicycle stations, conveniently located across Paris and in some surrounding municipalities, with an average daily ridership topping 100,000 in 2017. (Ridership, other key data to be updated.) The name Vélib’ is a portmanteau of the French words vélo (English: “bicycle”) and liberté (“freedom”).
After ten years of sensational performance offering handy and almost free bikes to hundreds of thousands of satisfied Parisians and visitors every day, the project suddenly went terribly wrong as it was preparing to go into a new phase, and has in the last months crashed out of existence. As a result Paris and the world are poorer places
Why did this happen? What are the losses? Were they inevitable? And what are the lessons to be learned? Yes of course in Paris for the future of shared bikes there, but also in towns and cities around the world who might wish to learn these lessons for their own shared bicycle initiatives.
We here at World Streets, who have been following and riding Vélib’s (and Vélo’v’s) literally every day since opening day in Paris on 15 July 2007, have decided to have a look-in on this unexpected story — and in the coming months see what happens if we can share our observations and findings with our international readers and others who may care to drop in here to see if they can find useful information and views on this strange and most unexpected turn of events. Let’s get started.
There are few things as fascinating as seeing what people in the past have dreamed about the future.
While the lively imaginations of a fair slice of Penang’s politicians, engineers, publicists, developers, lobbies, accountants and salivating eventual suppliers and partners are dreaming up images of a future fifty long years from today, 2066 to be exact according to the latest unvetted SRS proposals, it is perhaps a good moment to consider past failures to conjure up meaningful image of how things are going to look such a long time into the future.
In support of project underway of United Nations University’s Global Health Institute
- COHABIT – Design with nature. Human and ecosystem health stand centre stage in good place design. If it is good for our small planet, we are well on the way to healthy and sustainable places, and sustainable lives. Sustainability and sharing is a defining context! It changes everything.
- SENSES – Humans like all animals are intimately connected to place through our senses – hearing, touch, smell, taste and sight. And a sense of compassion. Beautiful, vibrant and culturally distinct places ignite the senses, bringing a feeling of wellbeing, security, creativity and generosity of spirit.
- COMPLEXITY – Natural, economic and cultural diversity make for complex but equally interesting and resilient places. So forget everything you think you know. Welcome chaos and complexity as a necessary first step in the solution process. Engage with diverse ideas, cultures and approaches.
- OPPORTUNITY – Given the level, dynamics and sheer overwhelming complexity of the challenges, we will not solve 21st century challenges with measures based on the old paradigms. So much has changed in terms of imagination, technologies and the way we use them. So prepare to be very different.
- PROXIMITY – Physical activity, social connection and healthy eating are fostered through proximity, and natural and built environments that are designed to connect, respect and protect. Retire distance, speed and indifference. Replace with proximity, safety and neighborliness.
- EQUITY – Justice and equity are vibrant beacons for health, democracy and development in human settlements. Burdens of climate change and unsustainable development must not be carried by the most vulnerable citizens, cities and countries.
- DEMOCRACY – Good governance holds the key to the future of human settlements. Citizens cannot be not passive spectators. There is more to democracy than occasional elections. Mobilise civil society in all its diversity and differences around big questions and strive for local answers.
- PARITY – Sustainability cannot be planned, decided and administered by a minority. Daily life needs and perceptions of women differ in many ways. The only path to planning and implementing sustainable, efficient and just communities is to ensure full gender parity in all decision fora.
- RESISTANCE– Most human beings are change-averse and ready to challenge anything they perceive see as invasions in any part of their daily lives. So we must anticipate this from the beginning and have a multi-level strategy which takes this into account from the beginning.
- TIME– Make time our ally. We need to be very clever in the many ways that we can put it to work for our good cause. We can knit together the strands of our solution, putting time on our side
- COLLABORATION – By creating and pushing to their limit flat, open, citizen peer knowledge networks we enter a new age of problem solving capabilities far beyond anything available to us in the past. (Which is to say, we have a chance!)
- NEVER GIVE UP
 Revised working draft by Eric Britton submitted in response to a request from an on-going research project of the United Nations University’s Global Health Institute (http://iigh.unu.edu/) that is setting out Principles of Healthy and Sustainable Places. In support of their Health and Wellbeing in the City We Need symposium to meet in Kuching, Malaysia from January 24-27, 2016 – http://unhabitat.org/urbanthinkers/ for more.
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About the author:
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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 | http://bit.ly/2Ti8LsX | #fekbritton | https://twitter.com/ericbritton | and | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericbritton/ Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org) | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)
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It’s no secret that just about anywhere you go in the Netherlands is an incredible place to bicycle. And in Groningen, a northern city with a population of 190,000 and a bike mode share of 50 percent, the cycling is as comfortable as in any city on Earth. The sheer number of people riding at any one time will astound you, as will the absence of automobiles in the city center, where cars seem extinct. It is remarkable just how quiet the city is. People go about their business running errands by bike, going to work by bike, and even holding hands by bike.
Celebrating Bandung’s Car Free Day. Known as “We shot Bandung” Credit: Ikhlasyl Amal.
At a terrible time in the history of mankind, I propose to you this photograph as a message of hope and a silent clue to a better, sweeter future for all. . . agreeing as I do with the poet Louis Aragon when he wrote so long ago: “La femme est l’avenir de l’homme” (“Woman is the Future of Mankind”).
What about this? Let’s get together, you and, I to see what we can do about making this the universal theme of World Car Free Day this year . . . in as many cities and countries around the world as we can. One city at a time.
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.
Transport in Penang (and all around the world for that matter) relies on non-renewable sources of energy. Think 20 cars with one person in each vehicle, versus one bus with 20 passengers. The former creates traffic jams and worsens pollution to detract from the overall liveability of a city. It is often argued that supplying more roads only creates more demand for their usage. With 10,000 more vehicles added to Penang’s roads each month , we will have to commit ourselves soon to a decision to enhance sustainable transport.
Think City Bhd invited Prof Eric Britton, managing director of EcoPlan International in Paris, founder of World Car Free Days and longtime advocate of sustainable transport initiatives, to Penang with the purpose of studying the transport system, meeting stakeholders and hosting a series of events to come up with ideas and a new perspective for transportation improvements across the state. Thus, Sustainable Penang: Towards a New Mobility was arranged as a two-week itinerary that featured 11 focus group discussions, three master classes, a lecture, a symposium and dialogues with MPPP, MPSP and the Penang Transport Council.
The mind. . . yours, mine, theirs. This is the hardest challenge of all, and one that is right at the core of our Sustainable Penang/New Mobility Agenda transformation project for 2014 and beyond. Fortunately we are not the only ones since it is the age-old habit of man to lock blindly into old ideas — and particularly all those old ideas which are so omnipresent and unquestioned by all who surround us that they finally become invisible.
How can we change something if we cannot see it? But let’s hear what our old and great friend Jan Gehl has to say about this in a lecture which he gave recently to the annual conference of the European Foundation Centre on “Sustainable Cities: Foundations and our Urban Future” in Copenhagen.