Op-Ed. Safe cycling strategies: Lessons from Europe

– Eric Britton, World Streets Editor and slow city cyclist

The following was drafted yesterday in response to a lively discussion over at 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 looking at this in the context of New York’s ongoing efforts to develop a major cycling program after many years of neglect. International experience at the leading edge, mainly in European cities that are doing the job, puts some interesting lessons on the table. Here is a look-in from Europe.

* Clicka qui per avere una traduzione automatica approssimativa ma leggibile

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 get the job done then 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 underlying idea 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 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.

Profiles: Shared Space Institute (Netherlands)

Sharing Knowledge on Shared Space

– Sabine Lutz, Shared Space Institute, Drachten the Netherlands

On June 23 a stunning article was posted on World Streets, by Paul Barter of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the University of Singapore. He refers to experiments with shared space or ‘naked streets’ which have drawn considerable public attention in recent years. Indeed they have. From 2004 – 2008 seven European partners from five countries have been sharing knowledge on Shared Space.

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It takes shared space to create shared understanding

In the Netherlands, since February 2009 the Shared Space Institute is operational, as one of the project’s tangible results. On June 10th 2009 Shared Space Institute had its official opening. The institute is dedicated to further exploring and applying the Shared Space principles. What do they teach us about the ins and outs of successful public spaces, and what changes need to be made to maintain them? And perhaps even more important: what does the Shared Space concept teach us about wealth and health of the people living there?

What does ‘Shared Space’ mean, and why do we think it’s needed?
Over the past decades, traffic objectives and traffic legislation have determined the way in which public spaces were designed. This was meant to improve traffic flows and traffic safety. But it was at the cost of the quality of the public spaces and the living environment of people. And it was also at the cost of the personal conduct in public, and the professional capacities of those who are responsible for public spaces.

In contrast to current practice, Shared Space strives to combine rather than separate the various functions of public spaces. By doing so, the quality of public spaces will be improved, and responsible behaviour will be evoked. So, when designing spaces, Shared Space relies on information from the surroundings to guide road users’ conduct, instead of forcing them to strictly obey to traffic rules and signs. When there is a primary school, we don’t want to hide it behind fences and sign posts. Instead, we extend the school yard out into the street. We think that car drivers are not stupid. If they can see children playing in the streets, they will reduce speed and drive as careful they possibly could.

We need space for traffic and space for people

Of course, this does not mean that rules will be entirely superfluous. Without rules of the road, some well meaning drivers would drive slowly, others would drive quickly, believing correctly that they were doing so safely, and still others would drive quickly but not as safe as they thought they were. Therefore, Shared Space makes a clear distinction between traffic areas and those spaces, which should serve as people space and thus must invite to behave socially. In his article from Tuesday, June 23, 2009 on http://newmobilityagenda.blogspot.com/, Paul Barter very clearly pointed out the characteristics of these areas.

Both of them, roads and motor ways on the one hand and streets on the other, are depending on one another. Only if there is a suitable network for fast traffic, we can design all the other public space for the purposes it’s meant for: all those surprising and interesting things people want to share with each other.

We need to change our minds

But that’s not all. We learned that Shared Space does not only change our thinking about how to handle traffic and how to design our roads and public spaces. It also points out how to tackle the overwhelming power of rules and legislation in politics and in our daily lives. Shared Space gave way to the search for new ways to achieve key improvements in the interrelated areas of road safety, spatial quality, economic prosperity, governance, community capacity and confidence. It stimulates the capacity of communities to be more creative in the way they tackle a broad range of issues. And it also assists politicians, decision-makers, city staff and citizens to ‘think outside the box’ when looking for ways to address public issues.

Who is working at Shared Space Institute?
We are ten professionals in the Netherlands, experienced in various working fields, such as traffic engineers, urban planning, psychology, process management and geography. We are and connected to a worldwide network of researchers, practitioners and citizens. We all share the mission to develop a new way of thinking about public domains.

However, the quality of public space is not a goal in itself. We think it’s important to create ‘people spaces’, places where people can meet, engage and communicate. Space only has quality if it contributes to the quality of life. So, public space is about people and their living environment. And it is also about the quality and justice of society. As a consequence, society itself should be organised in a way that people can act as responsible members of that society.

Shared Research Program

Shared Space Institute is an international knowledge institute, dedicated to knowledge creation, knowledge transfer and knowledge implementation in the field of Shared Space. It is our starting point that public space is the heart of society. Through its quality, public space supports people in their humaneness.

Research and knowledge creation on these aspects are at the heart of our activities. Our approach is integral and cross-sector. This means that:

• research should always be carried out in partnerships with stakeholders in society, to make sure that it is based on the demands of society
• various disciplines should participate and that research should always be related to every day practice in the working fields
• our aim is not to gather theoretical information. Research never should be an aim on itself. If we say ‘research’, we always start from concrete projects
• these projects deliver research questions to be answered. The answers on their turn deliver knowledge to be applied in the projects.

Please find more background information about the Shared Space Institute’s research activities on: http://www.sharedspace.eu/en/activities/research

Needless to say, that our staff is ready to support authorities, professionals and interest groups in development and innovation processes. You’re always welcome for a lecture or a field trip to interesting Shared Space locations. For more details about Shared Space – schemes in the Netherlands please refer to http://www.sharedspace.eu/en/activities/projects.

Next steps?

At the moment, we are busy on working out the Shared Space – research program. Our main research question is centered at the cross roads of the knowledge domains as illustrated in the figure on the right. How are these domains connected to each other, and how do they influence each other? If you improve one of them, what changes does it cause to the others?

Of course, our research will further plunge into projects addressing safety issues, solving community severance, tackling congestion and enhancing economic vitality in streets and public spaces. Our main interest is at developing innovative approaches to the process of planning, designing and decision-making towards new structures for municipal organization and public engagement.

European collaboration
Perhaps interesting to mention: we would like to apply for European funding to build a partnership in the North Sea Region countries working on new strategies towards balancing rules and ethics to facilitate healthy social and economic organisms. We believe new alliances of public and private stakeholders can provide a better quality of life through a new sense of civility.

Our central result will be to deliver a proved strategy which allows to delegate responsibilities to where they belong. Partners will demonstrate this through sharing management and governance, and forming new alliances between authorities, agencies, networks and individuals. Our target groups are: public authorities, business clusters, research institutes, universities, public support agencies in urban and rural areas, and citizens’ organisations. All those who are interested to join the partnership are invited to contact us.

Contact details:
Shared Space Institute
Lavendelheide 21 NL 9202 PD Drachten
Sabine Lutz – s.lutz @sharedspace.eu
P: +31 88 0200 475 M: +31 6 83 20 90 78

Editor’s note:
Remember this? – The unexpected interview in Groningen: Homage to Hans Monderman

* Click here for 90 second video

OMS sulla sicurezza stradale: ‘Noi siamo responsabili per il nostro futuro’

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday its first global report on road safety worldwide. The news is grim.

(Questo articolo è apparso su World Streets oggi e, in assenza dell’editore di NM che si sta godendo le meritate vacanze, è stato postato qui nella versione originale inglese. Una versione tradotta ed adattata sarà disponibile in luglio. Grazie per la vostra pazienza.)

* Clicka qui per avere una traduzione automatica approssimativa ma leggibile

The report is based on data drawn from a survey of 178 countries. It concludes that something on the order of 1.3 million people are dying in traffic accidents each year, that this number is accelerating, and that anywhere from 20 to 50 million people are injured as a result of traffic crashes. If you check out their five minute video on this page, you will hear them reminding us that these numbers sum to one person being injured in traffic every second, and someone dying — being killed rather is a more accurate way to state it — every thirty seconds. (Keep that image in mind as you work your way down this page.)

Of these totals roughly half (46%) of the victims killed on streets and roads worldwide are pedestrians, cyclists, and riders of motorized two wheelers – the most vulnerable road users.

Dr. Kelly Henning, director of global health programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies, the foundation that has sponsored and paid for the work behind the report, recommends that the answer lies in more laws and better enforcement of them. To this the report adds recommendations for increased use of seatbelts and helmets, along with tougher punishment of drunken drivers.

The point needs to be made that these recommendations are heavily influenced by the fact that over 90% of the world’s fatalities on the roads occur in low-income and middle-income countries, which have only 48% of the world’s registered vehicles. But as we here know both these figures are increasing every year. And we know too, sadly, that the measure currently in place to reverse these trends are altogether inadequate to do the job.

Those are certainly good steps in the right direction if properly conceived and implemented, and certainly golden counsel for the low and middle income countries in which the slaughter is the most tragic. However it will never have the impact which is needed if driving is to be less of a personal tragedy, social menace, and economic catastrophe.

It is our view here at World Streets that we need to dig deeper if we are ever going to get a major reversal of this disastrous trend. One of the authors of the report, Adnan Hyder, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, gives us a clue when he points out that:

Road safety is an area in which we truly as a global community can say, ‘We are responsible for our future’.

Let’s step back and take a quick look at this from a new mobility perspective and see what that might suggest.

First a reminder as to why people get killed or injured in traffic? Because someone is traveling too fast in a motor vehicle, which is far heavier than the victim and hence less likely to suffer the same level consequences.

Now if you have been following over these first three months the various detailed statements and views from many quarters that collectively define the New Mobility Agenda, you will note that our dual focus is (a) to reduce considerably the number of cars, buses and trucks on the road (less traffic but with better mobility), and (b) when it comes to areas in which there are pedestrians and cyclists on or near the road to slow it down dramatically. Less traffic moving slower is certainly the best answer to this part of the old mobility challenge.

The WHO recommendation on this reads: “Decreasing speed is an important way of reducing road traffic injuries, particularly among vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists). Urban speed limits should not exceed 50 km/h, while local authorities should be able to reduce these where necessary – for example around schools or in residential areas.”

However as is often the case in the complex and highly diverse world in which we live, the ultimate solution is going to be some combination of all of the above. And for sure different combinations and permutations for different places.

Click here for WHO video presentation of report.

We at World Streets and our collaborators in different parts of the world look forward to working with all those behind the WHO report in order to see how we might contribute to the process which now needs to be put in place to deal with these issues from the very beginning.

* To obtain a copy of the WHO report, please click here.

Amore, dobbiamo rallentare.

David Levinger, Mobility Education Foundation

L’Amministrazione Obama e più in generale il mondo possono imparare molto dalle pratiche altrui in termini di riduzione della velocità stradale. Le ricerche riguardanti la sicurezza sulle strade sposano la posizione che “la velocità uccide”. Negli USA molte Amministrazioni Statali hanno dato invece la priorità al ‘”eccesso di velocità” nella loro legislazione. C’è una differenza non trascurabile in questo spostamento dell’attenzione dalla velocità all’eccesso di velocità nella gestione della sicurezza stradale e della congestione. Quando le istituzioni si concentrano sul secondo prendono in considerazione solo un comportamento estremo ma ignorano quelle che sono le normali abitudini di guida.

A livello federale i politici e i responsabili del settore trasporti possono incidere profondamente sui livelli di sicurezza, congestione e di costi di costruzione prendendo spunto da molti sforzi effettuati all’estero per ridurre la velocità del traffico a vantaggio di tutti gli utenti della strada. Di seguito parecchie innovazioni efficaci e potenzialmente ispiratrici di misure simili da prendere negli USA:

• Limiti di velocità più bassi nelle aree residenziali, nelle cui strade dovrebbe essere istituito ovunque un limite di 20 mph (30 km/h). Attualmente i limiti più bassi sono di 25 o 30 mph (40 o 50 km/h circa)

• “Due care”, in italiano traducibile pressappoco con “attenzione dovuta”: inserire nei programmi delle scuole guida uno standard nazionale di “Due Care”. Significa che gli automobilisti devono essere tenuti a dare la precedenza a qualunque cosa ostacoli il loro cammino, anche a chi non ne avrebbe il diritto. (Gran Bretagna)

• Quartieri vivibili, sull’esempio dei Woonerven olandesi. Bisognerebbe attuare un programma teso a rendere le strade di quartiere un ambiente favorevole per le interazioni comunitarie e per la sicurezza dei bambini che vi giocano intorno. (Gran Bretagna, Olanda)

• Tolleranza nel superamento dei limiti di velocità a 4 mph. Attualmente negli Usa la tolleranza tipica è di 10 mph. Questo significa che un limite di velocità di 25 mph è in realtà di 35mph. Le nuove tecnologie aumentano l’accuratezza delle misurazioni, e in alcuni stati come la Svezia sono ora previste tolleranze di 4mph.

• Intelligent Speed Adaptarion. ISA è un sistema intelligente montato sull’automobile che informa, mette in allarme e scoraggia l’automobilista a superare il limite di velocità vigente nel tratto di strada che sta percorrendo (Svezia).

• Limiti di velocità variabili dinamicamente. La M25 di Londra e altre autostrade variano il loro limite di velocità per massimizzare sicurezza e fluidità del traffico. (GB, Francia).

• Limiti di velocità più bassi per le superstrade urbane. Gli standard attuali rendono proibitiva la ristrutturazione delle superstrade. L’introduzione della categoria di “superstrada urbana” con velocità più basse attraverso aree densamente popolate eliminerebbe il bisogno di larghi muraglioni di sostegno e di ulteriori corsie, facendo risparmiare miliardi di dollari in costi di costruzione, aumentando l’efficienza nei consumi di carburante e riducendo il pedaggio da pagare al rumore da traffico. Un limite di 50 mph verrebbe fatto rispettare grazie a dispositivi di rilevamento automatico muniti di macchina fotografica.(EUROPA)

URL Refs:* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_limit#Variable_speed_limits
* http://dx.doi.org/10.3141/2078-15
* http://publikationswebbutik.vv.se/upload/4314/2008_109_an_independent_review_of_road_safety_in_sweden.pdf

David Levinger, david@mobilityeducation.org è Presidente della Mobility Education Foundation, Seattle, WA, USA

Questo articolo è un contributo al progetto collaborativo “Messages for America: World-wide experience, ideas, counsel, proposals and good wishes for the incoming Obama transportation team”, promosso dalla New Mobility Agenda per stimolare l’Amministrazione Americana ad applicare riforme che favoriscano la Nuova Mobilità.

La battaglia per la strada – Parte I

Earning a Public Space Dividend in the Streets

– Paul Barter, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

Abstract: Experiments with “shared space” 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.

(Questo articolo è apparso su World Streets oggi e, in assenza dell’editore di NM che si sta godendo le meritate vacanze, è stato postato qui nella versione originale inglese. Una versione tradotta ed adattata sarà disponibile in luglio. Grazie per la vostra pazienza.)

* Clicka qui per avere una traduzione automatica approssimativa ma leggibile

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

The essence of a street is that it serves all these roles simultaneously—providing for traffic movement and access, and as public space for urban activities. However, mainstream roadway management has spent many decades seeking, like Le Corbusier, the “death of the street”. It tends to turn everything between kerbs into “traffic space” where motor vehicle movement is the design priority (Patton 2007).

Motorised traffic, slow modes and pedestrians are strictly segregated in both space and time. The role of streets as “public realm” has been largely restricted to the pavements (sidewalks) and to pedestrian zones. Most cities are desperately short of attractive public space and space for the networks needed by the gentle but vulnerable modes such as walking and cycling.

Since the 1930s, traffic engineers have routinely classified every roadway in a hierarchy according to the degree to which it serves either traffic movement or access. Major arterials and expressways which are at the top of the hierarchy are managed primarily for maximum vehicle mobility. Any access functions are carefully limited to contain “friction” with the mainstream traffic. Only streets at the lowest level of the hierarchy are used mainly for access. Furthermore, the planning process often seeks to remove as much activity as possible (and hence, the “public space” role) from roadways and their vicinity. The influential UK report of 1963, Traffic in Towns by Colin Buchanan, reinforced the idea that segregation was essential (Hamilton-Baillie 2008).

The roadway hierarchy has no place for streets that serve both traffic and multiple other purposes (Svensson 2004). Yet, traditional urban streets and main streets remain ubiquitous. They provide (inadequately) for both access and mobility and are sites of perennial conflict. Such conflict is especially obvious in the heavily used streets of many dense Asian cities. The conventional traffic engineering approach offers little guidance for such multi-role streets (Svensson 2004).

Expanding Public Realm without Evicting Motor Vehicles

Recently, a series of promising street management innovations has emerged that re- assert in new ways the multi-purpose nature of the street. (See Box Story “Innovations that Expand Public Realm in the Streets”.) They offer ways to increase the public realm without removing the motor vehicles or seriously undermining the utility of the motorised traffic system. Does that sound too good to be true?

These innovations exploit common insights and principles. First, they involve making a strong distinction between “traffic areas” or “highway” and public space or the “public realm” (Shared Space project 2005). Traffic areas are the realm of conventional traffic engineering where high-speed motor vehicle movement is primary, with its flow carefully segregated from slower users like pedestrians and cyclists.

Second, some of this redefined “public realm” can be shared. It includes new spaces designed for the peaceful co-existence of public place activities, slow movement by vulnerable modes as well as motor vehicles, especially those seeking access to the vicinity. The key to such co-existence lies in keeping speeds low, ideally to no more than about 30 km/h (Shared Space project, 2005). Low speeds mean that motor vehicles need not be excluded but those present will mainly be making access movements or on the “last mile” (or the first) of their trips.

Third, these innovations shift the boundary between public realm and traffic space, so that a surprising amount of what we now think of as traffic space becomes part of the low-speed public realm. In shared spaces and in other slow zones, such as Tempo 30 zones and bicycle boulevards, whole streets and intersections are converted to public space. In multi-way boulevards, public realm includes everything from the building line to the outer edge of the central, high-speed traffic lanes. This newly expanded public realm serves local motor vehicle access, slow-mode movement, public space roles and sometimes some through-traffic (with low priority and at low speed). Only the high-speed traffic movement is excluded and kept within traffic space.

Fourth, a key design goal is that both the public realm and traffic space should work better by being kept distinct (Shared Space project 2005). Cities still need high-speed traffic space of course, just as some pure pedestrian space must also remain. But a surprising amount of shared public realm could be reclaimed without diminishing total traffic capacity. The key is that most of the expansion of the public realm envisaged here would take over traffic space that does not work very efficiently anyway. For example, the capacity of many of today’s motorised traffic lanes is reduced by turning movements, kerbside drop-offs, parking, loading and other street activities. After transforming such spaces into public realm, the remaining traffic space can be re-designed more thoroughly for its traffic function. Moreover, the new public realm retains some traffic function, albeit at low speed, as a safety valve at times of extreme congestion.

A high percentage of traffic volume in most cities is carried by roads at the top of the roadway hierarchy. Much of the remaining traffic is in fact short-distance traffic, or is on the first or last “mile” of a longer trip, or is circling for a parking spot. Such traffic does not need high speeds. In fact, a slower environment is more appropriate for access movement. Furthermore, although public realm requires very low peak speeds, the approaches discussed here also usually reduce the need for stopping and starting, so that average speeds and travel times are often little changed. Therefore, reclaiming such space as public realm has less impact on traffic performance than one would think based purely on the percentage of traffic space “lost”.

Expanding the low-speed public realm would also allow us to be much more tolerant of a diverse range of small, vulnerable vehicles that currently do not fit easily into our transport systems. These include bicycles, in-line skates, skateboards, kick scooters, wheelchairs and many other “Personal Mobility Devices”.

Barriers to Change

As with most innovations, change will take more than a simple policy decision. In most countries, roadway management practices are deeply embedded in institutions, their missions, objectives, performance-measures and boundaries of responsibility between agencies; in professional guidelines, codes and design standards; and in traffic rules and road user education.

Fortunately, little change is needed in conventional roadway management when it is applied to its appropriate domain i.e. the highspeed arterials and highways. It is only within an expanded public realm and at its boundaries that drastic change is called for. Standard practice must no longer apply to such spaces. Level of service (LOS) has no place here. Nor do conventional approaches to road safety, such as removal of “fixed hazardous objects”. Roadways that form part of the shared public realm should not resemble highways despite the presence of motor vehicles. Design principles for such streets, including signage and road markings, must be different from those for traffic space.

The public realm of streets needs a whole new set of procedures, guidelines and metrics of success. More research is needed to develop them. This is beginning to happen through experimentation in many countries (Shared Space project 2008; Hamilton-Baillie 2008; Jacobs et al. 2002). The Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom have revised their guidance manuals on street design (e.g. DfT 2007). Traffic engineers will need to adapt their problem solving to the special challenges of designing shared public realm. They will need to collaborate more with urban design professionals and urban planners, who will also need to take more interest in the streets that they have long neglected.


This article has provided a quick review of promising new ways to reconcile movement, access and place-making within our precious urban rights of way. New public space is gained through including low-speed access movement by motor vehicles within the public realm. It is this “public space dividend” that has been my focus. It may be too soon to tell if these ideas can deliver on their promise. We may only find out by trying them out.


This article was first published in the May edition of JOURNEYS, an Academy publication of the Land Transport Authority of Singapore(LTA). We thought that many of our readers might not have picked it up, so we are most pleased to reprint here with their kind permission and that of the author.

Paul Barter is an Assistant Professor in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore where he teaches infrastructure policy, urban policy, transport policy and an introduction to public policy. He has published studies of transport policy in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. His current research interests are in innovation in transport demand management, public transport regulation, and contested priorities in urban transport policy.

50 km/h per una società non più dipendente dal petrolio

– Glenn Lowcock

Anno dopo anno diventa sempre più chiaro che il costo del petrolio non solo continuerà a crescere ma anche che le sue riserve, dalle quali dipende la nostra economia, stanno costantemente diminuendo. Nuovi giacimenti naturalmente potranno essere utili ma le stime più ottimistiche indicano un preoccupante e sempre più ampio divario tra domanda e offerta. Gli oleodotti non si prosciugheranno da un giorno all’altro ma dato che Cina e India reclamano la fetta che giustamente spetta loro siamo tutti costretti a rivedere il nostro utilizzo del greggio e a pensare a come gestire le cose con meno risorse. Molte meno.

Sui consumi complessivi di petrolio il trasporto incide per una percentuale considerevole. Oltre a questo il trasporto dipendente dal petrolio e le pesanti infrastrutture che ne sono conseguenti influiscono in profondità su tutti gli aspetti della nostra vita. Attraverso tutto il XX secolo il petrolio ha reso possibile percorrere distanze sempre più grandi e, quasi di nascosto, ha creato il mondo nel quale noi ora viviamo – socialmente, economicamente e culturalmente.

Così, come è stato il trasporto alimentato dal petrolio che ha modellato la nostra società, credo che sia al trasporto che oggi dobbiamo guardare per individuare la “società postpetrolifera” di domani. Il suggerimento è semplice anche se può non sembrare facile; dobbiamo utilizzare i limiti di velocità come uno strumento per il cambiamento sociale, portandolo a 50 km/h. Un tale drastico cambiamento richiederà un’applicazione graduale negli anni, con limiti di velocità progressivamente decrescenti, per es. prima a 90 km/h, poi a 70 e infine a 50. La sua applicazione probabilmente richiederà anche l’adozione di limitatori di velocità sulle automobili, mentre il governo dovrà attuare una politica coordinata che preveda, insieme al rallentamento dei flussi veicolari, anche l’espansione della rete ferroviaria e la ristrutturazione di città e cittadine.

Così quali potrebbero essere le conseguenza di un simile rallentamento generale?
Nella gestione delle nostre vite, fare la spesa, lavorare, passare del tempo con la nostra famiglia, un tempo ragionevole di viaggio richiede approssimativamente un’ora. Mentre un viaggio in auto di un’ora copre oggi 80-100 km, se venisse applicata questa proposta tale distanza verrebbe ridotta a poco più di 40 km. Una zona più ristretta e più localizzata.

Dato che nei trasporti come in molte altre cose il tempo è denaro, un aumento dei tempi di viaggio aumenterà i costi dei beni trasportati su lunghe distanze. Beni e servizi prodotti localmente diventeranno quindi relativamente più convenienti e potrebbero competere con quelli provenienti da lontano senza il bisogno di ulteriori regolamentazioni dei prezzi. Gli alimentari specialmente, dato che la loro importazione da altre parti del pianeta non sarebbe più praticabile, saranno rimpiazzati con prodotti coltivati “in casa” o nelle immediate vicinanze. I recenti aumenti dei costi del carburante significano che il trasporto a basso costo è giù una cosa del passato e si sta assistendo ad un aumento generalizzato dei prezzi degli alimentari. Una appropriata regolazione che tenga davvero conto delle distanze di trasporto naturalmente è il miglior modo per accelerare questo processo.

Con una riduzione delle potenziali distanze percorribili, ci sarebbe l’aumento delle opportunità di telelavoro e il pendolarismo su lunghe distanze diventerebbe un’eccezione piuttosto che la norma. Contemporaneamente a questo molte persone sentiranno il bisogno di vivere più vicino ai loro luoghi di lavoro. Mentre il mondo del lavoro di riorganizza per soddisfare i bisogni giornalieri e settimanale all’interno di un raggio di 40 km, le città svilupperanno un mix residenziale e commerciale più accentuato, stimolando processi di reintegrazione dell’utilizzo degli spazi pubblici urbani.

C’è una logica sotto la quale viviamo secondo la quale che dato che possiamo percorrere grandi distanze, DOBBIAMO percorrere grandi distanze. Il greggio è il collante che tiene insieme luoghi molto distanti tra loro in modo da non lasciarci altra scelta che quella di guidare per chilometri per andare al supermercato, all’ospedale, a scuola e a divertirci. In un “ambiente da 40 chilometri” questo processo si invertirebbe e le scuole locali, i piccoli ospedali e il commercio ritornerebbero nelle nostre piccole cittadine spogliate di tutto. Dato che i motivi per i quali viaggiamo saranno gradualmente rimossi, ci sarà semplicemente meno bisogno di viaggiare e quindi meno spostamenti.

Ci saranno tanti modi attraverso i quali le nostre vite si adatteranno alla nuova scala di grandezza e cominceremo ad avere più interesse nell’assicurarci che le zone nelle quali viviamo siano piacevoli, sicure e adatte a venire indicate con il termine di “casa”. Diventeremo più consapevoli di chi ci vive vicino e si svilupperà un più alto livello di coesione sociale, facendo un reale passo in avanti verso una società più attenta ai bisogno dei suoi componenti. La politica locale diventerà più importante.

Dove 30 anni fa i negozi all’angolo scomparvero, nell’era della comunicazione digitale e senza fili potrebbero ricomparire in prima linea di una nuova modalità di interazione commerciale. Sostenuti dagli ordinativi via internet i negozi di quartiere, “micro-magazzini di distribuzione” alle estremità di ogni via sarebbero gli strumenti per spostare beni e servizi dal produttore al consumatore.

Piazzate un ordine on line la sera e il mattino dopo vi recate semplicemente al negozio presso il primo incrocio a ritirare la vostra spesa in un paio di sacchetti. Una rete in qualche modo simile a quella del servizio postale, con qualche furgone ad adempiere al ruolo oggi svolto da enormi parcheggi stracolmi di auto private.

Oltre il limite dei 40 km il trasporto di altri prodotti costerebbe comunque di più. I beni durevoli dovranno essere progettati per avere un tempo di vita più lungo e dovranno essere riparati piuttosto che sostituiti – con evidenti e reali benefici per l’ambiente.

Anche se l’”ambiente di 40 km” potrebbe sembrare difficile, le persone sono piene di risorse e la società come la conosciamo non precipiterà nel caos. Ci saranno sicuramente parecchi cambiamenti, ma la vita di paesi, città e campagne rimarrà gestibile. Ci saranno alcune cose che oggi facciamo e consideriamo garantite che non saranno più possibili. Regolari vacanze all’estero, frutta esotica dall’Africa, lavorare a 80 km da casa, guidando la macchina imbottigliati nel traffico sognando una vacanza in Tibet o alle Maldive. Ma molto di quel modo di vivere rallentato che molti cercano in paesi esotici sarà accessibile proprio sotto casa quando lo stress e l’iperattività del vivere urbano apparterranno al passato e la vita innesterà una marcia più corta. Un diverso equilibro tra vita e lavoro significa che potremmo anche essere un po’ più poveri finanziariamente ma molto più ricchi sotto molti altri aspetti.

A livello nazionale le ferrovie dovrebbero provvedere ai viaggi oltre l’ambiente locale. Chiederanno certamente un alto livello di investimenti pubblici, ma i soldi continuamente spesi per estendere indefinitamente la rete stradale sarebbero più che sufficienti a garantire la copertura finanziaria dei costi.

Per quel che riguarda gli spostamenti aerei, il carburante per l’aviazione è già molto caro e una adeguata tassazione su di esso porterà automaticamente alla sua fine l’era dei voli a basso costo. Se venissero introdotto tasse sui costi ambientali l’industria aeronautica andrà sicuramente incontro a una contrazione di enormi dimensioni.

I governi hanno sempre usato le leggi come un mezzo per incoraggiare o scoraggiare determinati comportamenti, come per esempio le tasse e le restrizioni d’età per la vendita di sigarette o la bassa o nulla tassazione sulle energie rinnovabili. Il controllo della velocità stradale sarebbe un altro esempio di questo utilizzo della legislazione come strumento di cambiamento sociale. Mentre molte discriminazioni legali sono di natura finanziaria il limite di velocità di 50 km/h interesserebbe in egual misura il ricco come il povero.

Innumerevoli città in tutto il mondo stanno adesso utilizzando velocità ridotte come strumento nella lotta contro l’inquinamento, la congestione e gli incidenti stradali e come un incentivo all’utilizzo del trasporto pubblico. L’Irlanda ha introdotto un limite di velocità di 20 miglia orarie (circa 30 km/h) a Dublino e sta pensando di estenderlo in tutte le città della nazione. È chiaro tuttavia che questa politica non è pensata come strumento per ridurre il consumo di combustibili fossili, così la riduzione della velocità non è ancora vista come uno strumento per ricercare il cambiamento sociale.

In tutto questo resta la grande domanda: come faremo a spostarci sulle strade? Un limite di velocità di 50 km/h o anche inferiore renderebbe la fissazione dell’industria automobilistica sulla motivazioni di status, velocità e glamour piuttosto irrilevanti, dato che il valore d’uso di moltissime vetture verrebbe drasticamente tagliato – come sta già succedendo con le automobili più grosse e assetate di benzina. I costruttori si orienterebbero verso piccoli veicoli a basso consumo di energia, che sarebbero molto più efficienti di quelli attuali progettati per velocità di crociera che sono mediamente due o anche tre volte più alte del limite di velocità proposto. La gente sceglierà anche di spostarsi di più a piedi e forse ricorrerà ad altre forme di “trasporto lento”, come una bicicletta equipaggiata con un piccolo motore a benzina per le salite. Forme più lente di trasporto su strada diventeranno improvvisamente più praticabili: pedalare a 20 km/h diventa molto più sicuro e realizzabile se ci si trova tra automobili che non superano i 50 all’ora.

Una velocità di spostamento più bassa non è una ricetta per la fine della civiltà come la conosciamo. Al contrario, il costante aumento del costo del petrolio sta già cambiando le nostre vite, che ci piaccia o no, e mettere a punto un’approccio controllato a quanto è inevitabile ci permetterà di andare avanti al passo che sceglieremo noi.

E’ impossibile indovinare i futuri sviluppi dell’industria dei veicoli super efficienti o a combustibili alternativi, ma se insistiamo sul mantenere la loro velocità sopra i 100 km orari i loro costi finanziari e ambientali non li renderanno adatti alla sostituzione delle attuali automobili. Come ho già sostenuto, il bisogno reale è quello di programmare uno spostamento verso un’economia a basso utilizzo di petrolio e per questo non c’è una risposta sostenibile che ci permetta di continuare con gli schemi di spostamento attuali. Dobbiamo invece semplicemente ristrutturare la società in maniera da evitare la necessità di parecchi spostamenti, e contemporaneamente apportare reali benefici sociali; si tratta di due facce della stessa medaglia.

Il pianeta si sta surriscaldando e il petrolio sta diventando scarso – due buone ragioni per pensare a come vogliamo che sia il nostro futuro. E’ abbastanza semplice: se rimaniamo dipendenti dal petrolio, quando questo finirà tutto dovrà fermarsi. Stiamo assistendo ai primi segnali di uno spostamento dell’economia mondiale da una situazione di abbondanza di combustibile a una nella quale il petrolio sarà un bene molto prezioso. Una strategia di accettazione di parziale riduzione dei nostri spostamenti potrebbe essere davvero una opzione realistica.

Glenn Lowcock
ha studiato architettura alla Architectural Association di Londra e attualmente lavora nel campo dell’archiettura del paesaggio in East Sussex.