The Long-Term Impact of a Month Without Cars

SUWON, South Korea—This bustling city of 1 million is best known as the home of Samsung, the global titan of flat-screen TVs and smartphones. But two years ago, Suwon also became briefly famous among the world’s transportation planners for its temporary experiment with ditching cars.

For a month in 2013, the 4,300 residents of a historic neighborhood called Haenggung-dong left their cars parked in vacant lots elsewhere. Instead of driving to get around, they took buses, walked or rode bicycles. They also gave new models of e-bikes, Segways, and pedicabs a ride.

It was all part of an event called the EcoMobility World Festival. As 500 urban experts from around the world gathered in Suwon to share strategies for giving city streets back to people, the residents of Haenggung-dong lived out a version of this utopia. Kids played in streets once clogged with traffic. The area’s many elderly and disabled residents had no trouble crossing intersections. People walked. And they talked to each other, rather than blaring their car horns.

Now, a second Ecomobility Festival is taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa. The central business district of Sandton, which normally sees 80,000 autos pass through a day, has closed some roads and restricted traffic on others for the month of October. With less fanfare, cities from Oslo to Madridto Mexico City also have been remaking individual streets and sometimes entire districts to prioritize walking, bicycling and public transit over automobiles.

The Mayor of Suwon, Yeom Tae-young, was a key proponent of the plan to close the neighborhood to cars. An environmentalist-turned politician elected mayor in 2010, Yeom had proclaimed Suwon’s intention to be South Korea’s “eco-capital.” He set a goal to cut the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions 40 percent by 2030—about double the national target. (Read Citiscope’s interview with Mayor Yeom here.)

Yeom teamed up with ICLEI, a worldwide association of local governments concerned with sustainability, and the idea turned into a global event. ICLEI coined the term “ecomobility,” which it defines as “travel through integrated, socially inclusive, and environmentally friendly options, namely walking, cycling, wheeling, and public transport.”

Many residents weren’t crazy about the idea of giving up their cars. The city government held a series of consultation meetings and surveys for all 4,300 residents of Haenggung-dong to address community concerns in the planning stage, says Ki No Heon, a transportation policy manager for the city. The city also opened a 24/7 call center to handle citizen inquiries during the project’s planning stage.

Some concerns were answered by loosening the restriction on cars to allow for deliveries to businesses and for the use of those who have physical impairments that prevent them from walking or cycling. Still, a retrospective book on the festival by Konrad Otto-Zimmermann, ICLEI’s secretary general at the time of the festival, notes that some residents criticized the planning as top-down and “not sufficiently transparent.”

 

A comparison of a Suwon street in 2010 and 2014. (Urb-i/Daum Maps)

A comparison of a Suwon street in 2010 and 2014. (Urb-i/Daum Maps)

Returning to Suwon

Two years later, the festival atmosphere in the streets of Haenggung-dong is gone but the sidewalks are still busy with pedestrians. Cars have made a noticeable return, although residents say there are fewer of them and drivers go slower. Walking the streets myself, I noticed that traffic here was much less busy than on some of the clogged streets just outside the car-free zone of 2013.

Shutting the streets entirely to cars seems unlikely anytime soon—Mayor Yeom says that goal will have to wait three or four years. But residents have begun requesting incremental changes that nudge Haenggung-dong in that direction.

For example, community members fought for and won a city ordinance that limits car speeds to 30 kph in the neighborhood’s streets. (National law does not allow for speed limits lower than that.) The community also has begun holding car-free Saturdays once a month on Gongbang Street, one of the busiest streets in the neighborhood, lined with restaurants and art shops. Hwang Yeong, a 51-year old community leader who initiated the car-free Saturdays, says it’s a “small step” toward reviving the experience of the month-long festival two years ago.

Real estate in the area has appreciated in value. Immediately after the festival, 17 new home-based shops opened and made the area a thriving food hub, says Park Yeonhee, ICLEI director in Suwon.

Suwon has continued a major push around biking since the festival. City government is purchasing 6,000 new bicycles for public rental. The bikes will come with high-tech chipsets that will automatically compute the rental fee based on distance and enable customers to pay by tapping a contactless payment card on the bike.

On any typical day, a public square known as Hwaseong Plaza is filled with families teaching kids how to bike. One afternoon, the sight of young kids biking inspired me to give it a try. I rented a bike from a shop that charges less than a dollar for an hour. The owner also offers tips to inexperienced riders like me. After 30 minutes of trial and error, I was able to stay balanced and do a few loops in the plaza.

A national model

Today, Suwon is looking to expand sidewalks and traffic calming to more parts of the city. The National Assembly is now looking to Suwon for lessons on how to replicate its model to other parts of South Korea as part of a plan to decarbonize the economy. Leaders from other countries also regularly visit Suwon to see the project site and and learn about the lessons they can apply in their local context back home.

Yeom tells them Suwon’s experience is a continuing process of trying new ideas and assessing the community’s readiness to adapt to change. Despite a successful month without cars, Yeom says Suwon isn’t ready to impose a permanent car-free status anywhere in the city. That would be tantamount to banning car ownership for some people. Instead of using force, Suwon is keen on tempting drivers out of their cars by providing residents better and greener transportation alternatives.

While a car is traditionally a symbol of wealth, Yeom says that today’s era of climate change and dwindling fossil-fuel resources requires new thinking that seeks to balance growth and sustainability, especially in cities.

“Mobility is a basic human right,” Yeom says. “As urban populations continue to grow, we cannot rely on the business-as-usual scenario of car-based cities.”

Read full article here.

Atlanta Millennials Included in Long-Term Regional Planning

ARC_100215The Atlanta Regional Commission has spent the past eight months working with a unique group of people on a the commission’s long-term planning process for future development.

Young adults from 10 counties around the region ─ Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale ─ were divided into eight teams and tasked with developing pitches for eight different policy issues related to future planning for metro Atlanta.

The executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, Douglas Hooker said it’s important to hear from millennials.

“It was very clear to me that we’re making plans for a 20 or 25 year future for our community, but the people who are going to be the adults and the leadership roles in the community typically aren’t at the table because they’re early in their careers and some of them are still in school,” Hooker said during an interview on “Closer Look.”

“We felt it was critically important to get more of their vision for the community that they want to grow into as a way of being able to help steer the growth and development of the community as they get older as a way of being committed to living here and growing here and helping the region address its challenges as they grow older,” he added.

Hooker said he was impressed with the ideas the young team members brought to the table and that the ARC has plans to use some of those ideas.

Two of the millennial team members, who worked for almost a year with the ARC to develop ideas for long-term planning in Atlanta, Bee Nguyen and Nicholas Juliano, joined “Closer Look” to discuss their part in the project.

Nguyen worked with the Millennial Advisory Panel group that focused on improving the region’s education system, specifically the disparities in the quality of education at low income schools compared to schools with more resources.

Nicholas’ group focused on improving the region’s transit system and even launched a website called Advance Atlanta.

 

The Power of Designing with Pedestrians in Mind

Providing more public space for pedestrians is one of the main goals of urban renewal projects taking place in cities around the world. 

By planting more trees, implementing more sidewalks and bike paths and establishing new seating areas, it is possible to design more welcoming places with less traffic congestion and that promote sustainable methods of transportation, such as walking or biking.

With the aim of publicizing urban renewal projects that have made cities more pedestrian friendly, Brazilian group Urb-I launched the “Before/After” project, which compiles before and after photos that show how cities have redistributed their public space.

The project is collaborative so that anyone can use Google Street View, or another similar tool, to raise awareness of the changes taking place in their cities.

Read on to see the transformed spaces.

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Regnbuepladsen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Image Courtesy of Urb-I

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Padre Alonso de Ovalle, Santiago, Chile. Image Courtesy of Urb-I

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Griffith Park Boulevard, Los Angeles, United States. Image Courtesy of Urb-I

See more here.

11 Principles for Creating Great Community Places

06_develop_a_vision-223x300Effective public spaces are extremely difficult to accomplish, because their complexity is rarely understood. As William (Holly) Whyte said, “It’s hard to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.”

PPS has identified 11 key elements in transforming public spaces into vibrant community places, whether they’re parks, plazas, public squares, streets, sidewalks or the myriad other outdoor and indoor spaces that have public uses in common. These elements are:

  1. THE COMMUNITY IS THE EXPERT
    The important starting point in developing a concept for any public space is to identify the talents and assets within the community.
  2. CREATE A PLACE, NOT A DESIGN
    To make an under-performing space into a vital “place,” physical elements must be introduced that would make people welcome and comfortable, such as seating and new landscaping.
  3. LOOK FOR PARTNERS
    Partners are critical to the future success and image of a public space improvement project.
  4. YOU CAN SEE A LOT JUST BY OBSERVING
    We can all learn a great deal from others’ successes and failures. By looking at how people are using (or not using) public spaces and finding out what they like and don’t like about them.
  5. HAVE A VISION
    The vision needs to come out of each individual community. However, essential to a vision for any public space is an idea of what kinds of activities might be happening in the space.
  6. START WITH THE PETUNIAS: LIGHTER, QUICKER, CHEAPER
    The complexity of public spaces is such that you cannot expect to do everything right initially.
  7. TRIANGULATE
    “Triangulation is the process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to other strangers as if they knew each other” (Holly Whyte).
  8. THEY ALWAYS SAY “IT CAN’T BE DONE”
    Creating good public spaces is inevitably about encountering obstacles, because no one in either the public or private sectors has the job or responsibility to “create places.”
  9. FORM SUPPORTS FUNCTION
    Although design is important, these other elements tell you what “form” you need to accomplish the future vision for the space.
  10. MONEY IS NOT THE ISSUE
    This statement can apply in a number of ways. For example, once you’ve put in the basic infrastructure of the public spaces, the elements that are added that will make it work (e.g., vendors, cafes, flowers and seating) will not be expensive.
  11. YOU ARE NEVER FINISHED
    By nature good public spaces that respond to the needs, the opinions and the ongoing changes of the community require attention.

Read full article here.

Why Cars are Basically the Worst Way to Move People in a City

Seattle, like many metropolitan areas, is running out of roadways.

With more people deciding to squeeze their lives into urban apartments over suburban homes, public transportation is becoming a greater necessity in the Pacific Northwest’s largest city.

Seattle is quickly learning, take up a ton of space.

We’ll let this GIF illustrate:

via GIPHY

The GIF comes from a recently released infographic created by the Seattle-based research organization International Sustainable Solutions. It shows just how inefficient automobiles are when it comes to space, especially if people are driving alone — which is about 75% of the time.

While the luxuries of solitude and air conditioning trump a potentially sweaty city bus, everybody hates traffic. And if the roads are less congested, people won’t need to spend as much time traveling on them.

“We’re geographically constrained in terms of auto capacity we can add to the network,” Scott Kubly, director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, told the nonprofit Next City. “If we’re going to continue to grow, we need to use our streets more efficiently.”
Seattle is steadily growing fast. In 1990, it had 516,000 people; by 2010, it had 608,000.

And the rate’s only increasing. Between 2000 and 2010, children under 5 made up the largest portion of Seattle’s population growth. Those kids will soon be getting behind the wheel — and adding to the congestion — unless the city can intervene.

Read more here.

The Benefits of Road Diets for American Cities

Edgewater-Drive-After-660x495-300x225If it can work on Edgewater Drive in Orlando, it can work anywhere.

This road diet — or “street rightsizing” — removed one traffic lane on a four lane road through 1.5 miles of the city’s College Park neighborhood. Since then, traffic collisions are down 34 percent. Pedestrian activity increased 23 percent and cycling rose 30 percent.

Virtually none of the problems opponents predicted have materialized. Immediate property values have held steady with regional trends. Nearby streets haven’t seen a major increase in traffic. And because the project was a simple striping, the road diet cost the city only an additional $50,000 over a basic resurfacing.

So why doesn’t every city in America get busy “rightsizing”? A new guide from Project for Public Spaces seeks to make that possible. PPS’s Rightsizing Streets Guide highlights case studies and best practices from Philadelphia, Seattle, Tampa, Poughkeepsie, and elsewhere to show jurisdictions how they, too, can right-size their streets.

Philadelphia took a unique approach. “The Porch” project outside 30th Street Station removed only parking and replaced it with a wide sidewalk, seating, and public gathering space. This new destination, featured last year on Streetfilms, seats 250 people and is home to regular events like yoga and farmer’s markets, and it is a favorite spot for West Philadelphia workers to eat lunch on nice days.

After-21-660x401-300x182During a seven-month period last year, nearly 25,000 visitors enjoyed The Porch — all the more impressive when you consider the space formerly served a maximum of just 23 drivers. Traffic and parking snags have been nonexistent, PPS reports. In fact, high use of The Porch, coupled with low demand for nearby parking, suggest that further auto space should repurposed for Philadelphia pedestrians and transit users.

Another role model PPS points to is the city of Poughkeepsie, New York. Poughkeepsie’s treatment for Raymond Avenue involved the removal of one traffic lane in each direction and the addition of three roundabouts. The city also added a center median with pedestrian refuges, to facilitate safer crossing.

That project led to a 50 percent decrease in traffic collisions and the opening of several new businesses in the area. Since it was installed in 1999, it attracted the attention of the neighboring town of LeGrange, which is now in the midst of a similar project.

Read full article here.

America’s Ongoing Love Affair With the Car

lead_large (7)With all the consternation in some corners about the so-called “war on cars,” you’d think Americans were giving up their automobiles in droves in favor of mass transit, biking, walking, or telecommuting.

But the latest report on commuting habits from the U.S. Census Bureaureminds us that when it comes to getting to and from work, the United States remains overwhelmingly an auto-dependent nation. The report, by Brian McKenzie of the Census’s Journey to Work and Migration Statistics Branch, finds that 86 percent of U.S. workers get to work in a car. The study is based on data from the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS).

The chart below shows how Americans age 16 and above typically get to work. Three out of four Americans (76.4 percent) report driving to work alone. Almost ten percent (9.4 percent) carpool, though this figure has actually declined significantly from a high of nearly 20 percent in 1980. Just 5.2 percent take mass transit, while 2.3 percent walk to work and less than one percent (0.6 percent) bike to work.1a910cbd1

Read full article here.

Is Parking What’s Stopping Atlanta From Becoming a Sustainable City?

opinion_park1-1_16It’s time for an intervention if we want Atlanta to become a walkable and transit-connected city. 

Following up on “Atlanta’s Parking Addiction,” a recent column in the alt-weekly Creative Loafing, Darin at ATL Urbanist points out that much of the city’s new downtown streetcar route is lined with vehicle storage, rather than housing and businesses.

Creative Loafing reported that over the last 30 years, “the availability of low-cost parking” was “the second strongest indicator of the lack of success ” of urban rail in the U.S. Darin says local leaders must recognize that giving streetcar riders fewer places to go hampers ridership and hurts the system’s chances for growth.

The image above shows a section of the streetcar line on Luckie Street in Downtown Atlanta. Everything that isn’t shaded in red is either a parking lot or a parking deck.

This is important. We have a $100 million starter line for modern streetcars in Atlanta and much of the track runs beside properties that contain facilities devoted to car parking instead of destinations for pedestrians. If this seed is going to grow into a larger, successful system of street rail — and there are proposals for that — city leadership needs to get off its collective ass and give the line a chance to work as it should.

I am in general very excited to have a streetcar here and hopeful that it will end up, some day in the future, serving a thriving neighborhood of new residential and commercial structures that replace our downtown parking blight. But there are also days when I walk these streets, where I live, and cynically think: “In Atlanta, we love parking so much that we built a $100 million streetcar line to show off our parking facilities to tourists.”

Origanal article can be found here.

INFOGRAPHIC: The Uniqe Ways of Transportation From Around the Globe

Buses, trains, cars, and bicycles may be ubiquitous worldwide, but they only represent a small fraction of the many modes of transport available. Fly to Dubai compiled a fun infographic to explore 30 unique transportation options from around the world. The infographic also includes interesting trivia about these lesser-known modes of transit. Hit the jump to explore all the transportation options, from Finland’s reindeer sled to Cuba’s coco taxi.

transport-infographic

Original article published here.