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.

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.

Inspiring Urban World Toward a Future Without Oil.

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In a future world without oil, we’d end up with thousands of unusable massive oil tankers, some as long as 40-story buildings. Instead of sending them to scrapyards, a team of architects wants to turn them into floating neighborhoods.

3046359-slide-s-2-these-beautiful-floatingThe supply of ships isn’t hypothetical: Every year, as old tankers wear out, they’re already being scrapped. Most end up in shipyards in places like India and Bangladesh, where workers are paid a few rupees a day to attack steel hulls with blowtorches. It’s dangerous—hundreds of workers have died from falling steel or explosions over the last decade in India alone—and the ships themselves are considered toxic waste. But by giving the hulls new value in development, the architects hope to change the disposal process.

3046359-slide-s-6-these-beautiful-floatingAfter carving out the internal structure of a megatanker, the designers propose turning it into an airy public space for events, a museum, shops, and even housing, with a park-like area on the top deck. At over 1,300 feet long, some tankers could easily accommodate an entire neighborhood.

Step by Step How Mexico City Became More Pedestrian-Friendly

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P1000521We love stories about people taking action to solve a city’s problems, and stories about the pedestrianization of cities. This story ticks both those boxes.

Thorsten Englert is a German architect who has been based in Mexico City for 10 years. He has a passion for designing sustainable buildings and, as he puts it, the “spaces between buildings”.

In addition to running his architectural practice in the Roma district of Mexico City, Thorsten teaches architecture and urban design at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico). The campus in the south of the city is also a UNESCO heritage site.

Like up to 100,000 other pedestrians, Englert’s daily journey to the university takes him by bus to the Doctor Galvez Metrobus Station, and by foot the rest of the way. Englert became fed up risking life and limb daily on this treachurous commute to class, and from the contiuous sore throat caused by the pollution. The walk simply isn’t designed for pedestrians.

Pedestrian crossings are unsafe, and pavements (side-walks) are narrow and usually blocked by street vendors, forcing pedestrians onto the busy streets. The traffic-congested roads act as barriers, rather than links between the university, the station, and the surrounding neighbourhood. There had to be a better way.

Englert and his team saw an opportunity for this part of Mexico City. They asked, why not create a secure pedestrian zone for pedestrians between the station and the university, that would also link a variety of urban spaces together, thus creating a new sequence of public spaces?

The area around UNAM is home to many office buildings, residential neighbourhoods, student housing and several parks. The project has the potential to create a new point of attraction for students, residents, office workers and commuters.

Englert’s approach to urban planning is to look holistically at the economic, social and environmental aspects of a project. In this project the economic aspect includes giving economic opportunity to the local community, such a street vendors; the social – creating attractive public spaces for all users; and the environmental – greening the area, cleaning up the air and reducing traffic.

The plan would provide prime locations for local vendors to cater to the large flow of pedestrian traffic. New squares and a community centre would provide public spaces. Transport-wise, the plan would offer better access to the Metrobus station for passengers, therefore increasing its use, and gives Ecobici, Mexico City’s bike-share network, a launch-pad to expand to the south of the city.

Importance of Sustainable Communities in Smart Cities

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As there is a great number of people living in cities it is important to keep improving the places they live. The issues in most cities today are protection of clean air and water, energy independence, affordable housing, transportation choices and job growth. This can all be achieved if cities would focus more on sustainable community growth.

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In USA there’s a Partnership for Sustainable Communities which allows Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Department of Transportation to work together while improving access to affordable housing, increasing transportation options and lowering transportation costs while having a focus on environment. Talking about cities, San Francisco has the Precautionary Principle. This principle is like a framework which helps while making laws to make the city healthier and more just.  The Precautionary Principle also gives more power to the communities as the companies have to prove to them that their actions are harmless and not the other way around.

The demand for this type of communities’ right not is higher than the supply and that is why it is important to keep improving it. These communities can help provide economic momentum and help cities compete for jobs as they become more attractive for businesses to locate there or for people to move to. If the business is located in areas where people live it helps reducing transportation cost and promoting other healthier ways of commuting to work – such as walking or using a bike. Walkable neighborhoods are the most interesting for two biggest generations: baby boomers and millennials, as these areas not only offer access to work but also have different housing and transportation choices, leisure and cultural variety.

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These communities can help the government while planning, and giving grants for economic development, housing, transportation choices or community planning. Communities are efficient as they reduce resource consumption and pollution per person. By making neighborhoods livable and efficient, it is possible to protect natural systems and improve quality of life. In these communities it is important that different people would get the benefits equally: such as common shared public spaces, most of places can be reached within a 20 minute walk or transit ride. To ensure health there might even be public fruit garden for everyone to pick their fruit.

There are two important key factors in sustainable communities: good health and high quality of life. The neighborhoods that are sustainable are walkable, have choices for housing and transportation, provide access to different areas like shops, schools, parks and more. Such issues like economic, environmental and social are worked out together so that all citizens could get higher quality of life.