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.

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.

Tracing the Urban Transportation Revolution

Over the last 30 to 40 years, a tectonic shift has occurred in the way Americans think about urban transportation networks, especially the streets and roads that are their backbone. After decades of designing streets as low-grade highways designed to move cars as quickly as practicable, officials in a growing list of cities across the U.S. have changed course and implemented policies and design standards that emphasize the movement of people, not just cars. Bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, ciclovias and more have proven popular where implemented, delivered significant public benefits, and generated momentum for further changes that reclaim city streets for everyone’s use.

LA_CicLAviaBridge_920_649_80

These officials couldn’t have done what they did without support from above — the citizens to whom they report and who advocate for change — and below — the city transportation officials charged with developing the policies and strategies for their implementation and the public works bureaucracies whose job it is to do the implementing.

A report released by TransitCenter, a research and advocacy organization devoted to promoting urban vitality through better transit and transportation options, documents the role all three groups play in producing innovative urban mobility systems.

“A People’s History of Recent Urban Transportation Innovations” looks at how the virtuous cycle of innovation works by examining the role all of the actors played in six cities: Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, New York, Pittsburgh and Portland.

Read full article here.

Next Stop: Zero-Emission Buses

toyota-fuel-cell-busToyota’s drive to a hydrogen future continues with upcoming real-world testing in Tokyo for its fuel-cell bus.

The public transport people-carrier is based on a Hino bus with a standard hybrid system refitted with a hydrogen fuel-cell setup derived from the one in the Toyota Mirai. Hino is a subsidiary of Toyota

Eight hydrogen tanks supply two fuel cell stacks that juice up a nickel-metal hydride battery. That battery powers two AC synchronous motors, each one good for 147 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. Toyota focused on upping the output of the powertrain for the 77-person-capacity bus.

There will be two phases to the testing, the first being hauling folks on established bus routes around central Tokyo and the waterfront area from July 24-30. For one of those days the bus will be used for the second phase, a vehicle-to-home test that will gauge the stack’s viability as an external power source when the municipal power grid goes down.

Look for it if you’re in Tokyo and grab a ride on one of our possible futures. There’s a press release below with more info.

Original article can found here.

Video: A South Korea’s Solar Bike Highway

South Korea’s solar bike highway is both incredible and exasperating. The road, which runs between Daejon and Sejong, is covered for its entire 20-mile-length with a roof of solar panels. Those panels not only generate lots of electricity but also shield cyclists from the sun.

But the highway is just that, a two-way bike lane that runs between cities, and is stranded in the middle of the regular highway, with three lanes of traffic on either side. This is mitigated somewhat by the side barriers, which visually block the view of the surrounding road, but you’re still marooned in the median strip. And like a regular highway, it’s fine for getting from one place to another as quickly as possible, but the views aren’t up to much.

Access is via underground tunnels. If you watch the video, you’ll see spots where the panels and the path seem to disappear. These are the underground access points, so you can get on and of the bikeway without crossing traffic. The best part of this scheme seems to be the solar panels which, according to América Economía, provide more than enough electricity to power the highway’s lighting system, as well as charging points for electric cars.

The Daejon-Sejong bike path isn’t the first solar road, although it is the most ambitious we’ve seen to date. Last year we took a look at the SolaRoad in the Netherlands, where the road itself has been replaced by solar panels. That cost $3.75 million dollars for a 230-foot stretch, though, so we probably won’t be seeing a 20-mile long version any time soon.

Original article published here.

Images: 7 Proven Principles for Designing a Safer City

Original article was published here.

Traffic accidents kill more than 1.2 million people every year, nearly the same amount that die from HIV/AIDS. But there’s an undervalued approach to making the world’s roads safer—good urban design.

While most traffic safety initiatives tend to focus on behavioral approaches—such as helmet- and seatbelt-wearing campaigns—a new publication from the EMBARQ sustainable mobility initiative of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities finds that seven design principles can help cities dramatically reduce road deaths. Here’s a visual look at how local officials and planners can design safer and more sustainable urban environments:

1. Avoid urban sprawl.WRI15_Cities_Safer_graphic-01
Cities that are connected and compact are generally safer than cities that are spread out over a large area. Compact Stockholm and Tokyo have the lowest traffic fatality rates in the world—fewer than 1.5 deaths per 100,000 residents. Sprawling Atlanta, on the other hand, has a death rate six times that, at 9 fatalities per 100,000 residents.

Cities should aim for smaller block sizes, pedestrian-oriented streets, and dense housing that allows for convenient, walkable access to transport, entertainment and public spaces. Doing so reduces the need for car travel and ensures a safe space for walking and cycling.

WRI15_Cities_Safer_graphic-022.  Slow down road traffic.

Lower automobile speeds, particularly below 25-31 miles per hour (40-50 kilometers per hour) drastically reduce the risk of fatalities.

Cities can implement low-speed zones and “area-wide traffic calming,” including speed humps, curves in the road called chicanes, curb extensions and raised pedestrian crossings. Research shows that speed humps can reduce vehicle speeds from more than 22 mph (36 kph) to less than 15 mph (25 kph). Paris, for example, has been using this kind of tool to design roads citywide to meet 30 kph (19 mph) speed limits.

3.  Ensure main streets are safe for everyone, not just cars.

WRI15_Cities_Safer_graphic-03-fig-4.1

Avenida Eduardo Molina in Mexico City—an arterial with dedicated bus lanes, protected bike lanes, rebuilt sidewalks, and a green central median at some segments—accommodates mass transport, mixed vehicular traffic,bicycling, and walking.

Ensuring safety is particularly important for main roads, where pedestrians and motorists often mix. A growing movement for “complete streets” means that all types of users have safe crossings and dedicated road space.

For example, refuge islands and medians give pedestrians a safe place when crossing the road. Mexico City found that for every one meter increase in unprotected road width, pedestrian crashes increased by 3 percent.  The city recently rebuilt its Avenida Eduardo Molina as a complete street, featuring dedicated transit, bike lanes and a green central median for pedestrians. Similar but less dramatic changes in street design in the city have resulted in a nearly 40 percent drop in fatalities.

WRI15_Cities_Safer_graphic-04-box-5.24.  Create dedicated space for pedestrians.

More than 270,000 pedestrians lose their lives each year on the world’s roads. If pedestrians lack quality space, they are exposed to greater risk. Basic sidewalk space is necessary, but pedestrian-only streets and street plazas can also be effective tools for protecting walkers.

In the past few years, New York City has led a global shift toward eliminating street spaces for cars and turning them into “street plazas,” improved sidewalks and car-free areas. For example, a large section of Times Square is now only accessible to walkers and cyclists.  The city saw a 16 percent decrease in speeding and a 26 percent reduction in crashes with injuries along streets with pedestrian plazas.

5.  Provide a safe, connected network for cyclists.WRI15_Cities_Safer_graphic-05-6.1

Studies from several cities find that injury rates go down and more people bike when there is dedicated infrastructure like off-street trails and dedicated bike lanes.  These cycling networks should also connect residential areas to business and retail, schools, parks and mass transport.

Bogota, Colombia found that adding more than 100 km (62 miles) of bikeways helped reduce bicyclist deaths by 47.2 percent between 2003 and 2013 , and increased bicycle use from just over 3 percent of all daily trips to over 6 percent.

6.  Ensure safe access to high-quality public transport.

WRI15_Cities_Safer_graphic-06-fig-7.3

Pedestrian access to a median BRT station.

High quality public transport carries more people, and experiences fewer crashes than private vehicle travel. Research shows that a bus rapid transit (BRT) system can reduce traffic deaths and severe injuries by 50 percent.

It’s not enough to just provide this public transit, though—city planners must also ensure safe access for commuters. Belo Horizonte, Brazil recently launched MOVE BRT, carrying an estimated 700,000 passengers per day. The city rebuilt streets in its center and created dedicated bus lanes with clearly marked crossings and easy pedestrian access. This system makes it safe for commuters to ride the bus, as well as to wait for and get onto the bus.

7.  Use data to detect problem areas.WRI15_Cities_Safer_graphic-07-fig-1.3

For example, London used data analysis and mapping to analyze its crash data and learned that a rise in cyclist deaths came from crashes with large trucks delivering goods into the city center. The city has since developed a pilot program to reschedule deliveries for low-cyclist hours.

We live in a rapidly urbanizing world, with cities expected to hold 70% of the global population by 2030. Designing safe cities now can protect current residents as well as those to come.

Cities can use data analysis to identify key streets where all the above solutions can be integrated. This means having good traffic crash data that can be mapped and analyzed, seen here using the PTV Visum Safety software to create heat maps of crash locations.