Subway systems, trams, Bus-Rapid-Transit, high-speed trains, cars – these can all play useful roles in well-designed transportation systems. But we must not forget what still is and what should remain the world’s most important transportation method: walking. That is one of the key messages of Beyond Mobility: Planning Cities for People and Places, a survey of urban planning successes and failures around the world.
Mobility, after all, is generally less important to people than accessibility. When we go somewhere it’s not the movement that’s valuable, it’s the access to something – a school, shopping, a workplace, a friend’s house or a park – that really counts.
How do we get beyond the dependency-inducing trap of car culture? After 100 years in which auto-oriented infrastructure has dominated public works spending and reshaped civic life, how can we make our streets safe and healthy spaces?
Over the last decade, it’s become safer to drive and more dangerous to walk. That’s the conclusion of a new report on pedestrian safety released earlier this week, which documents that from 2007 to 2016, “The number of pedestrian fatalities increased 27 percent … while at the same time, all other traffic deaths decreased by 14 percent.”
The “vehicular cycling” approach promoted by John Forester can be a great help to all of us who have to ride on busy streets dominated by cars. Yet I think there are good reasons why this approach has always had limited appeal. In this second installment of a two-part essay I compare the vehicular cycling approach to what is arguably a much stronger social force – the Slow Bicycling movement.
The end of the 19th century gave us one of the great advances in transportation history, the modern bicycle. Alas, the early years of the twentieth century gave us the speedometer. And while the speedometer was far from the worst technological development of the 1900s, a fixation on speed was an unfortunate detour for several decades of bicycling history, especially in North America.
The bigger story now unfolding seems to be one of system transformation – a peak-car tipping point – that’s been slowly ‘brewing’ for a very long time. For the physicist Ugo Bardi, the decline of a complex system can be faster than its growth – an insight he attributes to the Stoic philosopher Seneca, who wrote: “Fortune is of sluggish growth, but ruin is rapid”.
My daughter, being sixteen, just got her driver’s license. I asked her a question a few days ago: ” If you had to choose one and give up the other, which would you choose: a personal vehicle or the internet (including social media, wifi, smart phones, etc.)?” She thought for a bit and said: “It’s a hard question but I would choose the internet. Nobody actually likes driving, it’s just something we have to do, but I really like having access to movies at home and all that other stuff.” She is just one young person, but the choice and the distinction that she made surprised me.
For me, a good bike ride is both relaxing and stimulating—a chance to revel in the passing scenery as I feel the wind blow across my face. But I never expected to experience this in New York City. Navigating Brooklyn and a bit of Manhattan on two wheels for the first time was a sublime surprise. Instead of constantly peering over my shoulder fearful of cars speeding toward me (as I expected), I actually savored the street life all around while pedaling through town.
In our current political climate, there is little appetite to build and resource huge new bureaucracies. Talent, expertise and the funding already exists within most transportation agencies. We simply have to re-tool the apparatus that was so successful in creating the high-speed network in the 20th Century.
In a recent post I extolled public transit as a way to cut personal fuel use, emissions and expenses, for those few Americans who can use it. But I had to think hard about that view after reading two well reasoned rebuttals, from Paul in Madison, Wisconsin, and Vince in Austin, Texas.
We are proud to have resurrected sailing cargo in the Mediterranean after a global hiatus of several decades. Our SAIL MED organization has been working on this and related projects since 2013. We’re part of a global trend of moving cargo with clean, truly renewable energy. And it’s fun helping to advance timeless Greek culture, which I know sounds grandiose.