by Daniel Moser
Most large cities have similar problems: During rush hour, as cars push their way through the streets like slow-flowing avalanches of metal, the search for parking space often becomes a test of patience. What are typically short car trips often turn into hour-long ordeals. Due to this issue, more cities are trying to solve the problem in a way that at first seems absurd: To take space away from cars. The idea is that cities no longer subordinate themselves to cars, but rather, cars subordinate themselves to cities – a paradigm shift. At least, that is what many mayors from Vienna to Bogotá have declared as their goal.
The current pandemic has only further demonstrated the urgent need for urban transport reforms. Now that city dwellers are restricted in their freedom of movement and can no longer relax on vacation, conditions within the city have suddenly taken on much more significance. More than ever, people need opportunities within their city not only to work but also to relax, without the monotony of arduous traffic. Until now, this has hardly been possible in most large cities because on the one hand, there hasn’t been enough space to do so, and on the other hand, air pollution and noise make relaxation difficult. According to a study published in September by the European Environment Agency, these two factors are actually the biggest threats to the health of the inhabitants of the European Union. The study found that more than 400,000 people die every year as a result of air pollution, and traffic and noise pollution cause around 12,000 premature deaths per year. Cities must change if they want to prevent the negative health outcomes generated by urban traffic.
“If the radius in which you can move around is suddenly very limited, the quality of your own neighborhood naturally becomes very relevant,” says Daniel Moser, head of the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI).
TUMI brings together 11 partners, including the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the German Society for International Cooperation, the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, and UN-Habitat. Together, they want to change mobility for the benefit of people and nature.
Daniel Moser has observed how many people have woken up to the areas where their neighborhoods are lacking as a result of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
“Where I live, there are not all the resources I need for daily existence,” says Moser. “The corona crisis shows us the weaknesses of the city that we have overlooked so far.”
Projects that are designed to make cities more liveable also receive more support from the population, explains Daniel Moser. Populations in cities around the world have radically changed their behavior as a result of the pandemic. Because many people began working from home, car traffic fell drastically, with the welcome side-effect that the streets became safer and less polluted. New York, for example, set a record on May 12 of 58 days in a row with no passerby deaths by road traffic.
On the other hand, fear of infection of coronavirus also led to a drop in the use of public transportation. Berlin’s public transportation companies, for example, recorded a drop of around 70% in ticket sales, while the Munich Transport and Tariff Association lost as much as 85%. Many public transportation companies had to thin out their offerings in order to avoid bankruptcy.
Car sharing providers suffered a similar fate. In March, usage fell by almost half. Lime, the world’s largest e-scooter rental company, had to cut back or completely discontinue its services in France, Great Britain, the USA, Brazil, and Germany, while its competitor Bird withdrew completely from the European market.
The big winner of the crisis is the bicycle. Bicycle sales shot up everywhere; Italy, for example, promoted this with purchase premiums. Many cities responded to the increase in bicycle traffic with temporary pop-up bicycle lanes, which were set up on closed car lanes. Berlin did this for about twenty kilometers, but a political dispute broke out concerning the bicycle lanes due to a complaint by a member of the far-right political party, AfD. Initially, the administrative court ordered the dismantling of the cycle paths, but the senate appealed against this in summary proceedings, and the Higher Administrative Court ruled in favor of the appeal. The cycle paths may therefore remain for the time being.
Paris has made similar transport reforms much faster. Mayor Anne Hidalgo is planning 650 kilometers of new cycle paths in the French capital, and that’s not the total amount by a long shot. The new network of cycle paths is part of her grand plan Ville du quart d’heure – “the City of 15 minutes.” Hidalgo wants to redesign Paris so that every inhabitant can reach everything important by bike from his or her home in 15 minutes. Jobs, shopping facilities, kindergartens, doctors, parks, cultural and sports facilities are to be decentralized everywhere in the future; Paris is to become a city of short distances. By 2024, Hidalgo wants to have expanded the bicycle network, and she also promises a greener city.
“We will plant a tree at the birth of every little Parisian,” she announced before the local elections in March, where she was confirmed in office. If her plan works out, the Paris of tomorrow will not only be more liveable, but also more climate-friendly.
While Hidalgo’s plan has been met with significant public approval, Parisians are concerned about the vast number of construction sites required for such a sprawling urban transformation. Critics such as journalist Alice Delaleu have accused Hidalgo of excluding the poorer population living in the peripheral districts from the center city.
“By creating the city of the quarter, the city is building new walls and sinking into selfishness,” writes Delaleu in an online magazine Chroniques d’architecture. Night watch workers, housekeepers, or construction workers who work in the prosperous center city but live in the poorer suburbs are not included in Hidalgo’s vision, according to Delaleu. So can such a utopia become a reality despite the resistance?
“The 15-minute city is completely realistic,” says Moser. “Space simply has to be distributed differently. If you look at how much space is used for parking – there is a lot of potential.”
Moser’s hope is that the many pop-up projects outside of Paris will be transformed into permanent solutions. The Jungfernstieg in Hamburg, for example, has been largely closed to cars since October 2020, but it is not scheduled to be properly converted until 2022. Moser explains that such projects are a good way of gathering practical experience that can be taken into account during the actual rebuilding.
“The planning paradigm is being reversed,” Moser notes.
There are several models for socially and environmentally compatible urban planning. For example, in 2015, the Norwegian capital Oslo gradually began to ban cars from the center, expanding public transportation and promoting the spread of rental bicycles. And in Madrid, only residents and drivers of hybrid, electric, and gas-powered vehicles have been allowed to drive in the city center since 2018, while the center of the Spanish city of Pontevedra has been virtually car-free for 20 years. For the few cars of residents or delivery traffic that are still allowed, the speed limit is 30 km/h, and pedestrians always have priority.
“Cities need the freedom to experiment,” says Moser. “Only with a mix of shortening distances, shifting from cars to more efficient modes of transport, and electrifying the remaining cars can the city of tomorrow be shaped.”
Read the original article here: https://www.greenpeace-magazin.de/aktuelles/die-15-minuten-stadt