As we saw in the first article, density of people and events brings them closer together and therefore the possibility of a pedestrian movement. This can easily turn into transit, drifting or walk beyond a pure transfer from A to B. We have already discussed some of the virtues of foot traffic, yet we cannot walk everywhere as perhaps the size itself of the city in which we live makes it impossible. This is where the issue of public transport appears. And this is what we will discuss now.
If again we think to live in this complex, for almost anything you take your car: either to see your buddy in the neighbourhood, visit your parents or shopping. It is designed by and for the car. Walking through becomes boring, monotonous and slow. If today you want to shop downtown (the area of the city where almost everything happens) you could go by bus, but the bus stop is far (and again reaching it bores you). Moreover, given that few people live there it only happens a bus every hour and its way downtown takes thousand laps to go through other developments like yours. Conclusion: again you boot your car (or your father’s because you have two in the garage at home) and hopefully (if there is no traffic jam) in half an hour you can be shopping. Of course for this you need to get to anywhere by car and park easily as well. This has been the road policy of many of our cities.
If however you live in one of the city dense areas you may not need to take the car every day. With a little luck you can walk to shopping, to work, to the movies or sports, but there are times when you need to move faster by means of a vehicle. Again the density is on our side. As more people and more things happen in the same area, public transportation becomes more efficient. So you can drive for visiting your parents or playing a football game with friends. But perhaps you are more comfortable taking the bus which this time passes by your home with an acceptable frequency.
The truth is that all our cities already have public transportation: cycling network, bus, tram or metro. The question is how to make it more attractive than using the car, and this can be achieved no matter you live in a residential suburban area or in the city center. If the car is no longer the first choice, the space it occupies can begin to be occupied by pedestrians (with the benefits that we have already seen in our previous story) or green areas, which have been historically abundant in our Mediterranean cities. Let’s see how…
Let’s return first to the urbanization. There are examples where suburban areas, such as our case, are perfectly associated with the centre of the city by means of a public tranportation system. One reason can be found in how these “developments” arose. While the attitude in our latitudes has been historically to build first and then connect, we can find cases where piles of detached houses were planned in a clear relationship with a public transportation system. So both the urbanization and public transport were thought and developed in parallel (such as occurred in the celebrated case of Curitiba). If that is your case, your house would be sufficiently close to a tram stop (for example) and thus efficient: you know exactly when it passes by, when late you can take the next one passing in 5 minutes. In the same way you know your destination is in 15 minutes and surely it will be cheaper than taking the car: you would consume gas and pay in the underground car park at the centre where you would probably have to leave the car. So, although you have to walk a while between houses and fences, maybe a little interesting landscape, you know that once you get to the stop your destination is easily reachable.
On the other hand, imagine that the neighbourhood where you live is very large and your daily walk to the station is too much. Although you know that public transport is punctual, fast, cheap and leaves you where you want (even if you have to do transfers) you rather drive your car not to downtown but to park in the free car park next to the bus stop instead. There you meet your friend Roberto with whom you go shopping to the centre. This is a possibility, but there are others. Today you are meeting some friends to play football, but the field is a 20 minute walk from the nearest stop … at first it seems to be no alternative to car. However, there is a bike path that passes right by your home. Then you get on the bike and ride all the way to the station, get on the tram and, although you do not arrive at your destination, when getting off you take a new bike path that drops you in the football field. This is called intermodality: that means using multiple means of transportation to get to your destination. Although there are people who do not believe in this, it works! And if you live in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, where cycling is not a recent trend but a culture developed over decades, with a little luck a cyclist ‘highway’ may pass across your neighbourhood (as already happens in Copenhagen) allowing you to get downtown in half an hour… same (or even less) than it would take you driving, yet cheaper and much healthier.
Now let’s imagine that again you live in a central neighbourhood of the city. Surely you have a bus stop at your fingertips … well, more or less. However, what happens in the housing estates of the outskirts can affect what your neighbourhood is like. If your other self (who lives in the outskirts) no longer drives downtown and gets the bike, bus or tram instead, your neighbourhood will no longer be packed with cars looking for parking. So today you get to the street and find that parking spaces have been removed (this is a little story … sadly never happens so fast). In its place a wider sidewalk has emerged, where you stop to chat with your neighbour next door without disturbing the rest of passersby. They have even made a proper bike path which is continuous, safe and connected to the rest of the city. Along it you can now go to the beach without having to mess with cars, trucks and motorcycles that slip in between.
The same has happened in the street above, but now a new tram line passes by takes you to college with just one change. So now when you step on the street there it is the eternal bus stop, whose route has changed and no longer covers the entire city, but it goes around your neighbourhood and those adjacent on its way to the tram stop. The tram itself, which runs every 5 minutes and with which you can quickly go to the other side of town (if you want) as well as the new bike lane are real alternatives to car… given you cannot walk.
Let’s see then how mobility systems affect our neighborhoods’ sustainability:
ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY. The impact is almost obvious … if we are able to reduce the number of cars on our streets replacing them by public transport, our emissions of greenhouse gases will be lowered, mitigating climate change.
SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY. Almost all means of public transport we have discussed are an intermediate situation between walking and driving. If we said when you driving you only move from one point to another, the bus, tram or subway may themselves become a meeting place (planned or accidental). Therefore, many things can happen on the way.
ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY. Improving efficiency in public transport by any of the strategies we have discussed before, has a positive impact on the collective economy. More people will use public transport, which means higher revenues that may be reinvested in the own infrastructure. Furthermore, the impact on the personal economy is by no means negligible.
CULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY. The use of bicycles in many of our cities as a means of transport implies a cultural change. While bicycles are not foreign to us, perhaps we have relegated them to a recreational or sporting use, but … why don’t we learn from those cities in which bikes are a means of transport on its own right? We may think that is not possible and fall into clichés like “in the Netherlands bike is so popular because the whole country is flat.” Well, as we can see in this MTG post, that’s not true. The problems that many of our cities face are the same ones that Dutch politicians and planners faced … yes, over 40 years ago.
Let’s see now how some of the SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS can help us to measure how efficient are our systems of public transport, and particularly if they can be sufficiently “attractive” to make people to park the car at home (or even not buy one …). So the question we’re going to make ourselves today is whether we have within reach attractive systems of public transport in our city.
As usual in this series, the Ecological Urbanism measures this in different ways:
·The first (POPULATION’S NAVIGATION MODE) tells us exactly whether our city’s public transportation system is attractive enough to leave the car parked. So by conducting a mobility survey we will relate the number of car trips we make any weekday with the number of total trips made that very same day. The goal would be that no more than 25% of these trips were made with our private automobile. So let’s imagine a normal day in which we take the kids to school, then go to work, pick them up in the afternoon, shop, and go to gym late night. If only one of these trips uses the car, we’d be on target. For reference, saying the last mobility survey conducted in Alicante (the city from where we are writing) showed that approximately 45% of urban trips are made by car.
. The answer to the question “why our city’s transportation system is not attractive enough to leave the car at home?” may be found in the following indicator (PROXIMITY TO ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORT NETWORKS TO CAR). That means an adequate proximity to public transport systems is specially valued. Thus it is estimated that we should be able to get to a bus stop after 5 minutes walking (300 meters) or 7 minutes for a tram stop (500 meters). Or we can even join a cycling network after pedaling along the street for 2 minutes. This indicator’s goal is not just that we have a stop at this distance, which our cities may today already meet, but we can choose from several options. In other words the aim is that 80% of our neighbors have simultaneous access to several of the abovementioned transport networks. In the case that the considered district counts on local bus, tram, subway and bicycle network, the goal would be to have simultaneous access to 3 of them. In case there is no subway (like in most of medium and small scale cities) 80% of the population should have simultaneous access both to bus stops and a cycling network.
Finally, we would like to add that the quality of public transport cannot be exclusively measured by proximity of the population to public stops. As we all know there are other factors that make cities attractive: transport speed, route itself, duration, reliability of standby times, development of smart phones apps, and so on. But not only improvements can be made in motorized public transport (quite usual today): we can move forward on how to make our cycling networks more attractive. And, as always, Copenhagen remains the reference.