Traffic and sustainability. Every municipality struggles to combine the two. Some districts take drastic measures through circulation plans and leave it up to the free market. However, there isn’t a single town that’s against sustainability. The buildup of traffic grows, emissions increase year after year and the number of casualties stagnates. Everyone is looking toward the future for the big solutions: autonomously driving smart cars, smart infrastructure, smart traffic signals, smart people. Put the word ‘smart’ in front of it and the problems will eventually get solved.
Wrong! Technology is a tool, not a solution. Allow me to introduce 5 radical solutions to start transforming our towns into smart sustainable ones right now. I didn’t make all of them up myself, but rather stole them – smartly. Because being smart is about more than technology, it’s about achieving your targets by thinking things through and imitating your neighbors when necessary. Cheating allowed.
Tip 1: Increase inhabitant-reserved parking space
Invest in fringe parking mobi-hubs
In many cities and streets, it’s one of the biggest frustrations for inhabitants. They can hardly ever find a parking space and people end up parking just about anywhere they see fit. Not exactly great for the quality of life. A simple and cheap measure is to implement reserved parking space for inhabitants in residential areas. Simple and effective. However, this kind of measure should always be countered with enough alternatives. You can lower the amount of parking spots in residential areas, but meanwhile you’ll have to compensate by providing more somewhere else. In come the multimodal mobi-hubs. Mobi-hubs are strategically connected places, e.g. on the fringe, where you can transfer to various shared or public forms of transport to travel the last mile into the city: the city bicycle, the shared bus-on-call, bus, metro or train and yes, why not, the shared compact car.
Naturally, this implies a substantial investment in public transport in general. The connection needs to operate until late at night – nothing quite as inconvenient as noticing public transport is no longer available when you need to get back to the fringe parking after visiting a friend. These first belt mobi-hubs are an addition to the more peripheral 2nd belt park&rides you can find at a further distance from the city. Through smart price control you can maximally motivate people to park as far as possible. Want to enter the city anyway? No problem, plenty of underground parking spaces, for which – as a non-inhabitant – you have to pay. People with a disability can benefit from social rates or can make use of ground level parking spots. Hamburg is planning to turn 40% of the city into a car-free zone by 2034, just to prove that simply increasing inhabitant-reserved parking spots is a modest ambition. Amsterdam works exclusively with inhabitant parking in large parts of the city. They started with one zone, and eventually citizens asked for expansion when they saw the benefits.
Tip 2: A market place for parking spots
Reward the carless
“Stick and carrot”, “oil and vinegar”, “good cop and bad cop”. Sustainable behavior is also achieved through nudging. Average car possession is 1 per family, while the parking norm is 1.2. It seems somewhat contradictory to opt for sustainable mobility. That’s why we introduce a market place for parking spots. Every family gets exactly one parking card. They can choose to keep it for their own car or sell it to their neighbor who has two cars. With the money they can then pay for whatever they want: a city bicycle subscription, public transport, Cambio or other shared car. Let the market do its job. It doesn’t cost the government a penny. The freed-up public space can be used for decent bicycle stands, bicycle lockers, public green spaces, charging poles for electrical cars, parking space for the sharing economy, benches or broader sidewalks and bicycle lanes. Plus, you’ll have an extra incentive for young families: come to the city and your neighbor will pay for your Cambio!
Tip 3: Share City
Exclusive parking spots for car sharing systems
The average car goes unused for 22,5 hours a day. In companies, ‘idle assets’ are considered something negative. When it comes to cars, we waste an enormous amount of money and space, because every car needs its own parking space. Let me walk you through a utopia. The city of the future is a city with a 100% sharing economy. All parking spots are reserved for shared vehicles. There are no more owners, only users of mobility. Whether they are inhabitants or visitors, the pariahs who want to own their own car have to park on strategic spots in the multimodal mob-hubs in the 1st and 2nd belt mobi-hubs.
This way, just half of the available parking space will prove to be more than enough, while everyone can still use a car when necessary. Add an app for ridesharing based on driving region with reasonable fiscal guidance and the number decreases even further. Imagine what you could achieve with all that new free space. Call it unobtainable all you want, Helsinki is striving towards becoming a veritable share city by the year 2025. Want to be cautious about it anyway? Start out with a share neighborhood using new large-scale building projects as a test site and experiment. Trial and error allowed!
Tip 4: Smart conflict-free intersections
With long cyclist and pedestrian green times
Conflict-free intersections are already fairly well-established, although there are still some legal conflicts when it comes to bicycle-on-bicycle accidents during square-green. The disadvantage of square-green is that because of the long mandatory clearing times – e.g. time span after the green light to allow pedestrians to safely cross before cars get the green light – often result in these conflict-free regulations limiting the green-time for cyclists and pedestrians. In other words, if you implement this on an entire traffic axis, cyclists and pedestrians need to wait longer and more often.
How can we do better? In many French neighborhoods, it’s already commonly accepted. You prohibit cars to turn right on the main axis to get into a neighborhood except for one entry. At this one entry intersection you put the traffic light for turning right on green permanently. On all other intersections you can allow cyclists and pedestrians to walk along with the straight-going traffic. That way they get more green time and less conflict. A win-win situation. Furthermore, you cut off entry to nearby neighborhoods, avoiding traffic in residential areas. Being smart in this case is adapting residential area circulation. Use this technology to assist the desired circulation.
Tip 5: Splits het fietswegennet op
Give pedelecs their own space
Bicycle highways are one of many great initiatives to facilitate the route of cyclists between cities. It’s something we can truly be proud of. However, once we get into the city, the cyclist is left to his own devices. Often, cyclists end up on bicycle lanes that are far too narrow, without a clear or natural passage to the bicycle highways. Bike axes where bicycles have priority can offer improvement in this case. On these axes, you minimize parking facilities along the sidewalk and maximize the bicycle lanes. Best case scenario: you make them broad enough to subdivide the bike lane network. With the increase of e-bikes (riding at 45 km/h) there is a new mode to take into consideration. However, our bicycle infrastructure isn’t ready yet, which often results in conflict with the other vehicles, not in the least with slower cyclists or pedestrians. So, give them the space they deserve with a smoothly connected network running into the center of every city and mobility from the suburbs will swiftly see the benefits of these fast bicycles, allowing for a substantial modal shift.
Why wait for disruptive technology when you can already be smarter today?