Back in 2003 London rolled out its congestion pricing to reduce traffic going into the city and provide more funding for transit solutions. The results have been predictable insofar that the air is cleaner, there are fewer cars downtown, and other transit solutions have become more prominent. It’s shocking that every city hasn’t copied London’s approach, and Vox recently took a look at the congestion plan to explore the concept.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced a plan to bring congestion pricing to New York City. The goal is to raise money for the city’s crumbling public transit system and reclaim the dangerously busy city streets. But what is congestion pricing, and can it actually solve all our transit woes? We took a look at London, a city that enacted a congestion charge in 2003, to see some of the benefits. Check out the video above to learn more.
Every Sunday the city of Bogota stops cars from entering the city and they let the streets be used by everyone. Once cars are out of the equation it’s amazing what communities can do to make life more enjoyable and help their culture thrive. National Geographic took a look into how Bogota’s famous Ciclovía grew from an idea to an event copied around the world.
“One gets bored just going from home to work and back again,” said Martha Cubillos, a pleasant general services employee for the city who said she had biked with her husband to the Ciclovía from the far outskirts of town. She could stand to lose a little weight, according to her doctor, “so I come here every eight days and they teach us how to do aerobics.” Was the Ciclovía one of the things she liked best about Bogotá? Oh, definitely. She took a swig of water and jumped back into the sweaty throng. Ciclovía’s director, Sarmiento, said that in a highly stratified society like Colombia’s one of the things she loves about the program is its egalitarian nature. “No one cares about the clothes you’re wearing or what social class you’re from: everyone is welcome, and everyone is equal,” she’d said. The line-up of bikes leaning next to each other alongside the Zumba class—some rusted and wobbly, some with comfortably upholstered seats—supported that statement.
Bad urban design makes for poor living conditions and when cars are involved it can mean lethal conditions. As people know all to well, the last century’s bizarre love of the automobile has given us a lot of issues that we need to deal with today. Some solutions are really complex (like climate change) while others can be solved easily through simple design tweaks. One fast and easy way to save lives is to lower the speed limits on cars. Another simple solution is to stop designing our streets to allow cars to travel at high speeds. Cars kill, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Many people fear that slowing the speed limit in urban areas will dramatically increase journey time. However, average road speeds in cities are more determined by the frequency of intersections than speed limits. A safer speed limit can achieve more uniform speeds and reduce dangerous midblock acceleration, while adding little to overall journey times. Research from Grenoble, France has shown that a speed limit of 30 kmph (18.64 mph) rather than 50 kmph (31 mph) only added 18 seconds of travel time between intersections 1 km (.62 miles) apart. Lower speed limits may even reduce congestion in some cases, as they reduce the likelihood of bottlenecks. This has been observed in Sao Paulo, where lowering the speed limit on major arterials reduced congestion by 10 percent during the first month of implementation, while fatalities also dropped significantly.
More people live and work in cities than ever before in the history of humanity, as a result the transportation pressures on these urban centres as equally increased. In North America, the last century focused on making cities for cars instead of for people and as more population density increases in cities the urban design can’t keep pace. Making cities for cars has led to a really problematic situation. We know the future of cities is in human-scale design instead of car-scale design and the transition has been hard. In the USA cyclist fatalities have increased by 25% and pedestrian deaths by 45% since 2010.
The solution for safer cities exists and places are already implementing better design practices. You can make an impact today by getting rid of your car or just driving less.
Strategies vary from one city to another. Boston, for example, has reduced the city speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 mph. Washington, D.C. is improving 36 intersections that pose threats to pedestrians and enacting more bicycle-friendly policies. These cities still have far to go, but they are moving in the right direction.
There are many more options. Manufacturers can make vehicles less threatening to pedestrians and bicyclists by reducing the height of front bumpers. And cities can make streets safer with a combination of speed limit reductions, traffic calming measures, “road diets” for neighborhoods that limit traffic speed and volume, and better education for all road users.
North Americans love cars and that love is literally killing us, and I don’t mean through car exhaust I mean by directly killing people. Over 60 people were needlessly killed by drivers in Toronto in 2018. This is obviously the fault of careless driving, but it’s also the result of a hundred years of pro-car policies (this includes everything from subsidies to the oil industry to high speed limits), which cities outside of North America are reversing.
It’s clear to urban planners and people who live in cities that the age of the car is coming to an end. This is really good life-saving news! Over at Outside there’s a piece comparing New York to how other cities are leading the charge to a pro-person transportation network.
London New Yorkers suffer from a bad case of exceptionalism; “This isn’t [insert lesser city here]!,” we cry whenever someone proposes a new idea. “That shit ain’t gonna fly in this town.” And yes, some of these other cities are somewhat diminutive compared to our mighty metropolis of over eight million people. But you can’t say that about London, a fellow global power that’s equally huge in population and cultural and commercial clout. Sure, they’ve got their car-addled road ragers just like we do, but they’ve also got cycling superhighways, motor-vehicle-congestion pricing, and soon, an ultra-low emission zone. Here in New York, the best we’ve come up with so far is “Gridlock Alert Days,” which is basically a handful of days a year we politely ask people not to drive. Tokyo In New York City, space is at a premium, and this is some of the most expensive real estate in the country—yet we give away much of our curb space for private vehicle storage. This glut of cars has a seriously negative impact on our quality of life. Yet if I owned fifteen cars I could park them all out on the street for free, and while some might say I was simply exercising my rights as an American, what it really makes me is an asshole. But in Tokyo (another gigantic global power city), you can’t even buy a car without showing proof that you’ve secured a parking space for it—and you can’t fake it either, because overnight parking is illegal.