Paris is showing the world the future (their present) of good urban design, and it’s all about 15 minutes. We’ve looked at this concept before, and every year Paris pushes us further. The city has already reduced their reliance on automobiles and increased mobility for the entire populace. They’ve added green space and now since the pandemic hit they’ve accelerated their plans to make the entire city a good place to live. The core concept for all of this is that everything a person needs should be a 15 minute walk from their house.
“We know sometimes large cities can be tiring and can create a sense of anonymity,” says Rolland. “But proximity means that we will, through our social links, rediscover our way of living in cities. We want open spaces, but ones for doing nothing in particular, where people can meet each other or encounters can happen as much as possible. We live better when we live together, and this will rework our social fabric.”
The transformation of neighbourhoods has been well underway since Hidalgo took office in 2014, with the Paris mayor banning high-polluting vehicles, restricting the quays of the Seine to pedestrians and cyclists, and creating mini green spaces across the city – since 2018, more than 40 Parisian school grounds have been transformed into green “oasis yards”. More than 50km of bike routes known as “coronapistes” have also been added since the pandemic struck and last month renovation of the Place de la Bastille was completed as part of a €30m redesign of seven major squares. Hidalgo has pledged a further €1bn euros ($1.2bn, £916m) per year for the maintenance and beautification of streets, squares and gardens.
I live in Toronto where cars are king and everything else deserves to be banned from the road, heck we rip up bike lanes while other cities grow their bicycle networks (and we’re spending millions on a highway that gets fewer users than a bus route). Toronto has been shamefully slow in reusing streets for people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cities around the world have closed streets to car traffic and made life better for people who need more physical space so the disease won’t spread as easily. In Toronto we’ve closed parks and told people to walk single file on sidewalks while car traffic is down by 70%. basically, shame on Toronto.
What are good cities doing about this? They’re banning cars and using streets as a public space instead of a strip of land dedicated to moving single occupant vehicles. Some cities are considering making these changes permanent as the quality of life benefit from banning automobiles is quick to see and fall in love with.
Like many others in New York City, I live in an apartment that’s about 250 square feet. It’s a lot harder for me to abide by the same orders as people in sprawling suburban McMansions. Our sole escape is the public spaces that typically fill beyond any ability to socially distance on warm days. When people are stuck at home, and so many other establishments are closed—our libraries, museums, gyms, pools, restaurants—the parks are already more crowded than usual. Even the Green-Wood Cemetery has threatened to close because of overcrowding by people in search of spaces to walk. The situation stands to create a viral tinderbox that will ignite New York in the heat of the summer. To propose that the solution is to limit the use of these already precious public spaces is the inverse of a solution.
Open the streets. Open at least half of them. If we do not have enough police to enforce temporary closure to traffic, then open them semipermanently with concrete barriers. Open other streets permanently. Dynamite the asphalt, sod the land, plant trees and flowers, and do not look back.
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.
Navigating cities can be a challenge for anybody with mobility issues due to a lack of infrastructure and poor communication. Decades of efforts to improve urban design have made a positive difference while more recently apps for mobiles have come into existence. Not all solutions are valued by everyone, but the upward trend of making our neighbourhoods more accessible is a thing we should all appreciate.
People have been crowdsourcing accessibility data far longer than apps have been around. Disability activists have been drawing maps by hand for decadesto prove the need for curb cuts, wheelchair ramps, signage, and other features that make public access possible, particularly for wheelchair users. In cities such as Berkeley, California, and Urbana and Champaign, Illinois, environmental audits, mapmaking, ad-hoc design practices, and “guerrilla urbanism” have enabled wheelchair and power-chair users to get around otherwise inaccessible cities by, for example, fashioning curb cuts from found materials.
Urban planners know adding streets won’t make traffic any better, indeed adding capacity for more cars does the opposite: it makes traffic worse. The problem is that the average person (and politicians) don’t know this little quirk of urban planning. As a result we still build sub-urban areas to cater to old notions of traffic design instead of letting urban planners implement smarter, better solutions.
So what’s a solution to bad traffic? Road diets.
Today, we now know that bigger roads and extra traffic lanes do nothing to solve congestion. In fact, it tends to induce even more traffic. So we didn’t fix the congestion issues, and on top of that, we built wide roads that are relatively unsafe.
Transportation planners in the 21st century recognized that many of the roads that were overbuilt could be redesigned to calm speeding and add space for newer multimodal transportation options. And thus, the road diet was born.