How vehicles provide and dismantle space
Published 28 November 2021 by Quitterie d’Harcourt
“If in 2015 we had parked all the passenger cars in circulation in a single line, one after the other, the line would have covered approximately 11 times the distance between the Moon and the Earth, or 106 times the circumference of the Earth.” (Bobisse & Pavia, 2019, pp.12)
Considering the space required for circulation and parking, we cannot comprehend the extent to which automobiles have invaded public space. As stated by Bobisse & Pavia (2019, pp.12), “it is an extremely space-hungry system, [that is] inefficient and expensive to maintain.” The issue is magnified by the actual use of the car, which in fact remains parked for 95 percent of the time (Morris, 2016). This figure demonstrates the critical flaw in the widespread use of private automobiles.
Cars – the most dominant mode of transport – are omnipresent. Countries all over the world have seen a surge in demand for automobiles since the automotive industry’s inception, as people see privately owned vehicles as a necessity. However, as the environmental impact of motorised cars has been more widely recognised, reforms have placed a larger emphasis on public services.
Still, people want their own car, and with the impact COVID-19 has had on urban settings worldwide, people have become even more conscious of the health risks associated with sharing space in enclosed capsules while commuting publicly. So how can we close the gap between cars and pedestrians, allowing them to coexist together in public spaces, without one dominating and oppressing the other?
More drastic strategies?
Numerous cities across the world have made significant headway in resolving the Modernist flaws of car-led urban developments, eliminating the obstacles that were built when vehicular efficiency was the main driver (Bobisse & Pavia, 2019, pp.44). Still, many streets were damaged because of these barriers which separated people and vehicles.
In the UK, transport is the “largest sector for UK greenhouse emissions (27%), of which road transport account for 90%, […] road transport is one of the biggest contributors to poor air quality in some of the UK’s towns and cities” (Department for Transport, 2018, pp.7). Much has been done in London to lower nitrogen dioxide levels, a group of chemicals generated by traffic that can impair a person’s respiratory system. Despite this, “70 per cent of roads in central London and 24 per cent in inner London still exceed the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide” (Mayor of London, 2020, pp.112).
To settle this issue once and for all, pro-Corbyn academics have suggested a drastic plan: they argue that cars should be banned entirely from London by 2030. Some, however, doubt that this strategy is feasible. You might be interesting in reading my first blog “Paris: Pedestrianizing the settings of the Eiffel Tower”, that describes the Mayor of Paris’ similar plan for the French capital. These strategies have caused major divisions between people, but I believe, they are important to discuss for the future of our cities.
Bridging the gap between cars and pedestrians
With the introduction of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), one hopes that people will be at the centre of this new transportation system. People live in cities, and streets should be developed with them in mind. Instead of favouring this infrastructure and its performance over other modes of transportation and their users, doing so will allow us to continue working toward the objective of enhancing our cities for all.
CAVs are far better for the environment however, how can we integrate them to pedestrian traffic? According to Bobisse and Pavia (2019), this can be achieved through the implementation of a new generation of mobility hubs (NEMOHs). These should assist users through their urban travels, in addition to handling CAVs and their demands (like parking, charging and maintenance). They should offer consumers a variety of transportation alternatives, services and store, and a pleasant location to stop, unwind and socialise. A multi-level structure above or below ground would serve as a standard hub. With regards to parking, CAVs do not require door-opening space. This comes to a great advantage as parking spaces would therefore “be up to 15 per cent smaller and [would] increase the capacity of a typical parking lot by more than 60 per cent” (Bobisse & Pavia, 2019, pp.50). The ground floor of the hub would act as the primary connector between CAV users and the rest of the city, as it would hold public space and activity, allowing for active frontage.
CAVs also offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to adapt cities to make them more resilient and energy efficient. If the centre of cities were to become planned exclusively for them, brand new opportunities would appear. For instance, “allocation of space could be more radical, with major gains for pedestrians and public life through the building of denser, greener, and ultimately more sustainable cities” (Bobisse & Pavia, 2019, pp.52).
Staying mindful of healthy cities
CAVs deliver considerable mobility improvements, but they may also encourage more people to utilise them for quick journeys, substituting a stroll or cycle to nearby public transportation facilities. This issue would need to be addressed, particularly in countries like England, which are dealing with obesity and mental health crises. (Tom’s blog is a good place to start if you want to learn more about active travel as a crises solution!) Therefore, we ought to be aware of this and take advantage of the opportunity provided by CAVs to keep developing appealing, pleasant, and safe urban pedestrian and biking infrastructure to encourage active transport. CAVs will also require suitable speed restrictions in urban centres, not just for safety purposes, but also to make pedestrian movement an appealing option and to maintain a high-quality streetscape.
So, what are your thoughts on connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs)? Are they a sustainable solution that would forever change the divisive relationship between pedestrians and cars?
– Bobisse, R. & Pavia, A. (2019) Automatic for the City: Designing for People in the Age of the Driverless Car. London: RIBA Publishing, pp.3-55.
– Department for Transport (2018) The Road to Zero: Next steps towards cleaner road transport and delivering our Industrial Strategy. London: HM Government, pp.7-21.
– Mayor of London (2020) Air Quality in London 2016-2020. London: Greater London Authority, pp.103-113.
– Morris, D. (2016) Today’s Cars Are Parked 95% of the Time. Available at: https://fortune.com/2016/03/13/cars-parked-95-percent-of-time/ (accessed 26th November 2021).
– Murray, L. (2019) Away with All Cars (Redux). Available at: https://www.common-wealth.co.uk/reports/away-with-all-cars-redux#footnotes2 (accessed 27th November 2021).