Urbanism

This is my submission to the Melbourne Planning Strategy http://www.planmelbourne.vic.gov.au/

What we want to achieve

Principle 1: A distinctive Melbourne – get rid of billboards, make people the priority, not cars.

Principle 2: A globally connected and competitive city – rail connections between the airports and the city, NBN to the Home, not the Node.

Principle 3: Social and economic participation – get cars off the streets, and put people on them, create parks and parklets, and put in some trees.

Principle 4: Strong communities– get cars off the streets, and put people on them, create parks and parklets, and put in some trees.

Principle 5: Environmental resilience. get cars off the streets, and put people on them, create parks and parklets, and put in some trees.

Principle 6: A polycentric city linked to regional cities – High Speed and Very Fast rail connections, with ready facilities to carry bicycles as local transport

Principle 7: Living locally – a ‘20 minute’ city get cars off the streets, and put people on them, create parks and parklets, and put in some trees.

To achieve the above goals a number of radical measures need to be put in place urgently, and I discuss them below in no particular order of importance – it’s more an overall concept rather than distinct measures. A good place to start would be this lecture by Jan Gehl in Melbourne in May 2011 – introduced by Rob Doyle: http://www.themonthly.com.au/cities-people-lecture-jan-gehl-3340

The problem is that everyone says “oh it’s a good idea…” But it only takes the political will to DO IT!

Get rid of billboards, and other visual pollution.

One of the reasons tourists visit Melbourne is because it is “so beautiful”. Yet visual pollution begins at the freeway and extends right through the city and suburbs. We should be returning Melbourne to its glory days of lovely deco buildings and boulevards. One cannot imagine Parisians, for example, tolerating the covering of their city with billboards, and the Mayor of Paris has recently closed the roadway along the Right Bank of the Seine so that people can walk and cycle safely along there.

A billboard ban–called an act against “visual pollution” by the mayor–went into effect on January 1, 2007 in São Paulo. And what the Brazilian city started could soon become a global trend.

In China, the well-touristed city of Xi’an has just announced it will remove advertising from its historic centre as part of a broader plan to spruce up the imperial capital. Meanwhile in Cleveland, some government officials are trying to reign in billboards using a legal clause already on the city’s books.

Other South American cities including Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia are looking into the idea of ending outdoor advertising, too:
http://www.jaunted.com/story/2008/9/10/151940/086/travel/Three+Is+a+Trend%3A+Billboard-Free+Cities

Bicycles, Public Transport and People-Oriented Public Space

Currently 11,000 cyclists ride to work in the city (RACV Royalauto Aug/Sep 2012). Imagine if they all decided to drive their cars in on the one day. Then you would really see traffic chaos.

What really needs to happen to make Melbourne a cycling city is to draw a 10k radius around the CBD, and make that whole area a cycling priority precinct. This is how the Dutch did it, Amsterdam was not always a cycling city: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o  (6 minutes).

Congestion is caused by too many cars on the road, and the vast majority of these are single occupant commuters. The solution is to reduce the number of cars on the road. Making more roads simply leads to more cars. But you also need to make non-car transport viable at the same time. This is cycling and public transport.

Any two lane road: make one full lane available to bikes and buses only.  A key component to achieving these goals is to lower the overall speed of traffic, which in turn increases roadway capacity.  This means that even though cars are moving slower, more vehicles can pass through an area.  Although this might seem counter intuitive, when vehicles are traveling at slower speeds, they also travel with less distance between each other, allowing for a greater total traffic.  In fact, lowering vehicle speeds from 40mph to 25mph will increase total vehicles by approximately 400 vehicles per hour. http://phillymotu.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/complete-streets-slow-traffic-to-increase-activity/

Tear down all the car park high rises, and turn them into parklands for city workers and residents. Impose a congestion tax for non-commercial vehicles coming into the area. That tax can be utilised to fund the cycleways and public transport facilities.

Make Public Transport a genuine Metro – trains/trams/buses every 10 minutes, no timetable. Change the law so that (as in the Netherlands) cyclists have generally right of way over cars, and motor vehicles’ insurance is automatically responsible if there is a crash.

Increase driver awareness of cyclists and cyclist behaviour – for example; as a requirement of getting a driving licence, it would be mandatory to go out on three two-hour rides with a guide through the city so that you can understand the interaction between cyclists and drivers.

All of this would be cheaper than the spending on traffic infrastructure, and would reduce congestion much more effectively. Commercial vehicles, tradies and so on would have much more ability to move around the city without being held up by traffic, and the benefits to the whole economy flow on from that. Currently congestion costs us all approximately 4 billion (Eddington, The Age, 8/9/2012) in “externalities” such as the wasted time for deliveries and trades people, etc.

Sydney Mayor Clover Moore has put the case to the Federal Government for funds to create an inner-city regional bicycle network, covering the inner 15 local government areas. Research commissioned by the City shows that such a network would deliver an economic benefit of at least $506 million or close to $4 for every dollar spent, over a 30 year span. A new motorway or freeway will return about $2 for every dollar spent. http://www.clovermoore.com.au/working-for-sydney/issues/transport/

In any case, once petrol reaches $5 a litre, we will still need to implement these kinds of measures in order to move people about, because most people will be unable to afford to drive. The difference will be that by then it will cost a lot more, and more people will suffer financially. The above mentioned externalities will also have skyrocketed, because the growth of Melbourne will place ever more cars on the road. The problem will not get better. Implemented now, it would take about 10 – 15 years to implement, and cost less than any new freeway because it utilises existing infrastructure in a more practical way.

Amsterdam and Copenhagen have been onto this since the 1970s. New York, L.A., London, Reading, Portland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Memphis, Austin, Boulder, San Francisco, Vancouver, Dublin, Seoul, Seville, even Bogota Columbia and Sao Paolo Brazil, are all transforming their cities away from motor vehicle dominated and into human oriented spaces. Munich, Zurich, Strasbourg, Hamburg, Tokyo, Fukuoka, Helsinki, Stockholm, Malmo, Paris, Nantes, Vienna, Berlin,  Geneva, Groningberg, Barcelona, Quebec, Calgary and Montreal all have high proportions of cycling. Budapest, Buenos Aires, Bordeaux, Tel Aviv…

“If even just 10 precent more people were cycling instead of driving at any given time, traffic congestion would be significantly reduced on Australian roads with a commensurate reduction in risk to motorists, pedestrians and cyclists,” (Professor Rissel, University of Sydney School of Public Health.)

The 10k radius idea is really just a start. It is geared towards reducing car congestion as much as encouraging cycling. It also gives a very clear focus and provides a model for further development by local councils (which are already pretty much on board with cycling infrastructure anyway). My hypothesis is that radial bike priority roads and crosstown roads would naturally be developed as the bike use to the inner area creates an increasing demand. Given the inner city areas are where the most bike use is currently occurring; this is the logical place to commence. Of course, cycling in the outer suburbs will also need attention, especially in building viable routes that lead to shops and schools, and commuting routes to the city which are direct and fast.

It’s time we took our city back from the domination of the motor vehicle and really made the CBD and inner Melbourne the most liveable city in the world.  As Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York states: “Roads are designed to move people—they’re not necessarily designed to move automobiles, so you might want to use your roads for other methods of transportation.”

Fund It!

Bicycles make up about 1% of all journeys (in Melbourne, anyway), and receive about 0.01% of all transport funding. Simply by funding cycling proportionally to usage would be almost enough to transform Melbourne from a city that pays lip service to cycling into a genuine cycling city.

It is worth visiting the work of Enrique Peñalosa who completed his three-year term as Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia on December 31, 2000. While mayor, Peñalosa was responsible for numerous radical improvements to the city and its citizens. He promoted a city model giving priority to children and public spaces and restricting private car use, building hundreds of kilometres of sidewalks, bicycle paths, pedestrian streets, greenways, and parks:
http://www.pps.org/reference/epenalosa-2/

Relevant and inspiring quotes from Peñalosa:

“Public space is for living, doing business, kissing, and playing. Its value can’t be measured with economics or mathematics; it must be felt with the soul.”

“In my country, we are just learning that sidewalks are relatives of parks – not passing lanes for cars.”

“Urban transport is a political and not a technical issue. The technical aspects are very simple. The difficult decisions relate to who is going to benefit from the models adopted.”

“The importance of pedestrian public spaces cannot be measured, but most other important things in life cannot be measured either: Friendship, beauty, love and loyalty are examples. Parks and other pedestrian places are essential to a city’s happiness.”

“The world’s environmental sustainability and quality of life depends to a large extent on what is done during the next few years in the Third World’s 22 mega-cities. There is still time to think different… there could be cities with as much public space for children as for cars, with a backbone of pedestrian streets, sidewalks and parks, supported by public transport.”

“Why is all the power of the State applied in opening the way for a road, while it is not done for a park such as the Long Island Sound greenway? Despite the fact that more people may benefit from the greenway than the highway?”

“Do we dare create a transport system giving priority to the needs of the poor? Or are we really trying to solve the traffic jams of the upper income people? That is really the true issue that exist?”

“A premise of the new city is that we want a society to be as egalitarian as possible. For this purpose, quality-of-life distribution is more important than income distribution. [And quality of life includes] a living environment as free of motor vehicles as possible.”

“We had to build a city not for businesses or automobiles, but for children and thus for people. Instead of building highways, we restricted car use. … We invested in high-quality sidewalks, pedestrian streets, parks, bicycle paths, libraries; we got rid of thousands of cluttering commercial signs and planted trees. … All our everyday efforts have one objective: Happiness.”

Your advertising link in the Age showed a little kid on a bike. That summarises my view of what Melbourne should look like. We should be designing a city in which it is safe for a little kid to ride a bike anywhere. Yet State Govt. has cut cycle funding to 0% of transport budget (not counting current/planned allowances for projects underway). Councils spend more than State/Fed.

As traffic congestion increases, the share of trips by public transport, cycling and walking also usually increases. This highlights the need to improve public transport, pedestrian amenity and the shared public realm – streets and open spaces. Large-scale transport projects shape the way cities grow. Infrastructure tells people what to do. If you build roads, people will drive on them. If you build public transport, people will use that, and if you build cycling and pedestrian friendly environments people will use those. Philadelphia is developing a series of parklets as one means of making the streets more people friendly:

http://phillymotu.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/parklets-in-2012-and-2013/

In San Francisco Connecting the City http://www.connectingthecity.org/  addresses the question of how to make San Francisco a city that is easy to shop, live, work and play in, while also preserving our unique neighbourhoods and commercial districts. By designing our city’s bike network for everyone, from an eight-year-old child to an eighty-year-old grandmother, we can provide inviting and safe door-to-door access to shop, commute and play by bicycle. Already, huge and growing numbers of diverse San Franciscans are biking thanks to improvements like the Market Street separated bike lanes and events like Sunday Streets (a 71% increase in bicycling just in the past five years) — it’s clear that more San Franciscans want to get around by bike.

Connecting the City builds on this demand and envisions the year 2020 when 100 miles of crosstown bikeways will help a growing population of San Francisco residents and visitors bike more often, relieving our crowded roadways and strained transit system. Elegantly designed bikeways that are physically separated from vehicles will help everyone from you, your boss, your neighbour’s child or your mother-in-law to feel comfortable and safe biking on San Francisco streets. We already know that biking is good business for the city. San Francisco is a centre of innovation, and biking is integral to fostering the culture and economy of innovation in the city. To feed that economy of innovation and open it up to more people in San Francisco, we need to invest in Connecting the City.

New Suburbs / Urban Expansion and the Need for Parks and Community Facilities

Currently the ring of new suburbs surrounding Melbourne are wastelands and potential ghettos. Owning a car, or two cars is essential to get from these dormitories to anywhere else meaningful. Firstly, the design of any new suburbs needs to incorporate  parklands.

The current designs suit developers making huge profits, but do not in any way create communities. At least 20% of any development should be parkland, with one large park and a number of smaller parks scattered throughout the area. Cycle/walking paths to train and bus stations should be built separate to the roads, and cover the entire suburb.

Why is Docklands a failure? It is not built to human scale. There is no reason to go there, there is no space which people can use on a casual basis.

Why is the South Wharf area a failure? It is full of facilities for cars, and none for people to walk or cycle anywhere. It is a cold and threatening place if you are on foot.

Conclusion

Here’s my concluding remark, and it’s pretty simple, really. If you design a city where a little kid can go safely on a bike from anywhere to anywhere, then you are doing it right.

Everything else follows from that.

“…With the automobile the public realm has deteriorated very very badly with the roads and the carparks and so on.

“Streets have traditionally been not for the movement of vehicles only. They have been social space, places where people congregate and talk to one another places where children play in the streets. The idea of children playing in the streets was with us only 40 or 50 years ago. Somewhere along the line we changed all that and gradually gave over the streets to the automobile and the streets became a place of passage only, and not a place. And that is fundamentally wrong, because streets occupy about 20 – 30% of the land in a metropolitan area and if we just take that all away for purely a transportation function, then people have lost a major part of the public realm.

People congregate in cities to have community, to have a casual interaction and support that help to make people thrive. That is what cities should be providing for people quality of life  outside the door. This quality is what is most lacking in urban life today, and which most sets apart those cities which do decide to do it.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfZZefyFB_c

 

Useful references

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/design/2013/07/streets-can-be-public-spaces-too/6235/

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