ANOTHER URBAN LEGEND

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 1 ene. 2012 5:02 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 5 feb. 2012 16:06 ]
Carlos A. González G.

'El Tiempo' Newspaper
Digital Edition, Opinion Section
Colombia, 17th December 2009

Opinion article

Orginal title: 'Otra leyenda urbana'

It is well-known that many cities of the industrialized world -and also of the less industrialized- have for decades not only associated the construction of motorways to the idea of progress, but it was also difficult for the citizens to visualize this idea without the presence of great road infrastructures.

Then, since nowadays many of those city icons of the industrialized world have decided in some cases to demolish or hide, and in others to avoid the construction of new urban motorways, it could be questioned if they have decided to resign to progress -something little likely- or if, as is usual, they have discovered something that we refuse to see in our cities in spite of the evidence.

The truth is that these cities have realized decades ago, not only that the problem of the traffic congestion is not solved by building new and wide urban motorways, which has been well reported in countless scientific reports and traffic statistics which are in the hands of the local authorities, but also that it is necessary to widen the field of analysis, changing form a reduced focus on the traffic problem to a broader focus that deals with the urban mobility problem.

Recently, the city of Boston (United States) has decided to get rid of the motorway known as the “Central Artery” (formally John F. Fitzgerald Expressway), which since the fifties crossed abruptly the centre of the city. To do so, they chose to replace it by a tunnel and turn its surface into a great open public space with parks and gardens, which has made a drastic change in the centre of this prosperous city. In the same way, the city of Barcelona (Spain) has recently transformed one of its main highways, the central stretch of the Diagonal Avenue, into an axis of sustainable mobility by eliminating 50% of the lanes destined to the private vehicle in order to provide space for a new tram line, cycling lanes and avenues for pedestrians. Also, the growing anti-motorway movements in North-American cities such as Seattle (WA), Buffalo (NY), New Orleans (LA) and Toronto (ON) amongst others should rouse our curiosity. In these cities the citizens have opposed themselves to the development of new projects and at the same time they demand some of the old urban motorways to be transformed into boulevards to revitalize these areas of the city and to improve their quality of live.

In spite of these revealing facts where some of the world reference cities are involved in, in the Colombian cities we continue anchored in a mobility paradigm, which identifies the urban motorway as a magical solution for the congestion and as an indisputable indicator of the progress of a city. And this is so in spite of the recent advances implementing several Bus Rapid Transit –BRT- systems, which allowed us to overcome the terrible situation in which the traditional public transport had us plunged in, and which in spite of everything refuses to disappear.

In this sense, it is worth mentioning the most recent initiative formulated in our country concerning urban motorways: the future Bicentenary Motorway of the city of Cali. It has been promoted by the City Hall of Cali as “the motorway of the progress” and it is meant to travel from the north to the south crossing the city centre literally in a straight line in only 15 minutes. Furthermore, since the motorway will be built by means of a dealership (concession), the investment will not be done with the budget of the municipality, but instead it will be financed by the private sector by means of charging an electronic toll applied to the thousands of cars that are expected to travel daily through this motorway.

Without undermining the goodwill of the local administration to contribute with solutions to help solve the mobility problems of the city, it is necessary to contribute with some elements that are worthy for the discussion, which apparently have not been considered at the time this solution for the city was formulated and that, on the other hand, should have been taken into account for making decisions of this kind.

Some of the most important elements are next summarized: The Bicentenary Motorway, as has been shown in this kind of infrastructures, will generate more traffic in the city (because of the induced and latent demand, that is, because of the attraction of drivers form other areas and because of new automobile users) and after a few years it will have the same congestion as the present roads have today; as a consequence of the traffic increase, it will generate a greater environmental and noise pollution in the whole city, specially the areas that are closest to the route; the increase of the maximum speed will cause an increase of traffic accidents, as has happened in other cities of the industrialized world, but with the aggravating factor of our peculiar culture of little respect for the traffic rules and for safe driving; it will affect the city with many negative externalities that arise form the public initiative which allows the freight transport cross the city centre using this motorway in order to improve its cost-effectiveness; it will transform negatively the urban landscape of the adjacent areas, at the same time that it will create a spatial fracture in the whole of the city; it will be detrimental for implanting the future metropolitan massive transport system, which according to the territorial plan should occupy the current North-South corridor and that would be occupied by the motorway ; and finally, it will promote an outdated mobility model where the use of the private vehicle is stimulated instead of favouring a quality public transport and other sustainable transport modes (walking and cycling).

There is no doubt that for large cities, such as the city of Cali, with more than two million inhabitants, road infrastructures of great capacity, such as ring roads, are necessary because they do not only redistribute the traffic that moves from one end to the other of the city, but they also avoid the traffic that has to pass through the city to reach another destination and which would be detrimental for the mobility of the city. What is not appropriate is to continue enlarging unlimitedly the capacity of these infrastructures, increasing their negative effects on the city; and also not to try to destroy the city implanting great motorways which cross the city in all directions.

The city of Cali has a unique opportunity to redirect its mobility paradigm and to resolutely bet on the enlargement of the present Bus Rapid Transit system –MIO-, on the future implementation of the metropolitan railway public transport system, and on the development of an extensive cycling network, amongst many other sustainable mobility measures. This should be done at the same time as the recovery of the damaged road network and providing an intelligent transport system –ITS- to manage and regulate more efficiently the city’s traffic.

It is in the hands of the local administration to work for the strengthening of the local governability, keeping in mind the constructive contributions of the several social agents. On the other hand, it is the responsibility of the citizens of Cali to reflect on the apathy with which we move towards a city model from which the industrialized world is turning away from, and on the opportunity that we have to rethink, to plan and to build together the city that we wish.

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This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'Otra leyenda urbana'. The opinions expressed in this article are solely responsibility of the author and they do not compromise the point of view of any related institution.

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