THE PEAK OF THE PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE: AN URBAN STEP FORWARD OR BACKWARDS?

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 1 ene. 2012 4:16 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 5 feb. 2012 16:10 ]
Carlos A. González G.

'El Espectador' Newspaper
Digital Edition, Bogotá Section
Colombia, 2nd March 2009


Opinion article

Original title: 'El auge del puente peatonal: ¿avance o retroceso urbano?'

While the local administrations of the main Colombian cities swell with pride -and occasionally, at the same time they wink the eye with complicity to their friends of the construction sector- when they declare to the media that a plan for a massive construction of pedestrian bridges “to make our cities a better place” will be carried out, there is a growing number of citizens without car, that is the wide majority, that sitting in front of the TV begin to experience a reasonable doubt: Why do we need these bridges if we can share the right to cross the street using zebra crossings and traffic lights for pedestrians?

The question is not trivial, even though many of the arguments against it and in favour of giving priority to the private vehicle on the streets could be trivial, and they present a wide set of pseudo-approaches.

Thus, it would be interesting to mention some of the most “notable” arguments.

The pseudo-physical arguments consider that the priority to the private vehicle is based on the fact that the automobile weighs much more than a person (about 1.200 kilograms), that the automobile moves faster and/or that according to the traffic flow theory it is possible to move more cars than pedestrians in a period of time on a specific road.

The pseudo-economic arguments consider on the one hand that an uninterrupted car flow has an important role on the economic performance of the city and therefore it is necessary to do whatever to improve it. On the other hand, they also suggest that the importance of this kind of traffic is such that a high traffic flow of private vehicles is a characteristic of cities with a high economic performance, such as several research papers referred to the main North American cities have proved.

The pseudo-social arguments declare their great worry regarding the security of the pedestrians since the hundreds of pedestrians deceased last year are due to their audacity trying to cross the street defying the traffic –therefore understanding that the street is the kingdom of the private vehicle-, and therefore it is fundamental not only to provide bridges for the pedestrians but also to oblige them to use them even imposing monetary penalties if do not do so.

Luckily, a small but growing group of citizens do not nod their head in agreement anymore in view of the dogma which establishes this kind of arguments (group that not only includes pedestrians by force but also drivers who are beginning to change their point of view), however, there are still a lot of people who given this kind of arguments can only ask themselves “And from the point of view of improving the traffic, Where is the mistake?”

The mistake is just there, in the obtuse nature of a point of view which focuses its attention on the problem of the “traffic” rather than on the “mobility”

Firstly, in the light of the mobility, we would understand that what is important is not to improve the movement of the “automobiles” but the one of the “trips”. A basic example will be enlightening: If in the rush hour 1.000 trips (or people) leave a specific area of the city in direction to the centre, what is important is not to do whatever to facilitate that about 833 automobiles (with an average occupation of 1,2 passengers/vehicle as at current) move without interruptions due to junctions regulated by traffic lights, but to think how to achieve that these trips are carried out in a more efficient way, that is, with public transport systems of high performance, since they occupy less road space per traveller. Thus, about 8 articulated buses moving on an exclusive lane can move those same 1000 people in less travel time, contributing to the reduction of the congestion level and de pollution in a corridor on which another thousand of trips are made at same time, amongst which the ones done in private vehicle are specially marked.

In the same way, in many cases a high flow of private vehicles is a consequence of a high economic performance of the city but it is not the cause of it, that is why in the same papers –but some times in small print- the researchers clarify that the categorical results found in North-American cities do not explain why cities of the North of Europe such as Zurich and Stockholm, can have high indicators of economic performance at the same time that they show ridiculous levels of traffic congestion related to the lower participation of the private vehicle in the whole mobility of the city. It is clear that the great difference is the culture of the generalized use of the private vehicle in Northern American cities, in front of the culture of giving priority and promoting the high standard public transport systems, the bicycle and pedestrians, which is a characteristic of the Northern European countries which present the higher levels of social welfare.

Last but not least, the protection of the pedestrian should not be based on their expulsion of the street but to establish fair rules which guarantee their rights to coexist in the public space where the streets are an integral part. The question here is not to fanatically attack all pedestrian bridges, but to attack the fact that they become the gold standard and that other alternatives which include the pedestrian are not explored.

So as long as we do not think in terms of an “integral mobility policy”, we will continue to implement crazy initiatives that do not contribute to improve the urban mobility, such as the absurd idea that it is necessary to remove pedestrians from the streets so that automobiles can move faster and without interruptions, and worse still, they will continue selling the idea that a massive plan to build pedestrian bridges is a strong bet on sustainable mobility in our cities.

-------------------------------------------------------------

This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'El auge del puente peatonal: ¿avance o retroceso urbano?'. 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.

+ Link to this article on the website of El Espectador Newspaper