“You move through a space and you dwell in a place.”
Here’s another one:
Streets ahead: Europe is edging towards making post-car cities a reality, by Charlemagne (The Economist)
It isn’t rocket science, but it might as well be given the timidity displayed by Gahan’s ruling elite. If they would periodically remove themselves from their own massive vehicles, walk around a bit and survey the situation, they’d understand; if it doesn’t feel safe without 4,000 lbs of plastic and metal as protection, then it probably isn’t.
But that’s no way to perpetuate Gahan’s lifeblood of pay-to-play political patronage, is it?
Why Speed Kills Cities, by Andrew Small (City Lab)
U.S. cities are dropping urban speed limits in an effort to boost safety and lower crash rates. But the benefits of less-rapid urban mobility don’t end there.
… The most obvious immediate benefit to a fundamentally slower city is the safety boost it delivers. Reducing speeds is the best, easiest, and fastest way to quickly radically improve safety, for both drivers and anyone in front of them. A recent report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that rising speed limits in the United States have led to an additional estimated 37,000 deaths over the past 25 years. “We know that very small changes in speed can have big consequences for pedestrians,” says Jessica Cicchino, the vice president of research at IIHS. “A pedestrian struck at 25 miles per hour has 25 percent chance of being seriously injured—but that climbs to a 50 percent chance at 33 miles per hour.” Importantly, lower speed limits also reduce the number of crashes, as an IIHS study found last year in Boston after it lowered its default speed in 2017.
Speed kills in a more abstract sense, too. Building urban roads that can handle a large number of vehicles traveling at 35 miles per hour and up means making them wider, with fewer curves. High-speed highways and street-level limited-access urban thoroughfares famously do a host of bad things to those who live nearby or underneath these big hostile barriers. What’s less discussed is what they’re doing to the people inside the cars. In his recent book Building and Dwelling, the planner and urban scholar Richard Sennett writes about how going faster in cities has lead urbanites to value “space” over “place.”
“You move through a space and you dwell in a place,” Sennett told CityLab’s Ian Klaus last year. “It’s a distinction for me that has to do with speed and automobiles. When people start driving at a certain speed, they lose awareness of where they are. … Where this gets reflected in urbanism is the more we create spaces where people move fast, the less they understand about what those spaces are. At about 28 or 30 mph people, moving through an urban environment stop being in a place and are in space instead.”
The time benefits one gets from boosting speeds in urban areas can end up being surprisingly modest: In downtown streets, the difference between a 25 mph commute and 45 mph commute is roughly an additional 48 seconds for every three-quarters of a mile traveled, according to NelsonNygaard. It’s also worth remembering that even urban “rapid transit” often isn’t really all that fast. (The New York City subway averages 17 miles per hour.)
When human- or animal-powered urban movement was the norm, there was much less anxiety about losing time in traffic jams, Sennett writes; in the twisted streets of old cities, congestion was accepted as just an fact of life. Only when cities like Paris transitioned from narrow lanes to wide Haussmann-style boulevards did urbanites began to associate speed with freedom of movement—witness reports of widespread road rage that sprouted up in Paris in the 1870s and early 1880s. Urban traffic jams today are a visceral sign that something has gone wrong—the city wasn’t working. Like not being physically touched in public, the desire to move freely—and not be stuck in traffic—is a sensation we take for granted as natural. But it’s a historical construction of our auto-centric sensibilities.
In his prescient 1973 essay, “The Social Ideology of the Motorcar,” André Gorz makes a similar point about how private cars turned speed into a commodity that, when introduced into the city, created havoc: “When everyone claims the right to drive at the privileged speed of the bourgeoisie,” he wrote, “everything comes to a halt, and the speed of city traffic plummets.”
Sennett also uses traffic flows to show the problem of scaling from the local to the urban—a theme in the debate to how to create an “open city.” He compares Lewis Mumford’s top-down garden city urbanism with Jane Jacobs’s bottom-up street-ballet localism. Both Mumford and Jacobs famously loathed the impact of the automobile, but Mumford argues that you can’t build infrastructure bit-by-bit, the way Jacobs sees the urban fabric: When you’re engineering how to circulate millions of vehicle trips, you have to plan at a bigger scale. By that logic, perhaps urbanists shouldn’t demand slow lanes or slow neighborhoods: They should ask for a slow city …