22 Jul 2018

Paul Steely White: 'killing carpark spaces is better for commerce'

From Sunday Morning, 10:40 am on 22 July 2018

New York City’s Transportation Alternatives project is reclaiming the streets for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport, without capitulating to the demand of ‘nimby’ motorists. 

Executive director Paul Steely White of the Transalt project says New York City has seen a 30 percent reduction in casualties on the streets in the past four years. 

A group of cyclists ride along a dedicated bike lane in downtown Manhattan on May 29, 2016 in New York.

A group of cyclists ride along a dedicated bike lane in downtown Manhattan. Photo: AFP / Jewel Samad

“That’s because we are designing for cycling and walking and that’s because we are saying no to the nimbys who want to preserve the car dominance status quo. 

Paul Steely White

Paul Steely White Photo: RNZ

“When you cater to the car it’s insatiable, the car’s appetite for space is only more parking and more roads and more parking and more roads - and you just have to say ‘at what point do we lose what cities were for in the first place’. 

“It’s not a war on cars, it’s not saying we’re going to ban cars, it’s just saying, like ‘in the modern age we have the design tools’. 

He says the biggest pushback they’ve had is from introducing speed cameras around schools. 

“And there was an enormous uprising from a minority of motorists who for some reason said it’s their God-given right to speed around schools when kids are there - and we’ll take that fight every day of the week, but we’re still fighting."

Trading a few parking spaces for a “more enhanced human environment” is also ultimately better for shopowners, he says. 

“People saying ‘you should preserve these two parking spaces, again we’ll take that fight on, we’ll confront that and we’ll have that conversation, and by and large people do see the light after a short adjustment period. 

“The people who are all losing in those scenarios always cry louder than the winners sing, and that’s a perennial challenge of all politics.” 

He says part of the approach is the vision zero project from Sweden which starts with a goal of zero road deaths and takes driver error into account. 

“It’s saying ‘look, we now have the tools to make traffic casualties a thing of the past’.

“Make our streets more forgiving so that when people do make errors - and people will make errors: drivers, pedestrians, cyclists - they’re less likely to be fatal. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that starting in June, cars would be prohibited in Central Park below 72nd Street.

 New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that starting in June, cars would be prohibited in Central Park below 72nd Street. Photo: AFP / 2018 Getty Images

“Really it has to do with lowering vehicle speeds, providing that protected space, better design of our signaling and our intersections, and there’s a whole science around this now and it’s really spreading.” 

It extends to making the city safer for cyclists which - perhaps counterintuitively - does not include making helmets a requirement. 

He points to the Netherlands and Denmark as examples. 

“The first thing you notice is no one’s wearing a helmet and yet they have the safest streets in the world. 

Denmark, Zealand, Copenhagen, downtown, Boulevard H. C. Andersens, late 19th century artery with a memorial statue for wars of 1848 and 1864

A cyclist in Zealand, an area of downtown Copenhagen.  Photo: AFP / Maisant Ludovic / hemis.fr

“It’s because they don’t put the onus on the cyclist for safety, they don’t require people to armour up just as they walk outside their door. 

“The harder you make it, the less cyclists you have and the less you have the safety in numbers phenomenon."

The phenomenon has been proven time and again in cities throughout the world, he says. 

“Every time you triple the number of cyclists in a city you’re halve the crash rate … if you want a public bike-share system that works, that people use, you can’t throw up barriers. 

“When you make it compulsory you’re really suppressing that safety in numbers effect, and sending the message that it’s up to the cyclist - the vulnerable road user - to protect themselves.” 

He says Auckland could learn from New York. 

“It’s not for me to say what Auckland should do, but I will tell you that thanks to the example that we have set in New York there is not a single US city - major city or medium-sized city - that is not desperately trying to replicate our success. 

“Millenials don’t want to own cars, they want mobility as a service, they want a panoply of options to get around. 

“The notion that cities should not just be for accommodating cars, people live here dammit and we should be able to walk and cycle and really experience streets as public spaces." 

Road transport and industry have pushed up gross emissions by 23 percent since 1990.

Auckland traffic Photo: RNZ

He also praises Auckland’s light path, and says cities are learning from one another more than ever. 

“There’s a great kinship of cities that we’re seeing, where cities are trading ideas like never before, so I’m definitely taking that [light path idea] home with me.”