Sustainable, healthy, safe, and accessible. They are the characteristics that describe how cities will be in the not too distant future. Forecasts indicate that cities will have more inhabitants (according to the United Nations, in 2050, almost 70% of the world population will live in a city), they will be older and, in addition, they will have to coexist with new modes of transport and urban distribution of goods, with the help of connectivity and digitisation.
The ultimate goal is to move towards a safe system, a comprehensive 0 vision, with 0 victims (neither injured nor deceased), 0 polluting emissions and 0 noise.
All this was discussed at the VI Meeting of Cities for road safety and sustainable mobility organised by the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT), in collaboration with the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP).
There it was found that today’s cities are designed with the car in mind, a model that we must modify so that the protagonist of mobility is the pedestrian. At the moment, in cities like London or Berlin, less than 15% of journeys take place on foot; in Barcelona or Zaragoza, for example, that percentage is around 50%. The truth is that this transformation has accelerated after the pandemic.
On the horizon are cities where the priority should be walking, even before cycling. “The one who walks does not generate economic interests and nobody defends him. Therefore, defending those who walk is a public responsibility”, says Joan Clos, former mayor of Barcelona. Among other things, he claims sidewalks free of “artifacts” so that all people can walk on them, while he recalls that “the urban regulation of public space corresponds to the municipalities”.
Jorge Antonio Azcón, mayor of Zaragoza – a city that has taken on the challenge of being one of the 100 climate-neutral European cities by 2030 – believes that “mobility is going to mark the future of cities” and points to seven trends: clean energy , new modes of transport (VMP, bikes, etc.), shared mobility, autonomous vehicles, technological advances (connectivity), freight (last mile) and pedestrians (on which the life of the city must revolve).
In the opinion of Álvaro Gómez, director of the DGT Road Safety Observatory, it is necessary for road safety policies to be transversal, that is, to be integrated with other policies, as stated in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Agenda 2030.
Mobility experts agree that the transformation of cities must be the result of the agreement. “It is worth reflecting on public space, agreeing on what needs to be done. If we don’t succeed, we will all lose”, says Clos.
But, to reach that agreement, it is necessary to communicate the changes to the citizens in an appropriate way. As Alfonso Gil, deputy mayor of Bilbao and president of the FEMP Committee on Transport, Sustainable Mobility and Road Safety, points out, ” we must be prepared for change and for communicating change” because the new philosophy of cities “is here to stay” and must come by consensus.
In this sense, Carmen Silva, president of the Pontevedra Provincial Council, believes that we must bet on coexistence, participation and transparency. In addition, she believes that “it is necessary to teach the before and after” to citizens and “demonstrate what we gain with the new city model”.
In addition to consensus and communication, other basic pillars of the new mobility are prevention and road training, to generate good habits among citizens. And, later, if that is not achieved, surveillance and control of dangerous behaviours. In this way, ” risks are avoided, infractions are detected, complaints are generated and respect for the rules is increased,” says Pascual Martínez, national president of UNIJEPOL (National Union of Local Police Chiefs and Executives).
Safety: in the city, at 30 km/h
“Slowing down is one of the most important things cities can do to make their streets safer”, since “a person is approximately five times less likely to be fatally injured if hit at 30 km/h than at 50 km/h”, states POLIS, the network of European cities and regions that promotes sustainable and safe transport and to which more than 100 cities and entities are members.
For this reason, they advise reducing speed in cities, as a security policy and to save lives. And this has been done in Spain, since May the cities released new speed limits, a legislative change that has covered decisions that many city councils had already made.
In the city of Irun, a pioneering city, in 2001 it opted for speed 30 in some streets and, in 2013, it was extended to the entire town. Sidewalks have been improved, bike lanes built or public transport reinforced and the result, according to its mayor, José Antonio Santano, is that now “people are the protagonists of the city”.
Alicante began to implement speed 30 in 2014. By promoting public transport and pedestrianizing various areas of the city, they have managed to give more space to pedestrians. To offer more mobility alternatives, they are going to implement an electric scooter and bicycle rental service. Another example is Logroño, which in May 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, launched the “Open Streets” strategy to protect health and achieve a fairer distribution of public space.
For Pere Navarro, General Director of Traffic, betting on 30 km/h has been “one of the great milestones in road safety. He also assures that “it is not an isolated measure” because, “we know where we are going.” “The goal is to improve the physical and mental health of citizens, create spaces for coexistence, with less noise and less smoke,” he adds.
Speed 30 reduces urban accidents, a fact that has not evolved positively. According to data from the National Road Safety Observatory of the DGT, in 2009, accidents on urban roads caused 22% of fatalities and 37% of hospitalised injured people. Ten years later, in 2019, those percentages had increased to 30% and 50%, respectively.
Sustainability: urban distribution of goods
It already had a very prominent role before the pandemic, but this has shown that it is an essential sector and one of the main protagonists of mobility. We are talking about the urban distribution of goods.
According to data from UNO (an association that brings together distribution companies), this sector grew by around 50% during the pandemic. Francisco Aranda, executive president of UNO, stresses that the distribution of merchandise is an “intensive user of the city” because it is his “work setting”. He assures that, once the current city model has been exhausted, it is necessary to move towards a different one, with road safety (fundamental, worker training), mobility and sustainability as the main bases.
Aware of the great importance and dynamism of this sector, cities are also moving. For example, Malaga opened a delivery centre (hub) in an underground car park for parcels and couriers and is now considering another similar one for bars and restaurants, in addition to night delivery with electric vehicles.
Valladolid, for its part, chose to limit the distribution of goods in the city from 7 to 11 in the morning, prevent the entry of trucks of more than 12 tons and encourage distribution by bicycle.
Accessibility: everyone safe
Cities must move towards greater protection of the most vulnerable users, without forgetting, in addition, that “an accessible city is one that allows all citizens to live, move and participate in urban life”, points out María José Aparicio, deputy director General Training and Road Safety Education of the DGT.
The data shows the work that remains to be done: in 2020, 50% of the 1,370 deaths in a road accident were pedestrians or were on bicycles or motorcycles. In the case of urban roads, 80% of the people killed in a traffic accident were pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists. The data from the previous year, 2019, were not better: 52% of the total number of deceased were vulnerable; in the case of cities, 82%.
In reality, all of us are vulnerable at some point, so we must always protect someone: personal mobility vehicles (PMVs) to pedestrians, cyclists to PMVs, motorcycles to cyclists, cars to motorcycles, etc. For this reason, the different actors in mobility must demand more legislative arms from the cities to be able to regulate, without forgetting information, education and awareness and, of course, the surveillance and control of dangerous behaviour.
Added to this demand are various groups such as those who defend people with reduced mobility and pedestrian and cyclist organisations, who demand more space to be able to walk around the city or bike lanes and further limit the space dedicated to private vehicles.