In recent weeks, Paris and New York have announced measures to reduce car space and thus free up space for other activities. These are new chapters in the process of urban transition which should mark the decade which has just begun.
In Paris, the socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo approved in January a renovation project for the Champs-Élysées district, the most famous in the city. The road will see changes such as the expansion of sidewalks and bike lanes and the reduction of lanes for cars, which will be two on each side, instead of the current four. And there will be fewer barriers between the asphalt and the sidewalk, so vehicles will have to move at a slower speed.
The reform, promise of Hidalgo’s re-election campaign in 2020, is expected to cost between 200 and 225 million euros (1.2 to 1.6 billion reais), and will begin in the east, Place de la Concorde, to attract tourists from the Louvre museum area. Then you will continue to the Arc de Triomphe. The work should not be completed until 2030, after the Olympic Games in Paris, in 2024.
In late January, New York City Mayor Democrat Bill de Blasio announced new bike lanes on two major bridges, the Brooklyn and Queensboro Bridges. In them, the cycle paths will take a lane for cars and no longer share space in the pedestrian zone.
During the pandemic, the US city allowed restaurants to set up tables on the street, where there were spaces for cars, and De Blasio said he intended to keep the idea even after the crisis.
Advertisements are more a sign of the changes that are taking place in the largest cities of the world: opening up more space to pedestrians and cyclists, reducing the areas reserved for cars and stepping up the fight against pollution, both noise and pollution. Aerial.
“We spent the 20th century rethinking cities for the car. We thought it would transport everyone, but it turned out not. In São Paulo, for example, automobiles displace 31% of the population, but use 85% of road space. », Compares Sérgio Avelleda, director of urban mobility at the WRI institute. “Cities started to see inefficiency and the problems created by it.”
In recent decades, public spaces have become more valued, says Valter Caldana, professor of town planning at Mackenzie. “We ended the 20th century under the hegemony of ‘non-place’, as we call spaces that are the same all over the world, such as airports, hotels, shopping malls, etc. In the decade of 2010, we had the gradual replacement of “non-place” for “hyper-place”, which is connected, widely used, flexible and respects local identity “, he assesses.
Car containment work began in the 1970s, when several cities – including São Paulo – created sidewalks in central areas. But this change was only partial. “Connectivity and information exchange were the missing elements to materialize the plans of the 1970s. With 5G [internet móvel ultrarrápida], the transformations will be even greater ”, projects Caldana.
An example of how access to real-time information is changing the use of cities is the arrival of transportation apps, like Uber and 99, over the past decade. Before, it was more difficult for drivers and passengers looking for a trip to find each other. Drivers stayed at fixed points, waiting for phone calls, or drove aimlessly, looking for hand waves. With apps, the two parties easily meet and travel more.
With more people using taxi services or renting vehicles instead of having their own cars, the need for parking spaces decreases, freeing up space both on the streets and for building more. houses, for example.
For citizens, there is also the possibility of using more than one type of transport and of combining different modes, such as cycling and the metro, with the same means of payment. The technologies for this already exist, but are still in the experimental stage.
The sheer volume of data also helps governments and service providers better understand how cities are used, study how interventions can be made, and track the results of changes. This ranges from expanding a sidewalk where there is a large flow of pedestrians to creating flexible bus lines, which adapt to passenger demand for each journey.
With 5G, the vehicles themselves will be able to exchange information with each other and urban elements such as traffic lights and street lighting will be able to capture information. Artificial intelligence systems are being prepared to analyze this data and propose immediate changes, such as modernizing the time of a traffic light to relieve a bus line stuck in traffic.
In China, which has led the development of 5G, there are several experiments, as part of a strategy that combines automation and electrification, with the objectives of better organizing cities and combating air pollution, which was a mark of the country.
“Beijing was the most polluted city in the world, but with a structured public policy, they managed to reduce the problem considerably in a short time,” Avelleda analyzes.
In addition to changes in polluting industries, the Chinese government is encouraging the adoption of motorcycles and electric buses on the streets and is carrying out a strong expansion of the metro. Beijing began construction of its metro in the 1960s and currently has 727 km of lines. In 2013, it was 456 km.
By way of comparison, São Paulo, which started its network at the same time, has 101.4 km of metro and monorail. In 2010, it was 69 km.
Beijing continues to open new lines and plans to manage 16 rail transport expansion projects in 2021, according to state agency Xinhua.
“No new technology can transport 100,000 people per hour per direction. It must be done by train, metro or bus,” says Avelleda.
Public transport is suffering from the pandemic, however: the public has declined, but operating expenses remain similar, and crises like the one in Rio de Janeiro are emerging, where BRT employees have gone on strike over late wages in beginning of the week. With empty coffers and doubts about the end of the pandemic, the chances of delaying expansion plans are even greater.
On the other hand, the current crisis could also bring significant changes to cities. If the home office continues to be a common practice, there will be less daily commuting and greater use of neighborhood structures, such as plazas, shops and recreation areas near home, accessible to people. on foot or by bike.
With this, the “City of 15 minutes” model can gain strength, in which almost all the necessary activities are left for traveling from home, on foot or by bicycle. The model is implemented in Paris and Barcelona, with slightly different formats.
The efforts of these cities are also aimed at achieving the pollutant reduction targets set by the European Union. London and Madrid, for example, plan to step up restrictions on the movement of polluting vehicles in the coming years. Some of them can no longer circulate in the central areas of these two capitals.
In Latin America, change in cities occurs more slowly, due to a lack of resources, a lack of political will, and an excess of structural problems to be solved.
“The biggest cities in the world have made transformations little by little, and São Paulo has not. There has been an urban power outage for decades, and now the city has to do in ten years what it is. others did in 40, ”Caldana says.
The capital of São Paulo has gradually expanded its network of cycle paths, and over the past decade has created more areas for pedestrians and reduced top speeds in almost all avenues, increasing the safety of people. Implemented in the management of Fernando Haddad (PT), the reduction was maintained in almost the whole city in the following governments, of João Doria and Bruno Covas, both of the PSDB.
On the mainland, Bogotá, Colombia, stood out for having achieved an extensive network of bus lanes – a cheaper alternative to the metro – and for having made progress, during the pandemic, in the creation of cycle lanes on large avenues. Buenos Aires has also launched a program to create lanes for cyclists on major roads, not on side streets, and promises to continue the practice in the years to come.
In poor countries as well as in rich countries, however, housing should be a major challenge. With the rise in unemployment caused by the pandemic, the risk of evictions increases. And urban reforms, like that of the Champs-Élysées, can make surrounding properties even more valuable, driving out the poorest.
“The housing problem has worsened around the world, even with the advent of new technologies. Urban developments are failing to meet housing needs, ”Caldana emphasizes.
It is up to governments to define measures to try to avoid this, in an attempt to reconcile the dispute between the rights of citizens and the interests of the market. “Basically, it is a question of how we will decide to use the soil of the cities”, summarizes Caldana.