Fine Networks: a New Approach to Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning

by Federico Parolotto and Francesca Arcuri

first published as Reti Sottili – Un Nuovo Approccio alla Pianificazione della Mobilità Urbana Sostenibile, in “AR Architetti Roma” – Rivista dell’Ordine degli Architetti, Pianificatori, Paesaggisti e Conservatori di Roma e Provincia, n° 113 Ottobre 2015, (pp 54-57)

 

In one of his latest books “Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age”, the sustainable mobility expert, Australian Paul Mees, presents the idea that every transit user is, inevitably, also a pedestrian at some point in their journey. Actually, over the course of the day, everyone invariably ends up being a pedestrian. Even if only for a minute. Even if only for a short stretch of road.

In terms of its implications and significance, this simple and incontrovertible truth has been neglected for decades. The main element that most—if not all—contemporary cities have in common is, in fact, the predominance of automobiles over all other entities living and moving in the urban environment.

The dynamics that engendered this widespread condition differ according to the various geographical areas. In Western countries, the rapid growth of car ownership in the first half of last century triggered a priority shift in urban planning processes, in which the focus was transferred from the person to the automobile.

It is now internationally recognised that, strategically speaking, an approach to private transport infrastructure planning based on maximising vehicular capacity is doomed to failure. This is due to the production of rapid saturation with consequent congestion. Nevertheless, until very recently this is what happened in departments of transport and urban planning, where the needs of space-hungry cars were satisfied at the expense of public space and pedestrian areas, based on a progressive expansion of the area destined for automobile usage by subtracting from social space.

Emerging in the Western world in opposition to this trend, is an awareness of the impact that a massive vehicular presence has on all aspects of life in the urban context (environment, health, economy, etc.). As a direct result of this, new strategies, targeted policies and redevelopment projects are spreading in the international arena. Attention is being refocused on the original relationship between space and movement in urban and transport planning; a relationship that was lost for years due to the monofunctional erosion of urban space in favour of express vehicular connectors, typical of old line transport engineering.

In the overall framework discussed thus far, it is also undeniable that the idea of planning for sustainable mobility is often associated with measures aimed mainly at favouring the use of non-motorised modes of transport, of which the bicycle is obviously foremost. The bicycle—in all its possible forms (human-powered or electric, privately owned or shared)—is becoming the new protagonist of sustainable mobility, together with the increasingly popular systems of sharing. The resultant increase in bike paths and mobility-on-demand stations (even though they are still rarely integrated into a truly holistic vision on an urban scale, enabling the full potential of the project to be realised) is to be applauded, yet it’s clear how the theme of walkability seldom becomes a central issue for policymakers and planners, or even ordinary citizens. Urban redevelopment or planning measures often reflect the (distorted) perception of citizens and policymakers alike, in which the pedestrian world is connected to non-systematic movements and free time more than to work-based activities, which are, rather, associated with modes that can ensure faster and more efficient movements.

 

GIS analysis for the Moscow Pedestrian Masterplan study. Clockwise from top left: built area mapping by blocks’ size, by coverage index, density of vehicular lanes as indicator of infrastructural barriers, density of pedestrian crossings, isochrone cycle accessibility from metro stops, metro stops’ ridership.

Pedestrian movements are at the base of the concept of mobility, understood as the agent’s relationship with the context in which it moves. Mobility means creating a relationship with the environment and experiencing its effects while going from A to B. This is always the case, however, the act of walking inevitably exposes us the most, and renders us a more active part of our surroundings. This is one of the reasons why the history of walking is the most complex of all, even in our contemporary cities. Actually, it’s even more complex in contexts that are not generally ready to embrace and promote it. Clarification is also required here: often cities that are currently unable to assure pedestrians a high quality connected network, did so in the past. Examples like Milan, whose historical centre and old urban fabric outside the Spanish walls, consisting of internal courtyards traversed by walkways, offered the pedestrian a completely different reading of the road grid. Or, looking abroad to the clearly car-centred city of Moscow, where city blocks seemingly beyond human scale concealed an additional level of walkways and interior spaces, positioned halfway between the public and private; a series of courtyards which, before being transformed into fairly legitimate parking spaces as a result of an explosion in car ownership in the early nineties, supplied highly granular connections to those pedestrians who wanted to challenge the climate and the distances typical of the Russian capital.

These networks, which could be defined as “fine” in so far as they are free from heavy infrastructural features, are based, rather, on functional synergies between the elements of the urban context. They are now being rediscovered: re-emerging where already existing in some way, and generated, or sought out, where absent.

The concept of fine networks, with reference to the world of transport planning, can be enriched with new possibilities by reinterpreting the discipline with the fresh eyes of those who want to pursue a truly holistic and multimodal approach to designing solutions for future mobility.

That said, the possibility of working directly on some elements of the road network, such as traffic light systems, opens important scenarios for mobility specialists, bringing the matter literally and figuratively to a level that is already an integral part of the urban context—that is, the road—but endeavouring to reconfigure it based on multiple users, whose flows must be managed and optimised in a balanced way.

This type of intervention fosters the emergence of a new reading of the urban grid, creating “fine networks” that serve to reconnect the spaces within the sphere of pedestrian mobility to the urban scale.

The revision of traffic light phases, aimed at the recalibration of waiting times for pedestrians along specific routes, becomes the key to concretely and significantly transforming the road environment into a not only car-centred area. As a consequence of a specific distribution of functions, spaces and points of origin and destination, routes overlap and mesh by following and accommodating the desire lines of people moving within the space.

This concept emphasises an indisputable difference between the world of fine networks and that of traditional transport networks: the former act on an almost virtual level, enabling the creation of downstream relationships and connections, and the implementation of minimally invasive measures in mobility management; the latter, however, have always relied upon the creation, or modification, of infrastructures, thus passing from what is essentially a manipulation of time, to a physical alteration of space.

Acting on the space of our cities—often already dense, and even more often marred by the excessive infrastructuralisation of past decades—by working on an invisible time-based layer that avails itself of the latest technologies of our digital society, such as the incredible access to data, becomes an integral part in meeting the needs for sustainable mobility, which is the challenge for the coming years.

As an example of how the appearance of these “fine networks” is becoming more widespread, we can refer to the project carried out in collaboration with the Moscow Department of Transport, which, upholding a dynamic and innovative vision of mobility, in 2014 requested a study for the development of an urban plan to render the whole city pedestrian and bike friendly.

Mobility In Chain’s work has been based on an intense analytical study of the existing conditions—carried out through GIS analyses—optimising all the different layers of information affecting the definition of pedestrian connections: infrastructural barriers, land use, signalised intersections, pedestrian crossings, accident data, green spaces. The information was organised in a single database and optimised for the purpose of comprehending both the criticality and potential of the existing network. Following this initial activity, a set of guidelines applied to a number of focal points enabled us to complete the framework needed to create a pedestrian connective fabric of high standard, in terms of comfort, safety and functionality.

Measures to redistribute and thus balance road space usage, in parallel with a careful synchronisation and downward revision of the traffic light cycles, enabled us to redesign the connections of the Muscovite network areas exemplified.

When considering Rome, we make a sizable geographical leap. The shift, however, is not so sizable in terms of context, with reference to the city’s status as one of our largest and most complex metropolises, with clear issues linked to usage of the existing road network. At the same time, Rome is also projected towards the implementation of policies and solutions directed at protecting “vulnerable” road users. Both of these types of measures—that is, dynamic signalising and designs for pedestrian connections—could be aptly and effectively applied in the case of the Roman Tiber riverfront.

In fact, considering the south-north tract that leads from Testaccio up to Tor di Quinto, almost half the vehicular bridges exhibit remarkable discontinuity in terms of the definition of pedestrian routes along the Tiber. For the most part they are signalised intersections, characterised by designs contingent on the express circulation of vehicles. They do not assure pedestrian crossings, if not at the expense of significant detours with respect to the pedestrian origin-destination pairs, and waiting times that relegate the experience of walking as secondary to the continuity assured to cars. A reconnection of the urban fabric could be guaranteed both east and west of the river, with a slight intervention in traffic mobility management and traffic lights which react in a dynamic and active way, based on the real-time network situation, and which, technologically speaking, are already available to us.

It is within this framework that we set the pilot project developed in 2015 for the AUDI Centre for Urban Studies and the municipality of Somerville, Boston, MA. As heads of the mobility strategy, we worked within the real context of Greater Boston’s innovative automotive technology, which networks the data supplied by circulating vehicles and the infrastructure. This synergy generates enormous possibilities for flow optimisation—and hence also optimisation of time and space—using a smart traffic lights system, which not only impacts the redistribution of vehicular routes, but also the possibility of prioritising all other modes of transport (from public to cycling), including pedestrian mobility. Thus, the stated objective is to plot the fine networks that are present in every city, but generally hidden.

Both the Moscow and Boston projects are characterised by the same objective: to plot new “fine networks”, which constitute the basis for a new design practice linked to the development of sustainable urban mobility.

Redistributing Urban Space

by Federico Parolotto and Francesca Arcuri

first published as Ridistribuire lo spazio urbano, in “Architettura del Paesaggio” – Rivista di Aiapp, Edifir, n° 31 semestrale 2/2015, (pp 22-23)

 

 

The topic of space redistribution in urban planning touches upon many of the disciplines that govern planning processes.

In the cities of the western world, we are witnessing the spread of a synergistic approach to the various aspects that shape the urban environment –  an approach which aims to coordinate elements from the sphere of mobility with those typically associated with urban and landscape planning.

The very term mobility has come to embrace a more comprehensive notion of the act of moving, which factors in certain components (such as the environmental and experiential ones) that were mostly neglected by the traditional, functional approach to transportation planning (which instead was based exclusively on time and cost values – the so-called generalised cost of travel). To this end, then, the process of mobility planning has naturally come to include considerations on the impact  and interaction with the surrounding landscape.
One of the planning approaches that most obviously reflects this correlation is the recent one that emphasises the possibility of redistributing among the various users spaces dedicated to transportation, and specifically to automobiles, rather than introducing new road infrastructures.

The search for a new and more efficient balance between different modes of transport – and their respective flows – allows us to revise our land-budgeting strategies in both functional and geometric terms.

 

CCD Guadalajara, Mexico. from top left: public spaces, vehicular network and a new reading of the urban connectivity rising from the synergy of the two of them.

CCD Guadalajara, Mexico. from top left: public spaces, vehicular network and a new reading of the urban connectivity rising from the synergy of the two of them.

 

The automobile boom in the second half of the 20th century progressively ate away at the available surface, thus relegating the other modes of transport to minimal, residual spaces. The goal is to reverse that trend, and give back to pedestrians, to bicycles and to above-ground public transport at least some of the spaces that over the years have been allocated almost exclusively to car traffic.
The regeneration of a quality urban environment, that prioritizes liveability and safety, is therefore the end-point of a spatial revision process. This process begins by redefining urban mobility flows, and directly influences the planning of landscapes and of the public realm, bringing back spatial and connective systems that have long been eroded and hidden by the presence of the automobile.

To grasp the potential of a “light” approach to transport planning, let us think of Gilles Clément’s words from his Manifeste du Tiers-Paysage.
Clément points out that “biodiversity has no scale,” and can be welcomed into vast areas as well as in fragmentary residual spaces, such as the ones we find even within well-established urban contexts.
From the largest to the smallest, any space can become landscape. In fact, it acquires value and dignity, not as a rigid and premeditated product of planning, that must necessarily be integrated within an existing urban context, but rather as an autonomous and vital element capable of  taking on a life of its own – always different and precisely for this reason powerful.
In this sense, planning urban mobility and adapting existing infrastructures to its new needs, frees up spaces that range in scale from very large (when removing entire road sections) to minuscule residual spaces (created through spatial redistribution processes associated with optimisation and compression of areas dedicated to vehicular traffic).

Following Clément’s views on landscape, it is possible to see parallels with his notion of “diverse landscape,” which always generates sequences of fragmented spaces.
And precisely in light of Clément’s idea, fragmentariness does not entail any limits to the potential for landscape planning.
On the contrary, it is the unitary vision of a holistic approach to planning, conceived to ensure that those sections of land reclaimed from automobile space become the basis for systemic modifications to the urban fabric.

However, from a wider planning perspective, it is important to note that simply removing the automobile component from the urban equation, besides being highly unlikely, does not necessarily guarantee the creation of quality, liveable spaces. In fact, it can actually produce the opposite effect,  and lead to a kind of “fossilisation” of the landscape, reducing it to an empty and unexploited container, as has been the case with several newly-created pedestrian areas.

To prevent this from happening, it is therefore imperative to properly manage transport flows and demand. This must be done transversely across all modes of transit, with the goal of reaching an optimal balance, where it is possible to calibrate the motor vehicle infrastructure without unreasonably affecting its dynamics (which are, after all, a part of the urban landscape). At the same time, the process should foster the emergence of a thin connective network that supports means of transport other than automobiles, first and foremost pedestrian traffic.
Just as biodiversity is a primary resource of any environment, including urban ones, it is the coexistence of different users, functions and modes that leads to balance, not the primacy of one over the others.

To mention one example, the city of Paris has long been  undergoing a series of radical pedestrianisation efforts, which have yielded both rousing successes and undeniable failures.
La Défense’s pedestrian plaza is a glaring example of a huge space conceived as segregated: with 100,000 square-metres of greenery and almost thrice as much of pavement and sidewalk, it was designed to accommodate the daily pedestrian movements of more than 180,000 workers and residents. In reality, however, it is used sparingly, and has effectively become a sterile and inhospitable area.
This doesn’t mean that it is always impracticable to undertake urban pedestrianisation efforts that clearly mark the border between car-accessible spaces and spaces reserved for people.
In the old part of town, an entire 2-kilometre sector of the Rive Gauche, beginning at the Musée d’Orsay, was closed to traffic as part of a regeneration project that aims to reconnect Parisians to the Seine river (another section, about 4 kilometres long and on the opposite bank, will also soon be closed).
From one day to the next, the 30,000 vehicles that habitually transited on that thoroughfare could no longer do so, yet there was no sign of the apocalyptic traffic jams predicted by the project’s critics.

The reason for such a successful outcome is to be found in the very nature of traffic demand, which is by no means a fixed variable but is instead contingent upon the behaviour of motorists, who are human beings and therefore, by nature, are adaptable in their patterns.
The malleability of transport habits is the key that allows us to think of spaces and of cities in a new way, thanks to what is defined as “elasticity of demand.”
What this means, in a nutshell, is that demand responds actively to the capacity supply and ultimately proves adjustable, allowing the reconfiguration of urban spaces and, more in general, of urban landscapes, in order to return part of these areas to a slower and perhaps more natural use.
Turning our attention to Italy, the 2012 introduction of Area C in Milan is another clear example of how traffic levels don’t necessarily have to block processes of functional revision of spaces.
It is important to remember that the initiative led to a 30% reduction in vehicle entries to the city’s centre from the very first day of implementation, and those results have remained stable in the long term.
Both these cases show that society has developed an independent conscience regarding the use of private vehicles and their impact on the environment.

The altering of established habits through targeted policies, together with a  planning approach centred around functional revision or reduction in the use of spaces (rather than around land consumption), are the ingredients for a sustainable development in mobility demand, which respects our environment and our surroundings.

Moscow Stories episode 3: the Hidden Shape of Public Transport

 

The third episode of the Moscow stories involves a research study carried out during 2013 and presented the same year at the Moscow Urban Forum, thanks to the invitation of its curator and architect Yuri Grigoryan. This study has been also published in the “Archaeology of the periphery” book, the research project led by Grigoryan and consisting – as a key outcome of the forum –  in a condensed series of articles aiming to reveal the latent potential of our cities, focusing the attention on the relation between Moscow urban center and its urban fringe, through the lens of many international urbanists.

In recent years, the Moscow conurbation has experienced rapid expansion and transformation. Due to the growth rate of the urban landscape, the city is facing today a loss of identity; it is becoming more and more difficult to control the territorial expansion of the built environment. This ongoing process affects the quality of life that the city itself can offer to its users. Among the several factors that determine the livability of a great modern city, the availability of high quality transport infrastructure certainly plays a primary role; this must be conceived in terms of accessibility to the entire population and the rapid connection between places, maximizing opportunities for citizens and businesses that ‘live’—every day—the wider and wider territory.

Moscow is a clear example of a monocentric urban morphology, where both the transport network and the land use distribution are focused on the central part of the city, that is the main attractor. The radial axis system and orbital paths are reflected in the road fabric as well as in public transport. The current transport scheme was planned and developed over time, based on the assumption that all demand for mobility gathered towards the city center. Following these principles, the urbanized territory of Moscow has been shaped into “super-functional blocks”, accessible by few roads (characterized by large sections) which serve as connections to the big areas, otherwise inaccessible. Such a configuration clearly affects traffic flow; the limited availability of roads cannot allow for proper vehicular circulation. As a result, the few large connections and rigid patterns of circulation are often congested by immense traffic jams, reflected by longer trip times, slower speeds and increasing vehicular queuing.

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From the image above, it is clear that Moscow is endowed with a low number of inhabitants in the central part of the city, whereas the “donut,” as it is called, contains the vast majority of city dwellers. This demographic distribution generates a strong commuting pattern that can only be balanced by introducing services and tertiary functions in the donut, together with the increase of residents in the central part of the city. Such land use redistribution will need to be coupled with public transport hubs serving the new relations and the map of Public Transport Accessibility Levels (PTAL) allows bringing to the surface the hidden shape of public transport in the city, both for the existing and the possible future scenario.

In this framework, it is the topology of public transport that will be the driver of land use densification and redistribution; the contours of the PTAL maps will help defining planning policies that will not generically locate land use in the proximity of public transport, but that will rather respond to the specific “shape” of public transport densities. The future of Moscow will need to address the way transport operates today by reducing private car usage, enhancing public transport connectivity together with more intelligent land use redistribution.

The following video is the results of an additional investigation that puts Moscow in comparison with other four similar cities worldwide: Istanbul, Sao Paulo, Tokyo and Paris. In order to achieve meaningful results, a set of large dataset has been collected and elaborated with GIS software. Starting from the perception of residential distribution and densities throughout selected metropolitan areas, the analysis consists in bringing together the physical and spatial correlation between accessibility to public transport and residential densities patterns. By adopting this approach, it is possible to highlight the clusters of highest residential densities characterized by good public transport accessibility level.

 

 

This research, carried out through a virtual investigation of the transport-related dynamics affecting today’s Moscow metropolitan area, brings to the surface some latent layers of information of urban context. The traditional way of addressing capacity in cities, that has led for instance to the once powerful one way traffic system typical of central Moscow, needs to be revised in favor of sustainable transport modes. A strong focus used to be given to motorists, but it is now clear that the metropolises of the western world are progressively going through a process of space and time redistribution, a process aimed at giving a more balanced distribution of various modes of transport.

A viable path towards sustainable cities is defined by the need of reducing the space given to the automobile or by introducing other appropriate policies for vehicles entering the city centre. In this regards, examples of policies in actions are Les Berger project in Paris, where part of the express way alongside the Seine has been closed to cars in favor of a public space, as well as London, and more recently Stockholm and Milan, where the introduction of a congestion charge has dramatically reduced the amount of vehicles entering the city centre.

Moscow Stories episode 2: the Moscow Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan 2020

 

This is the second episode of a series of 4 of our Moscow stories.
We have been in fact recently involved in four projects that we think it’s particularly worth sharing, since they introduce a new way of doing things, looking at transport planning as a fields that treats all the different modes holistically.

In this episode we are going to present the contribution MIC and Rosinak & Partner gave to the creation of the first plan in Moscow entirely focused on promoting active modes of transport: the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan 2020.

The Department of Transport realized that developing a strong, comprehensive city-wide plan was vital to the successful transformation of Moscow into a pedestrian- and cycle-friendly metropolis. Many actions were already taken in the past years, such as the pedestrianization of dozens of streets in the city centre and the realization of scattered stretches of cycle paths, but only delivering high standard, diffused improvements would make the real breakthrough.

The Plan has the dual purpose of defining an overarching strategic vision and coordinating actual policies and interventions during the 2015-2020 period. It also provides the city government with an example of how to establish a decision-making process on the basis of data analysis and objective evaluations. The Traffic Control Center and MosgortransNiiproyect were also involved in the planning process, and Mobility in Chain led the project team while Rosinak & Partner developed the network and strategies for cycling.

 

Goals and Approach

The PBMP aims at realizing and improving infrastructure in the medium-short term, enabling the long-term modal shift from private motorized vehicles to sustainable alternatives. In Moscow as in all cities worldwide, in fact, many car trips cover distances that could potentially be cycled, and even more trips could become sustainable by combining public transport and walking. But when choosing the mode of transport for a trip, we always value convenience, travel time, safety and comfort and much has to be done for making cycling and walking as attractive as driving or as common as taking the metro. This is especially true in Moscow, where the climate is harsh and the streets often noisy and hostile. Safety, connectivity, urban quality and sustainability consequently became the PBMP’s goals.

By looking at the population density and at the distribution of facilities and attractors we immediately realized that intervening  in the periphery was crucial. Despite that, the White City project allowed us to experience how, even in the very core of Moscow, pedestrians’ basic needs for quality and connectivity were neglected in favor of the maximum vehicular accessibility. Moreover, the number of pedestrians involved in accidents demonstrated that safety definitely was a priority concern.

We extensively used GIS based analysis and elaborations in order to obtain an overall understanding of the city and identify the priority areas for detailed analysis and interventions. The most relevant areas for walking were then studied in detail through site visits, analysis of the pedestrian network, photo-report and checklists. This resulted in a detailed dataset which allowed the identification of the most pressing critical issues, addressed in the strategies and recommendations package.

 

By elaborating and combining the most meaningful datasets, a Strategic Pedestrian Index (SPI) was created, highlighting the most significant areas and neighborhoods from the standpoint of pedestrian activity, potential and criticalities. The highest SPI’s are found outside the Garden Ring, proving how peripheries are worthy of attention. Also, pedestrian relevance in Moscow does not necessarily correlate with one specific urban typology, since high SPI's are found in very different contexts and urban areas.

By elaborating and combining the most meaningful datasets, a Strategic Pedestrian Index (SPI) was created, highlighting the most significant areas and neighborhoods from the standpoint of pedestrian activity, potential and criticalities. The highest SPI’s are found outside the Garden Ring, proving how peripheries are worthy of attention. Also, pedestrian relevance in Moscow does not necessarily correlate with one specific urban typology, since high SPI’s are found in very different contexts and urban areas.

 

Associations and activists were involved in the process as well, especially for helping us understand how to better realize the city’s cycling potential. This led to the definition of a strategic cycle network for both utilitarian and leisure purposes: it runs along all major urban axes linking all the city rayons and it also connects riverfronts and green areas.

 

The Cycle Network 2020: hierachy of cycle routes (by Rosinak & Partner).

The Cycle Network 2020: hierachy of cycle routes (by Rosinak & Partner).

 

First results

The first study outcomes were presented at the Moscow Urban Forum 2014, together with a promotional video that raised interested and positive reactions.

 

At the end of 2014, the Moscow Government launched a new initiative, the “My Street 2015-2018” program. It schedules the refurbishment of more than 3000 streets in Moscow, and it works as an implementation tool for the creation of the planned cycle network and for the general improvement of streets’ safety and design.

Works have started already in some areas: 44 streets were refurbished in 2015, including part of the Boulevard Ring, for a total of more than 100km; most of the interventions also involved the improvement of the transport scheme, meaning for instance the reduction of traffic lanes in favor of public transport dedicated lanes. As for cycling, 20 km of cycle paths were built in 2015, bringing the total length of Moscow’s cycle network to 200 km.

 

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Cycle lanes on the Boulevard Ring (images by gre4ark.livejournal.com)

Cycle lanes on the Boulevard Ring (images by gre4ark.livejournal.com)

 

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The refurbishment of Neglinnaya Ulitsa (images by sergofan.livejournal.com)

The refurbishment of Neglinnaya Ulitsa (images by sergofan.livejournal.com)

 

Moscow Stories episode 1: the White City Project Exhibition

 

This is the first episode of a series of 4 of our Moscow stories.
We have been in fact recently involved in four projects that we think it’s particularly worth sharing, since they introduce a new way of doing things, looking at transport planning as a fields that treats all the different modes holistically.

In addition to the “episode 1: the White City Project” described below, the other three chapters will take you through our winning entry for Zaryadye Park, the Moscow Pedestrian and Bicycle master plan as well as the study “Gridlock, the Donut and Intelligent Solutions”, produced for the Moscow Urban Forum and published on “Archaeology of the Periphery”.

These Moscow-based MIC stories are talking about both qualitative and quantitative analysis, ultimately about transport planning as a way to generate urban quality.

The Opening party

The Opening party

On May 23rd 2014, the Moscow Museum of Architecture hosted the opening of the White City Project Exhibition. The multidisciplinary team that developed the project, lead by Elena Olshanskaya, included among the others Gehl Architects and MIC, as well as several Russian and international experts bringing to the table their expertise in different fields, ranging from social science to history of architecture, from economics to urban planning.

Considering that the main element that most – if not all – modern cities have in common is undoubtedly the supremacy of car on all other subjects living and moving throughout the urban area, a new awareness of the impact that the massive presence of cars has on all aspects of urban life (environment, health, economy…) is emerging in many major cities throughout the world.

As a consequence, new mobility strategies and re-qualification projects are spreading throughout municipalities worldwide, bringing the focus of urban and transport planning back to the fundamental relation between space and movement.

The White City Project perfectly fits into the just described, and internationally recognized, frame of re-gaining space for the people and for the diffusion of more sustainable – and therefore human-friendly – modes of transport.

Part of the vision that inspires the project is in fact about creating a people-centered environment, where residents, workers and visitors are made comfortable and enabled to fully enjoy the cultural, social and historical potential of the area.

In order to communicate and diffuse this new Vision for the White City area and more in general for Moscow, the project leader and curators have promoted this exhibition to make the project’s contents and findings available to the public.

MIC has enthusiastically joined the team with a new video project which aim was to deep dive the viewer into the Moscow roads context and complexity, losing themselves into a pitch black room where the 3-chapters video was projected at full size, enveloping the audience in a virtual experience.

“DRIVE – Moscow and its Roads”, the first chapter of MIC’s video project,  is focused on showing the totally car-oriented vocation of the Moscow urban environment and road network through the eyes of a visitor travelling from the airport to the White City. What will he experience?

 

 

 

“WALK – Observing the site” is the second chapter of MIC’s video project and it shows the critical issues affecting the pedestrian experience when moving across the White City area and its road network. Even in this historical and central part of the city the cars are still dominating the environment.

 

 

The last video is about “DESIGN – The Volkhonka Vision: a project for the heart of Moscow”. An overview on how MIC envisages a revision of the Volkhonka axis and of the White City area, in order to give it back to the people and to its tradition of values and livability, while still guaranteeing the operation of the broader transport framework.

 

Video Project by MIC. In collaboration with White City Project and Moscow Museum of Architecture. Video making by Francesco di Maio.

John Whitelegg interview

John Whitelegg, Green Party Spokesperson on Sustainable Development. John is also Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and Professor of Sustainable Development at York University’s Stockholm Institute of the Environment.
A transport campaigner of global stature and reputation, John has written ten books on transport and is editor of the journal World Transport Policy and Practice.

In addition, Professor Whitelegg is the Managing Director of Eco-Logica Ltd., a Manchester-based transportation consulting firm. He is the founder and editor of the Journal of World Transportation Policy and Practice. He has also been named a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce.

John Whitelegg from Flow[n] on Vimeo.

Marco Steinberg interview

Marco Steinberg is founder of Snowcone & Haystack (www.snowcone.fi), a strategic design practice focused on helping governments and leaders innovate.

Prior to that he was Director of Strategic Design at Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund a government fund to help develop the economic prosperity and future success of Finland. There, he helped built the Fund’s capability to shape & deliver strategic improvements through design. Initiatives include Helsinki Design Lab, a global initiative to help address today’s large scale strategic redesign & transformation needs; Design Exchange Programme embedding designers within public sector organizations; and overseeing the design of Low2No, a transitional strategy to create national carbon free urban development in Finland.

 

In his other responsibilities, Marco is currently the Chairman of the Board of the Museum of Finnish Architecture & serves as advisor to many organizations. His previous experience includes: Professor at the Harvard Design School (1999-2009); advising governments on SME & design funding strategies; and running his own design & architecture practice.

We had the great pleasure of meeting Marco Steinberg in 2010 at the time head of Helsinki Design Lab, the workshops were part of a much wider research the Marco led. We were really impress by the Strategic Design approach, the essence of which we believe is captured in this video

 

About HDL from Sitra- Finnish Innovation Fund on Vimeo.

The transport industry is a great example of Knowledge Silos, car industries have developed incredible complex technologies but often have none or very little concern about the environment where this object will move, architects and planner have inner looking approaches unable to initiated a dialog with traffic engineer often focused only on car capacity matters. Mobility iper-specialised structure is definitely an area in need of Strategic Design

 

Flow-n interviews Marco Steinberg from Flow[n] on Vimeo.

A Monster in the City

by Federico Parolotto and Francesca Arcuri

 

Aerial piazzale maggi

 

 

It is 7 a.m. on an August morning. An empty Milan wakes up to the sound of chainsaws which in Piazza Maggi, to the south of the city, begin cutting down the trees that have populated the area for over thirty years. The plan entails the elimination of over 70 forest trees and shrubs to make space for the worksite which in two years should radically change the face of the junction.

In this regard, the plan certainly achieved its goal: in 2001 citizens, politicians and local associations took to the streets to create human chains around the trees to stop them from being cut down but now it seems like decades have passed since that August, so much so that few can remember what the piazza looked like before the work championed by the Albertini Council and, in reality, actually approved back in 1999.
As stated by the planners and local council, the project promised to create a junction on three different levels which, thanks to soundproofed underpasses and flyovers, would have ensured the smooth flow of traffic along the Famagosta-Cermenate road and heading towards the A7 motorway that goes to Genoa.
In reality, over the years the approval process of the project, conceived as part of the construction of the ‘Gronda Sud’ and the work to streamline access to the south of the city, has been anything but linear. The principle of transforming the urban nature of the road network into a series of express connections, in line with the parameters of the nearby motorway infrastructure, actually dates to the mid-1990’s with the approval of the highway that runs between Piazza Maggi and Piazza Kennedy.
Over the next four years the construction of a new 3-level junction in Piazza Maggi was approved. The local community and civil society reacted immediately with the Piazza Maggi – Gronda Sud committee set up in 1999 rejecting the project and requesting that it be withdrawn. Their reasons for rejecting the project were mainly connected with the impact that the work would have on living conditions in the surrounding neighbourhoods and the fact that the local communities were not involved in defining the planning proposal.

piazza1

 

 

One month later, in December of the same year, the committee lodged an appeal against the Restructuring Project for the Piazza Maggi road junction with the Regional Administrative Court of Lombardy. As well as outlining some flaws in the design, the motion also called for minor, less invasive measures that would not change the face of the area and, as well as being more economical, would maintain the correct relationship between public and private transport.

The protests continued throughout 2000 and for a part of 2001: marches and demonstrations brought hundreds of people into the streets but they found themselves up against a political machine convinced of its actions and – at this point on the verge of beginning work – less willing to enter into dialogue.
In the second half of 2001 with the project now a year-and-half behind schedule, the “eco-monster”, as local residents called it, began to take shape.
Today, the junction created at Piazza Maggi remains a magnet for traffic arriving directly from the motorway and bypass on the way to the city centre with inevitable repercussions on the urban quality of the area.
In fact, if you look at the road network of South Milan, you can see how this complex infrastructure constitutes the endpoint of the A7 motorway, whose axis continues to resemble a motorway right up to the junction, largely isolating this area of land. This break is further confirmed by the recent extension of the Green line of the Milan Underground as far as Assago.
As such, the A7 retains the features of the motorway infrastructure found upstream of the bypass, maintaining three lanes on each carriageway with an emergency lane right to the end, underpasses and flyovers to prevent the interruption of the traffic flow by B roads, and a fixed speed limit of 100 km/h up to the entrance into the city, with a road sign indicating the end of the A7 just 20 metres from the roundabout which, in Piazza Maggi, should help the flow of local traffic.
This sudden change in the nature of the highway, together with the visibility problems at the end of the road, has also resulted in a high accident rate at the roundabout because of the high speeds of vehicles arriving from the A7.

 

percorsi pedonali

 

 

As regards the junction, it is highly discordant with the surrounding context, overwhelming it and radically altering the urban landscape.
Indeed, the three levels of the junction allow traffic to three-dimensionally overwhelm the existing geometries with a vertical development of the infrastructure that comprises the Famagosta-Cermenate underpass, a roundabout, higher than the road surface, which mainly filters traffic arriving from the ring road heading for the city centre, and two flyovers that act as a quick connection between the city – both the centre and the east/west – and the motorway.
This complex structure, which cost 33 billion Italian lira, compromises local relations and public transport routes relegating them to the periphery, spaces undigested by the “monster” that do not meet the requirements of busy areas like Barona, Chiesa Rossa and Morivione.
The permeability of the area by foot, already limited by the substantial number of intersections along Viale Famagosta and Viale Cermenate (approx. one every 200 m) and the direct nature of these roads, becomes a secondary issue for good as you approach the junction where there are no street-level pedestrian crossings for a kilometre.
The only exception is the system of pedestrian crossings that form part of the junction project which, as mentioned, are located at an intermediate level, a residual space between the levels of the underpass and the raised roundabout. The hedge and the pedestrian space, a potential subway for the hundreds of people that every day have to walk from the Underground to one of the busiest bus routes in Milan, are isolated and visibly closed in by the volumes of the surrounding architecture.
A similar destiny befell the public transport stops, two of which were located on the roundabout by the project with obvious problems in terms of safety, buses rejoining the traffic on the roundabout, and visibility.
Finally, it should be noted how the construction of the two raised link roads, particularly the one that joins the Schiavoni flyover which led to the doubling of the section, has taken the infrastructure right up to the buildings, also modifying residents’ perceptions of their private space.
In terms of traffic, it is interesting to note how the junction, through the separation of the traffic flows, permits the continuous movement of vehicles before immediately breaking up the flow with traffic lights to the east, north and west of the junction.
In order to maximise the capacity of the junction Piazza Maggi is developed on three levels but this solution, unacceptable in itself, could have been avoided if this part of the city had not only been observed from an angle purely concerned with traffic and increasing traffic volumes.
The history of Piazza Maggi is emblematic of this type of approach to town and transport planning, an exclusively functional type of planning that takes no account of the specific features of the local area.
This type of planning approach can also be seen in numerous other structures that have been planned or which are under construction such as, for example, the new bypass to the north of the city and the junction on the East Bypass heading to Lambrate.
What we should be doing is observing how the use of private transport in Milan is gradually falling, as it is in other Western capitalist cities, despite the largely stable number of workers and residents in the city.

 

relazione edifici2

 relazione edifici1

 

This information, reported in the recently published update of the Milan ‘General Plan for Urban Traffic’, shows a downturn in the number of vehicles accessing the city, a downturn without doubt connected with the economic recession and strengthened by the activation of Area C, the Milan congestion charge launched in June 2011.

As well as the economic reasons, the diminishing tendency to travel by car also seems to highlight a structural change in society that is largely related to the younger generations, which have significantly changed the relationship of dependence that previous generations had with private transport.
In this respect, projects like that of Piazza Maggi are anachronistic in terms of their attempts to increase traffic speed and capacity in the city as they lead to oversized structures that compromise urban quality in favour of a mode of transport that is becoming less popular.
It is also an internationally recognised fact that increasing the capacity of infrastructure leads to an increase in traffic and, therefore, a quick return to the original levels of congestion, rendering the modification of the work pointless.
Bearing in mind that every user of public transport is also a pedestrian, it should be noted that another consequence of this planning approach is the compromising of environmentally-friendly methods of moving around and footpaths, the reduction of which also leads to the weakening of public transport.
Put together, all of these elements undoubtedly have an influence on transport choices, confirming the close relationship between supply and demand, in recent years also recognised at international level.
Milan is a clear example of the influence of cars in Western cities, which have witnessed the retrofitting of the urban fabric and the road network in order to accommodate them. This process of retrofitting has involved all kinds of roads, from local roads that are often too small to major urban roundabouts (for example Piazzale Loreto http://www.flow-n.eu/2011/07/milan-and-the-invisible-space-revolution/) and genuine motorway junctions located in cities, as outlined in this article.
In response to this state of affairs we need to begin a process of cutting back on the infrastructure in cities, of gradually reconfiguring our road networks in favour of networks dedicated to environmentally-friendly modes of transport and pedestrians in particular.
Through an incremental process that gradually redistributes the urban space and lessens the impact of the road network it is possible to visualise a systemic change that enables us to re-establish the quality of space as a key factor in urban planning.

Remembering Paul Mees

by Federico Parolotto

Transport for suburbia cover

I first got to know of Paul Mees through Amazon, I was looking for some books to read and I ended up finding a title “Transport for suburbia – beyond the automobile age” that had a comment in the back by John Whitelegg.
I knew John Whitelegg work and I really liked it and I knew he is a little reluctant to appear on media, the fact that he was spending his name for Paul was definitely intriguing.

I read “Transport for suburbia” about 2 years ago, and I was wiped away, all the questions I had been asking to myself were answered there, from the origin of the magic minimal figure of people/hectare to make PT viable to the analysis of the super quoted (but a little dubious) curve that shows the relationship between energy and urban density produced by Newman/Kenworthy

After reading the book I started thinking about a project call “Conversations across mobility”, a series of interviews with different influential people from all over the world on the future of mobility.

Paul was the top of the list and I managed to retrieve his mail, I wrote to him asking for an interview and he immediately answered to our request ( http://www.flow-n.eu/2013/02/paul-mees-interview/)
I met him only digitally, through that skype conversation, but it was a privilege for me to talk to Paul, among other things we discussed about Europe and Milan and the possibility of him coming to visit us.

We then exchanged a couple of mails and then he told us it was not going to be available due to health reasons for a while, I often thought about writing to him but I was not certain about his health and so I waited…

I learned through twitter of is death a few days ago, the news left me shocked and sad, although I never got to know him personally I felt it as a huge loss.

As professionals in transport planning we try to change cities for the better, we often find the friction of reality difficult to overcome and we constantly have to compromise.

Paul came across as an uncompromising person, and we looked at him and at his writings for directions in our work…
Without him now we feel weaker and lonely.

Donald Shoup interview

Donald Shoup is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, where he has served as Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies. In his landmark book, The High Cost of Free Parking, Shoup argues that minimum parking requirements in zoning ordinances distort transportation choices, debase urban design, damage the economy, and degrade the environment. Shoup recommends that cities should instead charge fair market prices for on-street parking, use the meter revenue to finance added public services, and remove their requirements for off-street parking.

Donald Shoup is a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, an Honorary Professor at the Beijing Transportation Research Center, and the Editor of ACCESS magazine.

Flow-n interviews Donald Shoup from Flow[n] on Vimeo.

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