Not enough emphasis has been placed in our urban planning on dedicated bus-lanes and on streets that would be shared among buses, bicycles and pedestrians. This video is a ‘must watch’ for all our politicians, mayors, city councillors and planners.
Visionary Bogata mayor Enrique Peñalosa tells us:
If more money is invested in highways, of course there is less money for housing, for schools, for hospitals, and also there is a conflict for space. There is a conflict for space between those with cars and those without them.
He then urges us to think about about equality in mobility planning:
I would propose two kinds which both have much to do with cities.
The first one is equality of quality of life, especially for children, that all children should have, beyond the obvious health and education, access to green spaces, to sports facilities, to swimming pools, to music lessons.
And the second kind of equality is one which we could call “democratic equality.” The first article in every constitution states that all citizens are equal before the law. That is not just poetry. It’s a very powerful principle. For example, if that is true, a bus with 80 passengers has a right to 80 times more road space than a car with one.
There’s a fundamental democratic principle here that should be applied to transport, he says:
In fact, when I became mayor, applying that democratic principle that public good prevails over private interest, that a bus with 100 people has a right to 100 times more road space than a car, we implemented a mass transit system based on buses in exclusive lanes. We called it TransMilenio, in order to make buses sexier. And one thing is that it is also a very beautiful democratic symbol, because as buses zoom by, expensive cars stuck in traffic, it clearly is almost a picture of democracy at work.
Penalosa also speaks of a conflict between pedestrians and cars:
There is a really enormous conflict, when we are talking about developing country cities, between pedestrians and cars. Here, what you see is a picture that shows insufficient democracy. What this shows is that people who walk are third-class citizens while those who go in cars are first-class citizens. In terms of transport infrastructure, what really makes a difference between advanced and backward cities is not highways or subways but quality sidewalks.
He makes two key proposals:
Hundreds of kilometers of greenways criss-crossing cities in all directions. Children will walk out of homes into safe spaces. They could go for dozens of kilometers safely without any risk in wonderful greenways, sort of bicycle highways, and I would invite you to imagine the following: a city in which every other street would be a street only for pedestrians and bicycles. In new cities which are going to be built, this would not be particularly difficult. When I was mayor of Bogotá, in only three years, we were able to create 70 kilometers, in one of the most dense cities in the world, of these bicycle highways. And this changes the way people live, move, enjoy the city…
And the second ingredient, which would solve mobility, that very difficult challenge in developing countries, in a very low-cost and simple way, would be to have hundreds of kilometers of streets only for buses, buses and bicycles and pedestrians. This would be, again, a very low-cost solution if implemented from the start, low cost, pleasant transit with natural sunlight.
Instead, we seem still stuck in the old mindset – even in our transport masterplans – of catering for cars or thinking of expensive modes of transport instead of other more democratic or cost-effective alternatives.
Why does this happen? Prof Eric Britton offers an insight into the possible characteristics of those responsible for these choices. See his World Streets Birdwatchers Guide To Dangerous Political Predators.
Something is wrong when our buses are mainly used by migrant workers, Malaysian low-income workers and senior citizens. And so the full potential of buses has not yet been tapped.
As Penalosa famously says, “An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.”
For a start, share with us how you think our bus services can be improved? What will make you ditch your cars in favour of buses?