Today we talked about smart cities because for a long time we have been designing stupid cities. In order to correct mistakes, it’s necessary to design cities the other way around: from sidewalks to bike lanes and only after to car lanes, which do not need to be banished from urban centers, only limited to their utilitarian function. This was a strong conclusion of the panel “How to design a safe urban ecosystem for pedestrians, cyclists and micro-mobility users” at Portugal Mobi Summit.
“We just approved the “Speed limit 10” in all of the single platform zone, where most of the traffic is pedestrian. It’s not about a city without cars, but a city with the necessary cars so to be able to function as a city” said Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores, Mayor of Pontevedra, a Galician town that “for 10 years now it has registered zero deaths by car hits in the city center”.
Pontevedra was very much praised in this debate, for giving back the public space to its citizens and restricting car access. How? “I must say that it all goes back to one project that was elaborated while in opposition, where we learned many things. It was 12 years of opposition and then we built a city for people. In 1999 it was a warehouse for cars, jammed and full of noise” explained the Mayor of the Galician city.
“I like to poke the eye. Department stores. I cannot say that I am for people when I am not putting obstacles or favoring the installation of department stores” said Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores, who revealed that at the basis of the strategic thinking there was never the idea of “solving the problem of carts, but to regain public space for people”. “It’s a different hing” he added.
Rui Rei, CEO of Cascias Próxima agrees. “Cities need to be appropriate for people. Cities that where human jungles now can be spaces to live better and share”. For that to happen, there is a need for a good planning and to use technologies, but not being enslaved by them. “We were building stupid cities for a long time and now we must talk about smart cities. But technology is only important if it generates information that allows us to make the right decisions, such as in traffic control”, added the responsible for Cascais’ municipal company.
And added that there is a need to convince people of the benefits in “reducing the access to cars or even to prohibit them”. To go even further from mobility and go towards sustainability, how to incentive citizens? To award them for their non-polluting emissions, which can be a measure done precisely through tools generated by technology”, defended Rui Rei.
“A smart city is the one that copies good ideas from other cities” affirmed Miguel Gaspar, Vice-President of the Lisbon City Hall, with the Economic, Innovation, Mobility and Safety portfolios. “Lisbon already proudly copied other places, and I hope that other cities can copy Lisbon as well” stated.
“In Lisbon, by the time that I was born, there were 170 cars for 1000 citizens. Recently, that ratio was 550 cars for 1000 citizens. An attractive city is the one that protects the most vulnerable, such as pedestrians, children and the elderly” defended Miguel Gaspar.
“Our commitment is to give a better city to our children and grand-children in 2030. The problem of mobility has to be solved first in the metropolitan area, and only after in Lisbon. We are increasing in 40% the bus network in the metropolitan area. Public transportation, at least in the short and medium term, is structuring” underlined.
As far as bicycles: “Most people walk at least 5 Km per day, and they could do that by bike. Do we want everyone to do it? No, we think that there is a transfer capital (from most polluting transportation). What we want is to give that choice to citizens. Bike, public transportation or other less polluting means”, stated the Vice-President of Lisbon City Hall.
That is, deep inside is about having a strategy of priorities: first the people, then the machines. And before anything, a healthy planet which generates healthier citizens.
“Taking into account the paradigm that gives priority to active modes, it’s fundamental to think in the way cities are designed. When we talk about public space, we are talking about designing public space. Sometimes, the arguments given by architects are not convincing, but Covid-19 gave us that, the value of public space” explained David Vale, Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture of the Universidade de Lisboa.
Therefore, in urbanistic terms, “it implies designing cities the other way around”. “Normally, a street started to be designed through the car lanes, and what was left, was for sidewalks. We need the exact opposite. First, to design the sidewalks, then the bike lanes and only after the space for cars” defended the professor.
And concluded: “We have to work with what we have, giving priority to pedestrians. By starting to design the sidewalk, the space for bicycles and only after space for cars. We are not over cars, cars are necessary and they will keep circulating in cities. But if we want a more multimodal city, an articulated city, we need to think about cities for people who take bycicles, enters the train and then walks”.