Watery Future for the City of Light - And the New Mobility Agenda
One of the amazing/complicating things about the world of mobility is it is one of those slices of life where everything touches something else and then something else again. Nothing ever is there to stand still so you can solve it once and for all. It's all about process.
So here is an report from the New York Times on a waterfront project for which I was interviewed this week and about which, when you get right down to it, is pure New Mobility Agenda. As you can see I managed to patch some of our common concerns in here (closing section below), along with some words on value capture and tax reform, followed up by a good closer from Todd Litman in Vancouver. You will recognize and I hope appreciate it.
Step by step.
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The New York Times. Special Report: Business of Green. June 24, 2010
Watery Future for the City of Light
PARIS — Murky with pollution after decades of industrial and agricultural dumping, the River Seine, flowing through Paris, was nearly dead in the 1970s.
Jacques Chirac, then mayor of Paris, started a cleanup campaign in the early 1990s, and by last year Atlantic salmon were reported to have returned to the river — though just this month eating fish from the river was banned because of dangerously high residual levels of polychlorinated biphenyl, a toxic chemical outlawed from industrial use in Europe more than 20 years ago.
The French environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, has set in motion a project to eradicate PCBs from Paris’s waters. Meanwhile, a plan to extend the cleanup from the river to its banks is being pushed by City Hall — part of an ambitious project to lure Parisians back to the river.
Every Sunday for the past few years, the expressways that border the Seine in central Paris have been closed to cars and opened, instead, to strollers, roller skaters and cyclists.
In April, the Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, announced plans to go a step further by permanently closing a 2-kilometer, or 1.2-mile, stretch of the Left Bank and slowing traffic on the Right Bank. The whole area would be transformed into a “pretty urban boulevard,” Mr. Delanoë said, with cars and pedestrians coexisting among cafes, flowers and floating islands.
City Hall planners estimate construction costs at €40 million, or $48.8 million, and maintenance costs at €2 million a year, and say the project could be completed in two years.
That, however, may depend on the readiness of the center-right French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his government to support the plan, since the riverside roads belong to the autonomous Paris Ports Authority, not to City Hall, and traffic management on them is the responsibility of the prefect of Paris, an official appointed by Mr. Sarkozy.
Mr. Sarkozy himself has other visions for Paris, expressed by the creation in March 2008 of a new government post, secretary of state for the development of the Capital Region, and the announcement last year of a €35 billion metropolitan redevelopment plan covering Paris and the Seine Valley.
With presidential elections due in 2012 — in which Mr. Delanoë may be a Socialist contender — the Seine is on the front line both in the political war and in Mr. Delanoë’s battle against what he calls the “unacceptable hegemony” of cars in the capital. Since 2001 he has introduced new trams, bike and bus lanes and the popular Vélib’ bicycle rental scheme. He is also responsible for the Paris-Plage program, which transforms a section of the riverbank into an urban beach every summer.
But some Parisians are not convinced. The Seine expressways were built in the 1970s as the linchpin of a program by President Georges Pompidou to turn Paris into “a city for the automobile.” On the Right Bank, the expressway carries 40,000 vehicles per day and 4,000 an hour at peak times, according to City Hall figures. On the Left Bank, the traffic is lighter but still reaches 2,000 vehicles per hour at rush hour.
According to Mr. Delanoë’s office, rerouting traffic away from the riverbanks would increase commute times across the city by only six minutes. But some commuters and taxi drivers warn that congestion in the city, already scarcely tolerable, would be made far worse.
“This will degrade the quality of life of French workers,” said one message on the mayor’s public consultation Web site. “The lives of people who work during the week will be even more complicated and stressful, and you degrade the working conditions of the inhabitants of Île de France in favor of the ‘idle’ and tourists.”
Supporters of Mr. Delanoë turn that argument on its head. “This is an initiative for all Parisians, and it’s part of a pattern of a larger translation. We are in the midst of a shifting paradigm,” said Eric Britton, an American economist in Paris and founder of NewMobility, a sustainable transport advocacy organization.
Amenities like rivers and green space must be allowed to once again become the “lungs of the city,” Mr. Britton said. “Cities must plan this way to be global competitors now,” he said. “The time of the car is over, and symbols, like the river, are the new metrics of civilization.”
The benefits can be not just environmental, but economic too, he said.
A 2009 study by Walkscore, a Web site that rates neighborhoods in terms of pedestrian access, evaluated the effect of “walkability” on U.S. housing prices, using 95,000 real estate transactions. The study found that making it easier for people to get around on foot raised housing values in 13 out of 15 markets. In some areas, increasing walkability by 25 percent raised house values by as much as $34,000 — with potential spinoff benefits to the public through higher property tax revenues.
“What we have to make sure of,” Mr. Britton said, “is that there is a proper system of land value capture in place.”
Todd Litman, a transportation economist and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization based in Canada, puts the lesson this way: “Some of the money cities currently spend to increase travel speeds could be spent more efficiently improving the comfort, convenience and security of walking, cycling and public transport.”