Cars, Buses, Bicycles, Scooters… Have Streets Become Too Small?


Transportation in cities is changing rapidly. As new means of travel invade streets and sidewalks, causing regular accidents, is it still possible to share public space between different users?

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Gyropods, hoverboards, electric bicycles and scooters, these new means of getting from point A to point B invade the streets of big cities in a few years, if not a few months. They are part of the “micro-mobility” movement. Portable battery-powered machines move their riders fast, saving time in overcrowded urban centers.

The municipalities, initially overwhelmed by the multiplication of accidents, have finally tried to regulate the use of these machines. One of the limitations is to limit the speed to up to 30 km / h on the sidewalks. (What is the regulation for speed electric bikes in France? Read in this post.)

In particular, Paris has put in place stringent regulations concerning electric scooters. This self-service offer has democratized usage of electric scooters. Currently, their number is estimated at 15,000 in Paris. This number is estimated to grow to 40,000 by the end of the year.

But what are the long-term solutions for sharing the public road space? Edouard Malsch, urban planner and geographer, Head of the Urbanews site, tries to give his answers.

What changes will be made in electric self-service sharing?

Edouard Malsch: The problem of too limited public space already started to occur five or six years ago with the arrival of skateboards and e-bikes. Today the problem is even more glaring: in metropolises, roads are too crowded and poorly adapted to soft mobility.

Cities are just starting to change. But we are still predominantly in an archaic logic where everything is segmented: cars, then buses, then bicycles. Every two weeks there is a new means of transport coming out on the market.

Electric scooters and electric bikes, but also Segways, hoverboards, monowheels and more. And we do not know where to put them. Only sidewalks remain, which is supposed to take care of all “other” mobility devices. And sidewalks are neither adequate nor adapted for this new purpose.

Do we have to make space for these new modes of transportation?

The current answer is often rather to restrict their use, or even to ban them from the streets or sidewalks…

Edouard Malsch: It would be a shame because these new ways of moving across the city, combine several advantages. They are electric and portable. Technological evolutions the batteries are smaller and smaller. These new ways of transportation make it possible to meet a need for mobility over short distances and are complementary to public transport.

They allow you to replace the 15 or 30-minute walk away from a metro station or a bus stop. These are ways to facilitate the “last unserved mile”, which is often what discourages some of the to-be riders and encourages them to take a car, instead of other means of transport.

Forbidding these modes of transportation is therefore not the right solution. Instead, we must try to include them. For now, we talk about framing speed, to restrain scooters and e-bikes. This is necessary for security reasons.

As long as there is not enough space is available, it is obviously dangerous to combine scooters at 25 km / h and pedestrians. But these are short-term solutions. In the long term, it seems necessary to rethink our urban transport system to include everyone in a consistent way.

Do cars still have a place in city centers?

Edouard Malsch: The question of not allowing cars in city centers is a valid one. It seems delicate to make cars disappear completely, but cars already tend to take less and less space in the cities. Routes formerly dedicated to cars are now open for buses or cycle paths. But it’s not the electric scooters or electric bicycles that push cars out of the city!

Space originally dedicated to cars has gradually decreased in our city centers because there is a growing awareness of the non-ecologically friendly nature of this means of travel, especially when you are alone in your car.

This is now only now happening in some cities, as urban development policies are being put in place. But the reduction of cars in public spaces is done independently of the appearance of new modes of transport. The whole question is how to reassign this space, which is freed from cars, and to include micro-mobility.

Are there solutions for sharing public space in already saturated cities?

Edouard Malsch: We must rethink the entire system of roads, but also question this generalized congestion of public spaces – with street lamps, poles, billboards, garbage cans, mailboxes, etc.

The solutions will come by thinking more broadly about the available space between buildings, to build more flexible, more inclusive public spaces. This will allow diversification of uses of public spaces.

Gathering all users of the soft mobility means of transport on the same road or sidewalk would not work. This is not possible, in particular, due to the differences in speeds.

On the other side, it is also impossible to completely fragment road space and assign an exclusive path to each type of machine. There are too many different machines already and this space is still evolving.

We will have to find a happy medium. One of the initial ideas could be to establish special lanes for “soft and electric vehicles” with a speed that could be limited. Could this work?

How to catch up with the infrastructure?

Edouard Malsch: That’s the real difficulty. There is a delay between the idea and its realization. And it is always long. The example of traditional and electric bikes is particularly stunning. It has been a long time since this need is highlighted. Cities want to give room to bikes, but even today there are not so many concrete solutions.

Now there are multiple urban cycling networks. As part of their duties is to create bike paths when the roads are redeveloped. But we realize that this approach is already outdated. These plans attribute exclusive lanes to bicycles when those plans should already include scooters, Segways, monowheels, etc.

There is obvious inertia to change things. Technology is moving much faster than the implementation of new policies and programs. So, unfortunately, the delay may be perpetual. But this should not prevent us from thinking about continuing to make improvements of the public spaces.

This post was translated from French and adapted. The original version was published on LCI. Photo credit – LCI.

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